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Practical Ayurveda - Sattvic Qualities for a Healthy Mind and Body

by Dr Partap Chauhan(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 87 - April 2003


Ayurveda, the Indian traditional medicine and 'science of life' is becoming more widely known outside of India and recognized as a truly holistic means of health care. Certain aspects of this science have been focused upon, particularly the different body constitutions of Vata, Pitta and Kapha and the role of these doshas in both the causation and treatment of disease. These doshas are forces within the body and possess the characteristics of the five elements of nature - space, air, fire, water and earth. Depending on which elements are dominant in our constitution we display certain characteristics and tendencies linked to those elemental qualities. For example, Vata is made up of air and space, which have the characteristics of movement and looseness. People with a predominantly Vata dosha are therefore active, mobile, restless and energetic. Their metabolisms work fast so they are often thin, with little muscle development and cracking joints.

Understanding this aspect of Ayurveda is undoubtedly crucial in diagnosing and treating disease and imbalances within the body. It can, however, be somewhat confusing for anyone wishing to apply these principles to their daily routine, to maintain their general health. People often become overwhelmed by the prospect of making such substantial changes to their lifestyle. It can be particularly challenging finding common aspects in diet when partners or families all have different needs and restrictions according to their specific doshas. In addition, most of us display a combination of two doshas, which can lead to further confusion in finding a diet and lifestyle we are best suited to. There are many people interested in Ayurveda, but all too often they become disheartened by the seemingly difficult task of applying it practically.


Sattva is the middle path of Ayurveda that enables us to make simple, gradual changes to our lives with profound effect. The pressures and demands of modern day lifestyles leave many of us overwhelmed and agitated, which results in depleted physical and mental health. Whatever your physical and emotional make-up, increasing the sattvic qualities in your life will help you to address any imbalances and maintain a state of equilibrium. Sattva, rajas and tamas are the forces known in Ayurveda as the three gunas. Simply defined, guna means character or quality, but it encompasses broader associations such as influence or impulse. Gunas are most often referred to as the mind constitutions, which provide subtlety and further character to the dominant dosha. They are expressed as the quality of mind and character of a person.

  Sattvic Rajasic Tamasic
Plants Basil (tulsi), sandalwood: medicinal, calming, pleasant aroma Chillies, garlic, onions, most spices: timulate senses, aid digestion Mushroom, fungus: grows in the dark, thrives on dung
Animals Dolphins, elephant, cow: intelligent, social, group based, highly communicative, gentle Tiger, piranha, fox: prowling, hunting, sense-motivated, violent and aggressive Vulture, pig, hyena: Scavenging, eats decaying matter, parasitic, lives in filth, lazy
Foods Freshly cooked or raw fruit and vegetables, salads, nuts, seeds, water, juice Hot (spicy), fried and baked foods, sweets, biscuits, carbonated drinks Canned, frozen, preserved, fermented, processed, fast-food, left-overs
People Wise, kind, helpful, patient, tolerant, generous, selfless Passionate, egotistic, greedy, materialistic, seeks status and power Ignorant, lazy, dependent self-destructive, selfish, dull, insane
Activities Calming: meditation, reading liter-ature, chess, listening to peaceful music, gentle activity Stimulating: competitive sports, loud music, dancing parties, festivals, politics, debating, gambling Depressing: sitting idly, watching television, reading low quality literature, sleeping

According to Ayurveda, all entities not only possess a predominance of particular elements but they also display the qualities of sattva (equilibrium), rajas (activity) and tamas (inertia) in varying degrees. In the human context, this refers to whether they are calm, gentle, patient and tolerant (sattvic), passionate, spontaneous, aggressive and materialistic (rajasic) or ignorant, lazy, insensitive and deceitful (tamasic). In relation to diet, junk and processed food is tamasic, spicy food is rajasic and fresh vegetables are sattvic. Depending on the senses they stimulate and their effect on the mind, it is possible to determine the gunas of all animals, plants and activities. The chart below gives some further examples of the three gunas.

Whereas our physical constitution is determined at birth, our guna is moulded by environment and influenced by nutrition. So a person's mental state reflects their diet, lifestyle, the state of life they are passing through and the impressions they take in through their senses. The relationship between our mind guna, the guna of food consumed and the surrounding social or physical environment means we can influence our mind through lifestyle choices. Increased contact with, or consumption of rajasic or tamasic things ultimately creates an imbalance in the mind and distress within the body. This can manifest as disease and sickness in a variety of forms. Ayurveda therefore describes mind balance as modifying the mind guna from tamasic or rajasic to sattvic. This involves choosing those foods and activities that are sattvic in nature and reducing those that are rajasic and tamasic.

