Gunas, balance and stress

Three Gunas

According to Ayurveda and yoga philosophy, all living entities are made up and act under the influence of three qualities, known as gunas. These gunas make up nature and creation. Guna literally translated means rope or attitude. It is a subtle material quality which binds the spiritual consciousness to the material body. The three gunas can be used as a journey towards Samadhi. The three gunas are defined as:

  • Sattva
  • Rajas
  • Tamas


Tamas involves inertia, darkness, dullness, ignorance, laziness, indifference and stagnation. Tamasic persons are living in the lowest guna, basically experience misery without fully realising it. A person steeped in tamas lives a dull, inactive life with hardly any response to the world. Tamas emerges after 6 pm. Indulgence in intoxicants, sex and gambling is therefore most prominent during night-time.


Rajas includes selfish activity, passion, desire, energy, movement and change. Rajas is the energy which seeks to accomplish, achieve or create. It is seen in people that are chasing materialistic or egocentric dreams. Rajas finds expression during the course of the day between 6 am and 6 pm. Therefore people are the most active during daytime.


Sattva means ‘pure essence’ and represents the well-balanced and meditative aspect. Sattva involves truth, goodness, purity, steadiness. Yoga in itself is a satvvic activity. A sattvic person is poised, mature and detached from worldly involvement and excitement. Sattva manifest early in the morning between 4am and 6am, the best time to practice yoga. Rajas and tamas lie dormant during that period. For this reason a sattvik person wakes up early. A rajasik person wakes up late and a tamasik has to be virtually pulled out of bed.


Every individual possesses all three gunas and can be more or less dominated by one of the three gunas. The role of a human during lifetime is to gradually rise from tamas to rajas to sattva and reach enlightenment. When consciousness is completely refined the gunas become quiet and return back to their source: nature. You are completely free from the gunas and see everything as one.

Ayurvedic cooking

An important way to regulate the gunas in body and mind is through ayurvedic cooking. For most people who lead a busy life and are also developing spiritually, a diet that consists of mainly Sattvic food in combination with smaller proportion of Rajasic food is recommended. If you do heavy physical work, more rajastic food in addition to sattvic food is ideal. Tamasic food is better avoided.


Sattvic food

Sattvic food is pure, wholesome, and vital and the most suitable for any student of Yoga. It nourishes the body and promotes spiritual growth. It calms and purifies the mind, enabling it to function at its maximum potential and will lead to true health: a peaceful mind in control of a fit body, with a balanced flow of energy between them. The mind is as alert after a meal of sattvic food as it was before the food was eaten. Sattvic food nourish the body without taxing the digestive tract. They are fresh, juicy, light, nourishing, sweet and tasty.

Sattvic food includes: dried and fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, pure fruit juices, cereals, wholesome bread, milk, ghee, butter and cheese, legumes, nuts, seeds, honey, salads and fresh herbs, including herbal teas.

Rajastic food

Rajastic food is mostly very hot, bitter, sour, dry or salty food and stimulating. It effects the mind-body balance. Too much rajastic food can over-stimulate the body and excite the passions. It can makes the mind restless and uncontrollable. Rajasic foods stimulate desire or nervous energy.

Rajastic foods includes: hot substances, such as sharp spices or strong herbs, fish, salt, chocolate, unions, red meat, high protein food, garlic, onions, ‘fast foods’, snacks, coffee and tea. Eating in hurry is also considered rajastic.

Tamasic food

A tamastic diet benefits neither the mind nor the body. Prana, or the vital life energy is withdrawn, powers of reasoning become clouded and a sense of inertia sets in. The body’s resistance to disease is destroyed and the mind will be filled with emotions such as anger and greed. After eating meals which are largely tamasic in nature, the mind becomes dull and sluggish. Tamasic foods require large amount of energy while being digested. They are old, dry, distasteful and decaying and create heaviness and drowsiness.

Tamasic foods includes: alcohol, tobacco, eggs, drugs, meat, strongly processed foods, stale and overripe substances and overcooked and fried food. Overeating is also considered tamastic.

Final note

Above all, I would recommend listening to your body’s signals and eat mindful. I would say that your mind set is almost more important than the actually food on your plate. Some say that if you have arrived in the final limb – Samadhi – also known as Enlightenment, it doesn’t matter at all what you eat. You can eat perfectly healthy sattvic food, but with a tamasic mind set. And the other hand you could consume a tamastic diet, but with a sattvic mind set. Is one better than the other? Balance is my keyword. And a reminder: stress is related to 99% of all disease. So relax!


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