Food and the Three Gunas (Trigunas) in Yoga and Ayurveda

Author: Indu Sandhu, Yoga and Ayurveda Practitioner

In Yoga and Ayurveda, the three Gunas are classification of the quality of energy. A Guna is one
of the three tendencies of the mind, body and consciousness: Rajas, Tamas and Sattva. These
describe our behaviour, thinking, health and diet. All these attributes of energy are present in
every person in different proportions. Without Tamas one would not sleep, without Rajas one
would lack dynamism and without Sattva life would be uninspiring, lacking the higher human
qualities. The food we eat has an enormous influence on us physically, mentally, emotionally
and spiritually. A yogi aims to increase the Sattva Guna in all aspects of life and diet plays a
major role in this endeavour.

Sattvic: The Mode of Goodness, is the neutral force (0), it means balance and is the calm anchor
to the energy currents.

Sattvic Foods: promote a clear mind and is mainly fresh, juicy and nourishing vegetarian fare,
easy to digest and made with love. Free of additives and preservatives it can include legumes,
vegetables, fruit, ghee and fresh milk. Such foods raise ones’ consciousness, inspire positive
action, deeper meditation and unleash ones’ latent potential and creativity; happy and at peace,
effectively dealing with the outside world.

Rajas: The Mode of Passion, means motion and is seen as the positive (+), fiery, outgoing
principle.

Rajasic Foods: usually come into play with hard labor as they support physical endurance and a
resolute state of mind. They contain garlic, spices, caffeine (from coffee, black tea and
chocolate), eggs, meat, alcohol and fermented or canned foods. Foods made in anger, fried foods
or over-cooked Sattvic foods also get Rajasic qualities. These foods give an initial burst of
energy but eventually one experiences a low or increase in stress levels. A predominantly rajasic
diet destroys the mind-body equilibrium, feeding the body at the expense of the mind. A rajasic
person will eat on the run, eat fast and as a result have a poor digestion and health. The mind in
the rajasic state is fierce and passionate, putting all its force into something but can get easily
frustrated if the goal is not accomplished.

Tamasic: The Mode of Ignorance, means resistance and describes the idea of negative (-), cool
watery and inward principle.

Tamasic Foods: require a lot of energy to digest and have a grounding effect but usually create
inertia and can dull the mind. To these belong onions, mushrooms, meats, leftovers, microwaved
and frozen foods. Foods made with indifference also have tamasic qualities. Such foods do
nothing to lift ones’ consciousness and energy, but rather drag one into a state of inertia and
laziness. Besides causing a host of health issues, they make the person unmotivated, careless and
oblivious of ones’ own self and the others around. The mind in this state shows most negative
traits: lethargic, depressed, hateful or even murderous, suicidal and thieving.

The preparation of food plays an important part in determining which Guna it promotes. Fresh
vegetarian food is usually Sattvic, but becomes Rajasic by adding chilies, frying or over cooking
and furthermore becomes Tamasic by cooking it in advance and keeping it for too long.