Central to Ayurveda's teachings is that anything that is ingested or consumed by the body is food. This includes anything experienced and absorbed by the senses, or that enters into the body through the mouth, nose, ears, skin or eyes. Everything that enters the body in either a tangible or intangible form is therefore a part of the diet. All that we hear, smell, watch, taste or touch can be described as either sattvic, rajasic or tamasic in nature so it is through taming of the senses that we are able to balance the mind. Reducing the negative aspects of rajas and tamas gunas may require some discipline and effort at first, but the peace of mind, health, strength and immunity that are obtained from increasing sattva make it worthwhile. It is important though that changes are made gradually without stress. Many of us replace the negative effects of unhealthy food with anxiety and fanaticism over our new health regime. The aim is to gradually increase the sattvic aspects of our lives in order to acquire greater contentment and ease in life, not put ourselves under even greater pressure. It is human nature to display some rajasic and tamasic qualities. All the gunas are present in us and all have necessary roles to play in our existence. Some rajas and tamas qualities are required for action and motivation to achieve our goals (rajas) and inaction, sleep or rest (tamas).

Sattvic Foods for the Soul

In terms of nutrition, a diet that favours sattva, includes:

* Increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, whole grain breads, salads, pure fruit juices, herbal teas, water and milk, nuts, seeds and honey. Food should be eaten freshly prepared;
* Foods that are naturally sweet are sattvic, such as grains, (rice, wheat and barley), breads, honey and fruits;
* Organically grown foods are preferable, as fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals and preservatives are tamasic;
* At the same time, minimize foods that are processed, pre-prepared, preserved, fermented, canned and packaged, frozen, microwaved, fried or barbecued, high in sugar or spices, or containing artificial flavours;
* Use of mushrooms, onions, spices and garlic should be minimized, as they are tamasic and rajasic. Consumption of alcohol, caffeine and meat should be moderated or eliminated for the same reason.

It is important to point out here that the categorizing of food according to its guna is different to acknowledging the medicinal qualities of a substance. Ayurveda does recognize for instance that garlic is very beneficial, particularly for lowering high blood pressure, improving appetite and circulation, and relieving joint pain. Its rajasic nature however, disturbs the balance of mind so it is not recommended for anyone wishing to develop spiritual practices. Ayurveda's description of the link between behavioural changes and consumption of certain foods correlates with research undertaken by orthodox medicine. Controlled studies of children have shown that consumption of foods that are artificially coloured, flavoured, excessively sugary and fatty or processed and refined results in hyperactivity, irritability, lack of concentration, aggression, violent or emotional outbursts and anti-social behaviour. Although these studies have not used the terms sattvic, rajasic and tamasic the results indicate the same conclusions.

Even if we follow a healthy diet, we are unable to absorb the nutrients if our digestion is out of balance. It is important, therefore, to observe some basic eating rules that support the digestive and assimilative processes. These practices, combined with eating a predominantly sattvic diet, allow the body to process and eliminate toxins already stored in the body and prevent any further accumulation.

Eating Guidelines for Healthy Digestion

* Avoid over-eating; stop when you feel you still have some room left for more;
* Leave at least fours hours between main meals;
ind]* Consume fruit and fruit juices separately from other food products. They can be taken between meals without disturbing or overburdening the digestive process;
* Never eat when you are not hungry; eat only light foods like soup or steamed vegetables when very tired or convalescing;
* Avoid eating heavy or large quantities of food in the evening. These can be taken at lunchtime when the digestive power is at its strongest;
* Avoid drinking within one hour before or after meals. A little amount can be taken with the meal if desired;
* Food is best eaten hot and freshly prepared with love;
* Never eat whilst experiencing strong emotions such as anger, grief or excitement;
* Avoid distractions whilst eating, such as watching TV, and never eat whilst on the move;
* Eat in clean, quiet and pleasant surroundings whilst giving your full attention to what you are eating;
* Eat foods that are complementary in nature. For example, do not mix heating and cooling foods, and heavy, cold foods should not be eaten in a cold, damp environment.

A Life in Sattva

Just as the state of mind can be enhanced with diet and nutrition, lifestyle factors also exert a major influence on mind equilibrium. Reducing the amount of rajasic and tamasic foods in the diet initiates a shift in perception However, to really feel the benefits it is important also to make some lifestyle changes. Daily routines that are stressful, excessively active, erratic or idle have a negative impact on the mind. Although we may experience a certain buzz or pleasure initially from leading these lifestyles, they are not ultimately satisfying and may leave us feeling depleted or discontented with life. Activities that are sattvic in nature, however, encourage the development of sattvic qualities such as contentment, peacefulness and positivity. They are calming, quiet, inspiring and mentally invigorating. Some examples include being amongst nature and the outdoors, gardening, listening to peaceful music, creative or artistic pursuits, meditation and yoga or other forms of gentle exercise. A crucial aspect of this approach is to reduce and deal with stress more effectively by developing a more balanced and calm approach to life. Ayurveda describes many simple practices that can be incorporated into the daily routine which help to achieve this positive attitude of mind.

