International Yoga Day: How Is Diet Dictated By One's 'Guna'?
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THE concept of energy is often used in association with physical and mental states-  Recognising the depletion of these energies is straightforward, and we typically possess the knowledge and means to restore them effectively. Such measures include eating and engaging in periods of rest. 

Ancient spiritual practices and traditions like yoga, Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism, though, believe energy encompasses more than just the fuel for the body and mind; it permeates every aspect of the universe. Moreover, thoughts, emotions, and experiences also possess unique energetic vibrations that leave imprints on the body as physical sensations, ideally released through the breath. To delve deeper into the understanding of this intangible energy, we can explore the gunas, an aspect of yoga's subtle body anatomy.

What are Gunas?

The gunas, meaning "strands" or "qualities" in Sanskrit, are energetic forces intricately interwoven to shape the universe and its constituents. These forces manifest as three distinct gunas: tamas (stability), rajas (activity), and sattva (consciousness). According to ancient yogic teachings, sattva was the most desirable state of being, and thus, a sattvic diet was prescribed as ideal for spiritual and physical nourishment. Modern practitioners seem to have a more fluid approach towards the same. They believe a universal diet might not be the most effective approach towards healthy living. Individual needs for nourishment can vary greatly. What may be beneficial for one person may not be suitable for another. Furthermore, the food required in the present moment may differ from what was needed in the past or will be needed in the future.

Moreover, incorporating the principles of yoga into our dietary choices can present challenges, particularly because ancient yogic texts lack specific guidelines for a "yogic diet." Moreover, the food recommendations from centuries ago in India may not be suitable for the diverse needs of individuals today.

What kind of food does each Guna prescribe?

Gunas serve as descriptors for our behavioural patterns, cognitive processes, overall well-being, and even dietary choices. Each individual possesses a unique combination of these energetic attributes, which shape their character. Devoid of Tamas, one would be deprived of restful sleep; lacking Rajas, dynamism and vigour would wane; and without Sattva, life would be devoid of inspiration, lacking the essence of elevated human qualities. 

Sattvic, embodies a state of equilibrium and elevated consciousness characterised by clarity, selflessness, and harmonious action. By incorporating practices that prioritise self-care, mindfulness, and devotion, individuals can cultivate and embody the transformative qualities of sattva. Sattvic foods foster a lucid mind, primarily consisting of fresh, juicy, and nourishing vegetarian dishes that are easily digestible. These foods abstain from additives and preservatives, encompassing legumes, vegetables, fruits, ghee, and fresh milk. Ayurveda states such fare elevates one's consciousness, spurring positive actions, and unleashes dormant potential and creativity. As a result, individuals find themselves content, serene, and adept at navigating the external world.

Rajas relates to passion and action. In the natural world, Rajas facilitates the sprouting of seeds, the germination of flowers, and the birth of new life. It’s almost as primal as breathing itself, providing the impetus to rise in the morning and sustain one's momentum throughout the day. Rajas represents the energy of change, unbridled enthusiasm, passion, and self-confidence necessary to accomplish tasks. Correspondingly then, Rajasic foods come into play during laborious activities, bolstering physical endurance and fostering a determined mental state. They incorporate ingredients like garlic, spices, caffeine derived from coffee, black tea, and chocolate, eggs, meat, alcohol, as well as fermented or canned foods. This kind of food, while recommended before predominantly physically strenuous activities, is harmful in excess. 

Tamasic embodies introspection and inactivity. Often associated with stability, Tamas tends to have negative connotations, primarily being portrayed as the force of entropy, sluggishness, and stagnation. However, its energetic vibration, characterised by slowness and density, serves a crucial purpose in providing stability and focus. Similar to the calming and steadying effect of exhaling, Tamas brings a sense of grounding and steadiness. Likewise, Tamasic foods have a grounding effect, but often instigate inertia and dull the mind. This category consists of ingredients such as onions, mushrooms, meats, leftovers, microwaved and frozen foods. 

The preparation of food holds significant influence over the Guna it promotes. Fresh vegetarian fare typically aligns with the Sattvic realm, but the addition of chilies, frying, or overcooking can impart Rajasic qualities. Moreover, if food is cooked in advance and kept for extended periods, it transitions into the Tamasic category.

All three gunas coexist in every experience, dynamically interacting and shifting in prominence. Depending on the specific challenge at hand and, crucially, our response to it, one guna will typically dominate the others. In essence, understanding energy entails recognising its pervasiveness beyond mere physical and mental aspects. The gunas offer a framework to grasp the complexities of energy as it manifests in our lives, shedding light on our habitual tendencies and our responses to diverse circumstances.