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Moving towards a sattvic life
What does being sattvic actually mean? According to Ayurveda, sattva is the quality of nature that brings about balance, peace, purity and clarity. It is one of the three subtle qualities or ‘gunas’ that exist in all of nature. The other two qualities are rajas and tamas. Rajas is the quality of energy, movement and transformation that creates imbalance in life, while tamas is the quality of solidity, heaviness and stagnancy that creates inertia. If we want to become healthy or to maintain good health using an Ayurvedic approach, moving towards a sattvic life is a key element in this process.
A highly rajasic person is extremely focused on doing, achieving and getting places, their lifestyle typical of modern fast-paced society. Over time, too much energy is expelled and this type of lifestyle causes stress, burnout and often pain from overdoing. A highly tamasic person, on the other hand, is slow moving, heavy, lethargic and often depressed. Mental dullness and a lack of energy exist, caused by a lifestyle of either too much inertia or too much overdoing that eventually results in exhaustion. Therefore, rajas can sometimes lead to tamas.
So we aim for sattva to balance, harmonise ourselves with nature, and to stay energised and healthy. A sattvic person has mental clarity and is pure in thoughts, words, and actions. They don’t over work like the rajasic person and aren’t lazy like the tamasic person. Yet as human beings and part of nature, we all have all three gunas within us. It really depends on which we decide to cultivate, along with our natural tendencies according to our own body type. Vata and pitta types can tend towards rajas, while kaphas can have some tamasic tendencies. But we can all aim for sattva.
The food that we eat naturally also contains the three qualities of nature and therefore is the biggest factor influencing which guna pervades in us. Light, clean, organic, fresh foods eaten in the right amount are sattvic; stimulating foods like spicy foods, alcohol and coffee are rajasic; while dense, heavy, stale foods and overeating will bring about tamas.
Any imbalance or disease is, according to Ayurveda, a manifestation of too much rajas or too much tamas, therefore treatments are generally of a sattvic nature, working to bring the body back into balance. On occasion a rajasic treatment may be applied to treat someone with severe tamas, or a tamasic treatment to bring someone with extreme hyperactivity (rajas) back to balance. But in general, adding more sattva is always a good approach.
Here are 5 simple ways that you can start to move towards a more sattvic life:
If you feel over-stimulated, stressed or anxious, start to be mindful of the amount of rajasic food and drinks consumed and see what you can replace with sattvic options: fresh, local, organic real foods that you enjoy, for maximum nourishment.
On a tamasic day rajasic food can help, or in the morning when tamas pervades, caffeine can be useful to some (kaphas) but too much will create rajas. Aim for as much sattvic food as is possible, eating only what you need.
- Physical activity:
Yoga is a sattvic practice that can help to balance the body if practiced mindfully, with different styles available to suit all body types and to balance both rajas and tamas. Rajasic pitta types need to be mindful of overdoing it in any physical activity, including yoga. All movement is good for counteracting tamas or a kapha imbalance.
- Work-life balance
Are you an over-working, over-achieving type? This rajasic quality can be a tricky one to change but by starting to look at where you spend most of your energy and recognising your limits you can start to make small changes. Creating time to enjoy life or to experience the beauty of the world is not selfish or a waste of time. It’s vital to your health and well being to take some time to appreciate life. A sattvic lifestyle is certainly not all work and no play.
- Spiritual practice:
Connecting to that which is greater than us can cultivate peace, calm and clarity within – all sattvic qualities. The key is to find a practice that resonates, which doesn’t become another chore on the to-do list, but something that feels good and is sustainable. Pranayama or simple breath work is a wonderful way, if practiced correctly, to calm the mind and bring it back to sense of peace. Others finding sitting practices beneficial, or a combination of yoga with pranayama, meditation, chanting, time in nature or mindfulness etc. Find what works for you and do it consistently with heart to see results.
If there is one simple way to cultivate sattva it is to develop a sense of gratitude, a practice that can take a matter of seconds each day. A tamasic nature is one that is lacking in motivation, clarity and will, all of which a rajasic nature has, but it is also lacking, in it’s constant desire for more. Gratitude for what we have now eradicates lacking and the need for more, it recognises the wealth we have and in turn inspires caring and compassion for others, which are truly sattvic qualities.
Even as we work daily towards a more sattvic life it’s important not to get attached even to that goal or to take things too seriously in the process, as this may only result in bringing more rajas back by being too goal-focused or more tamas by giving up. The key is to cultivate sattva little by little every day by what we eat, how we move, practice, think and speak. Over time this naturally results in the moving towards a life of more balance, peace, purity and clarity.