* Wake up anytime during the brahma muhurta, the two-hour period before sunrise. This is a good time of day for meditation on the day ahead and the positive changes you would like to make;
* Take some form of simple exercise for at least 20 minutes every day. Yoga postures, brisk walking and muscle stretching are very beneficial for strengthening the body and calming the mind. Breathing practices, such as pranayama are also very effective in enhancing physical and mental capabilities;
* Perform self-massage every day with oil (sesame oil is recommended). Spend at least 5-10 minutes massaging the entire body and then relax for 5 minutes. Take longer over this if you have the time;
* Take Ayurvedic rejuvenatives daily such as Chywan Prash, which boost immunity, maintain efficient metabolism and promote healthy cellular regeneration;
* Don't skip meals and try and get into a routine of eating at regular times;
* Avoid staying up late. Ayurveda recommends going to bed no later than 11pm. Establish regular sleeping patterns.

Developing the Sattvic Emotions.

The impact of positive and negative emotions on the health is becoming widely acknowledged as we recognize that our consciousness, mind, thoughts and emotions animate and direct our physical parts. It is very important, therefore, that we also focus on maximizing the sattvic temperament within us all. People of a sattvic nature are generally calm, gentle and considerate of others, demonstrating generosity and open-mindedness. They are highly positive in nature, fair, forgiving and do not seek to impose their will. Their mind is clear and peaceful and they are honest, humble and quiet. Those with a sattvic nature express happiness, enthusiasm and joy. They are flexible, moderate, regular and balanced in their habits and activities. Every day we are given the opportunity to choose positive emotional behaviour whether it is in our business dealings or in our relationships with family and friends. Resolving emotions that generate conflict, aggression, hostility and developing tolerance and diplomacy has profound effects on our social interactions, health and enjoyment of life. It takes time and practice to relearn our emotional responses and reflexes but as we work to reduce the rajasic and tamasic elements in our lives we become naturally inclined towards sattva. Ayurveda offers a truly holistic approach to mind-body equilibrium by treating the gross with the subtle, addressing the emotions through diet and lifestyle practices.

In Indian philosophy, happiness is divided into three types according to which mode or guna it was achieved in. Happiness which is obtained with 'delusion from beginning to end' and that arises from laziness and fantasy is achieved in the mode of tamas or ignorance. Happiness that is derived from gratification or stimulation of the senses, that 'appears like nectar in the beginning but is poison in the end' is obtained in the mode of rajas, or passion. And happiness that 'tastes like poison in the beginning but in the end is like nectar' is said to be happiness obtained from the mode of sattva or goodness. For clear perception and awareness of what is really nourishing for the soul, the mind needs to be released from the influence of rajas and tamas gunas. The gunas are not merely intellectual types or emotional tendencies but reflect the level of development of the soul, the capacity of the mind to perceive truth and act accordingly. The word for health in Ayurveda is svasthya and literally means to be established in oneself. Living life in the mode of sattva allows us to know and become our true selves as we distance ourselves from the influence of our senses and instead listen to the calling of our soul. The soul is always pure and leads us towards experiences and influences that enrich and nourish us, and supports us in our efforts to evolve in our perception of truth and achieve greater unification of the mind, body and soul.

Case History

Dear Partap,
I have been gradually increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables that I eat and reducing the use of onions and garlic in my cooking and I can really feel the difference. After a few weeks I suddenly realized that I was able to continue with my writing for much longer periods. I usually begin to feel drained and foggy in the brain after a few hours but now my head feels much clearer and the thoughts come through un-muddled. Friends have also noticed the change, saying my eyes are sparkling and my skin glowing. I have a lost a little weight too and feel much more comfortable in my body, with a sense of lightness and ease in my movements. I am really becoming aware of the different effects of food and activities on my mental outlook. A few times I have had meat when dining out and have felt a real change in mood to a more negative and aggressive outlook. I have also noticed the difference in outlook in the morning depending on what I have done the night before. If I stay up late watching crime programmes on TV I wake up feeling gloomy and unmotivated compared to the positivity I feel after an evening listening to music and trying my hand at sketching.

I really feel that I now can have some control over my health and outlook on life.

Further Information

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  1. Vimal said..

    Thank you very much for all these information...

  2. Sudha said..

    Many Thanks for providing this valuable information .

  3. Mahomedali C said..

    Cant thank you enough that so lucidly you bring out the cream out of our Indian ancient Aruveda. With very best wishes ever.

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About Dr Partap Chauhan

Dr Partap Chauhan (BAMS), Director of Jiva Ayurveda Research Institute, India Dr Partap Chauhan is a practitioner of Ayurveda in its original form. His strong background in Vedic philosophy and spiritual faith is the foundation for his commitment in treating patients and teaching Ayurveda worldwide in its true and holistic form. Based in Faridabad, a suburb of Delhi, he runs a busy clinic treating patients suffering from various different chronic diseases. With the holistic approach of Ayurveda, he has been able to help patients with diseases including renal failure, cirrhosis of the liver, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, migraine and severe depression. In 1992 he opened Jiva Pharmacy, where herbal treatments are formulated and hand processed according to the original methods described in the ancient Ayurvedic texts. You can meet Dr Chauhan and have a personal consultation at the Mind Body Spirit Festival (May 25-June 2, Royal Horticultural Halls, London) He is also holding two workshops (Understanding and Healing the Mind) at the Festival on May 27 and May 29. Dr Chauhan can be contacted at

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