Understanding The Qualities Of Mind

Āyurveda does not separate the body-mind-spirit, though the science has specific methods for focused healing of each. Physical and psychological diseases seldom occur one without the other. Physical pain or dis-ease affects ones’ mental and emotional state and weakens the senses. Psychological imbalance often creates desire, craving, or confusion which lead to diet and lifestyle choices that affect physical health. Stress to the nervous system can cause digestive issues, which is a root cause of disease. Holistic health care and prevention understands that body-mind-spirit is one, and addresses the whole being accordingly.

As we focus on how the body-mind-spirit moves as one interconnected unit, it is helpful to understand the three main qualities of mind. In Āyurveda and Yoga philosophy we see these qualities referred to as Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. Nature offers expansive energy in which we can expand into wisdom and contractive energy in which we can contract into ignorance. This energy exists in the whole of nature, including our individual psyche. By understanding these subtle forces, and learning how to work with them, healing becomes possible.

Sattva is light and luminous in nature. It is the principle of clarity and peace, offering lasting contentment. The energy of Sattva moves inward and upward, bringing awakening to the soul. It is the pure loving essence that unites, free of attachment and desire.

Rajas is frenetic and active. It is the quality of change, movement, transformation, and turbulence. It moves outward. We need this active energy in order to get out of bed, start a project, or simply move from one thing to the next. In excess, Rajas causes suffering by distorting focus outward, rather than connection to self or spirit. This can look like seeking pleasure from external sources, such as food, activities, other people, or any substance. It can create a busyness of mind that propels us unconsciously into human-doing rather than human-being.

Tamas is heavy, dull, dark, and inert. The energy moves downward, akin to the gravitational pull that holds us in place. This energy is necessary for us to sleep, slow down, and rest. When there is excess Tamas, it is as if a veil covers the mind blocking clarity and consciousness. We move about in a deluded state, and become complacent, stagnant, and unable to perform necessary life tasks. From this state, it is impossible to see clearly and make decisions that benefit ourselves or others.

The mind, or consciousness in general, is naturally the domain of Sattva. Rajas and Tamas are the fluctuations of the mind, with Sattva being the healthy balance of the two. As the state of balance, Sattva is responsible for true health and healing. A Sattvic lifestyle includes living in harmony with the rhythms of nature, time spent in silence, meditation, prayer, and any way of being that cultivates clarity and peace. Fresh, unprocessed foods prepared and eaten mindfully promote Sattva in our beings.

As factors that cause dis-ease, Rajas and Tamas often work together. Rajas can lead to over-exertion, which eventually leads to exhaustion, where Tamas prevails. Our culture in general is quite Rajasic, and the go-go-go mentality is often revered. After being in a Rajasic state for too long, we burn out and become Tamasic, which is often a hidden state and looked down upon.
Each of these energetic forces serve a purpose. In order to move from a Tamasic state into a Sattvic state, we need the frenetic, active energy of Rajas.

Invigorating exercise, loud or constant noise, singing, dancing, or any form of ecstatic movement will increase Rajas in the body-mind-spirit. Pungent foods such as black pepper, ginger, garlic, chilis, and onion will enliven the energy of Rajas. While all of these activities and foods can serve as medicine, it is important to understand their effects so that they can be enjoyed appropriately.

Activities with opposite qualities will increase Tamas, such as slow, steady movement, warm baths, laying, and non-movement. Heavy foods in excess such as dairy, oil, and meat will increase Tamasic energy in the body-mind-spirit. While eating freshly cooked, whole foods increases Sattva, canned goods, processed foods, stale or old foods are more Tamasic in nature because the life-force energy from the food has diminished or becomes non-existent.

Referring back to the principle of “like increases like, and opposites balance”, the practice of cultivating Sattva provides clarity of mind and the ability to see what qualities are needed in order maintain balance in daily life. As we become accountable to our choices, we are also offered a freedom to act from an informed and conscious place. If we go out dancing, perhaps we can lay on the ground afterwards to allow the Rajasic energy to settle. If we are feeling really dull or depressed, it may be good medicine to have some ginger tea or spicy foods, and get outside in the fresh air.

As we being to slowly implement these principles, the veil slowly lifts and clarity begins to shine through. We become more aware of what brings true contentment, and one small shift naturally leads to another. We are free to make different choices each day, and are not bound to these choices from one day or one season to the next.

To learn more about these principles and other self-healing concepts from the teachings of Āyurveda and Yoga, please join me and the community in these upcoming workshops!