Do you struggle to focus? Do you feel like your mind is always racing, wondering “Did I do enough?” or “Should I be doing something else right now?”
The fluctuations of the mind in the modern world may feel unique to our times, considering all the signs showing how we live in the fastest changing era to date. However, even before modern technology, ancient yogic and ayurvedic philosophers studied the effects of the unharnessed mind, and created a roadmap full of tangible and practical ways to cease the monkey mind.
There is a natural ebb and flow of universal energy called the mahagunas (“the great qualities”) encompassing sattva, rajas, and tamas, also known as potential energy, kinetic energy, and inertia. The mahagunas interplay with one another and act upon all aspects of life. For instance, a single piece of fruit will pass through rajas when it is unripe, then sattva when perfectly juicy, ripe, and most nutritious, and then tamas when rotten or stale.
Sattva means “a state of pure being,” and lucky for us, according to the ancient texts, the true state of the mind is sattvic — calm, clear, and stable. This might be hard to believe, considering so many of us struggle with slowing the mind down, but I’m sure you can think of a time in your life when you could discern a situation honestly without bias, to see clearly what needed to be done, to feel a sense of clarity in a decision, or to feel your intuition guiding you versus the anxious mind. That is sattva. A sattvic mind is unperturbed, free of cravings, and stable.
When the mind is in a balanced state, we can see more clearly and make decisions to further support that balanced state. One of the key laws in Ayurveda is that “like increases like.” Therefore, when in a balanced state, we crave that which keeps us balanced. However, more common in our fast-paced adrenaline seeking world, is that when we are in an amped up rajasic state, we will crave things to keep us in that frenzied state, like craving caffeine versus craving sleep when exhausted.
Rajas and tamas are the “doshas of the mind” throwing sattva out of whack. Sattva is the pure state and rajas and tamas disturb the peace. While not inherently bad, rajas and tamas do cause either a spike in energy or a lull. We need rajas and tamas to help us get up in the morning and to fall asleep at night. However, if we are not living in accordance with the seasons or daily rhythms, we can become imbalanced quickly, affecting our energy dramatically.
Signs of a sattvic mind:
-ability to concentrate
-craves healthy foods and practices pleasing to the senses
-ability to discern without bias
Signs of a rajasic mind:
-craving sour/spicy foods
-craving caffeine or other stimulants
-always seeking change
-physical and mental overexertion
Signs of tamasic mind:
-feelings of stagnation
-loss of appetite
-eating leftovers, stale or processed foods
What can be very reassuring about studying Vedic philosophy is realizing at our core, we are whole. All of the ayurvedic and yogic tools help us remember we are complete, and our true essence is a clear, stable, and calm mind. We do not need to create sattva, but rather return to it. Some of the best ways to do this include creating the environments in which sattva flourishes.
Sattvic foods are fresh, ripe, local, cooked with love, eaten with care, and digested easily.
Sattvic practices include anything you do with love that causes no harm, leaves no residue, and leaves long-term positive effects on your life.
We never arrive at sattva. Life is designed to knock us off balance, but with a more compassionate understanding of our minds, we can continue living life to the fullest. We can experience the inevitable ups and downs of life with a less perturbed mind, pausing before reacting. We can trust that there is a calm, serene presence at all times within us,observing nonjudgmentally and loving wholeheartedly.
Meghan Hatalla is a body-positive Minnesota yoga instructor and life design writer.