According to Ayurveda, the forces that determine the five elements of which the universe is made up of are known as the gunas. The term ‘guna’ means strand, thread or rope- or in other words, guna is that which binds. The gunas are divided into three categories- sattva, rajas and tamas, and everything in nature is made up the interplay of these three forces. What exactly are the factors that make up these gunas?
Sattva is intelligence and goodness. It creates harmony, balance and stability and is light and luminous in nature. Rajas is change, activity, and turbulence. Rajas is stimulating and provides pleasure, but can also result in pain and suffering. Tamas is the state of mind dominated by density and inertia. It functions as the force of gravity that holds things down in a specific limited form. Tamas is also characterized by ignorance and lack of awareness.
The Influence of the Gunas
The gunas influence your mental state and determine your psychological profile. People who are dominated by sattva are loving kind and compassionate. They are pure of mind, and recognized for their wisdom. When rajas is the predominant guna, a person tends to be egoistic ambitious and aggressive. He or she tends to be proud and is likely to be a control-freak. Those in whom rajas is the predominant guna work hard and are perfectionists, but get angry quickly, fear failure and tend to be jealous of others. Individuals dominated by tamas tend to be lazy, possessive, irritable and inconsiderate. How we respond to events and circumstances depends on the balance of sattva, rajas and tamas in our mental make up. Basically the mind is sattvic, with just enough rajas and tamas to stimulate desire and satisfy it. This balance must be maintained for our life to move forward.
Food and Gunas
To maintain this balance, it is important to eat the right types of foods, for foods, like everything else in this universe, are characterized by the gunas too. Sattvic food is always freshly cooked, simple and light. It increases the mind’s energy and clarity and helps you feel cheerful and serene. Milk, butter, fresh, ripe fruits, almonds, nuts, dates, sprouts, barley, wheat, turmeric, ginger and cardamom are all sattvic foods. Rajasic food is also fresh, but it is heavy. It includes non vegetarian food as well as all vegetables, pulses, and hot spices. Rajasic food increases the desire for power, position, prestige and prosperity. It also increases sensuality, anger, greed and egoism. Tamasic foods are over-cooked, stale and processed foods. They include pastries, fast foods, alcohol, tea, coffee, pickles and preserves. Tamasic food makes one feel depressed, insecure and self centred. Such foods cause rapid ageing and chronic diseases.
In Kerala, where Ayurveda in its purest form has been practiced for centuries, the importance of right eating is nurtured from childhood. The vaidyars or traditional Ayurvedic physicians can help you to choose the foods to balance your gunas, because at different points in your life, one guna or the other will upset the balance, and bad times will occur. But they will pass, and understanding the Guna factor will empower you and help you to be in harmony with your inner self.