It is up to us to eat the right food and attune our senses to the right influences; in other words, we are what we eat and become what we sense we are, says Ayurveda practitioner and psychiatrist, DR ANITA DUGGAL
There is a saying that we are what we eat. This certainly holds true from the Ayurvedic point of view, and therefore, Ayurveda stresses on a quality diet. Ayurveda teaches us that what we eat and consume makes us what we are. We are also constantly consuming through our five senses and this inflow of sensory impressions shapes and moulds our mind as much as the food we eat.
The mind, like the body is constantly being renewed. Ayurveda regards the mind as a subtle form of matter which is shaped by the food we consume; in other words, the subtle essence of our food forms the mind. It is also being influenced by the incoming pranic flow through our senses. We know that whatever we experience colours our thoughts and emotions, but we are often unaware of the subtle effect that everything that we take in has on our state of mind.
Everything in this manifest universe has its specific qualities and properties. There are three inherent aspects or qualities of nature known as the three gunas: sattwa, rajas and tamas. These are present throughout nature and are likewise present in our mind. The mind is formed from sattwa and this is its essential nature. However, the mind is disturbed in its functioning by rajas and tamas, the doshas of the mind. Rajas activates the mind and Tamas dulls it. It is these three qualities that continually exert a subtle influence on us. They are present in all phenomena and in every human being to varying degrees. They are in constant flux and at one time, one may predominate, and at another time, another may predominate.
The sattvic quality promotes harmony, calmness, clarity, purity and stillness in the mind. Rajasic qualities are exciting, stimulating and promote activity, passions and ambition. Tamasic quality is dulling, clouding and promotes somnolence and inertia.
Let us start with the diet. Each item of food has its specific nature and associated qualities. All that we consume is made of these three gunas in varying degrees.
Sattvic food broadly speaking is freshly prepared from wholesome vegetarian food which has a calming and pleasing effect on the mind. Many fresh vegetables and fruit are sattvic in nature. Fresh milk, ghee, whole grain pulses, nuts, and seeds are also some other examples of sattvic foods.
Rajasic food is stimulating, tasty and spicy and excites the mind and makes it active. Examples are meat, fish, eggs, garlic, chillies, pickles, caffeine, chocolate and so on. Tamasic food, on the other hand, is dulling in its effect. Stale and processed food, meat, mushrooms, and fermented food like bread, hard cheeses, vinegar and alcohol are a few examples.
Another term that often comes up in relation to food is a sensory diet and this too exerts its effect on our mind. What we consume through our senses also has sattvic, rajasic or tamasic qualities.
Sattvic sensory impressions are harmonious, clear, uplifting and calming. These could be sounds, sights, fragrances or a touch. A sattvic environment, likewise, is clean, light, clear and harmonious. The colours are gentle pastels. Music and chants which are harmonious and peaceful have a sattvic effect. This includes religious and spiritual music and chants. Listening to such music nourishes us and uplifts our spirit with positive thoughts and tendencies.
Rajasic sensory impressions activate and stimulate the passions. This could be in the form of sounds, music, images and odours that stimulate and excite the mind. Watching thrillers, passionate dramas, listening to rock music or other foot-tapping beats all activate the mind. Bright colours, too have a rajasic effect.
In contrast, tamasic impressions have a negative and clouding effect. These are dark images, negative, discordant sounds, foul language, and unpleasant smells. Negativity in the content of what we see or hear will have a dulling or agitating effect on our mind. An environment which is dark, dull and neglected will also have a tamasic effect.
Enhancing sattwa may accord a certain mental peace and stability. Rajas has a role in achieving goals and being dynamic in society. However, in excess, it can cause anxiety, restlessness and agitation. Tamas is also important in inducing sleep, without which we cannot function. However, in excess, it can cause heaviness, lethargy, dullness and infuse one with feelings of depression.
Our five senses are constantly consuming impressions and this shapes the mind. Everything we do influences us and shapes what we become. Hence the importance of our sensory diet, our environment and our company. As rajas and tamas are the qualities which when in excess are said to cause disturbances in the mind, these need to be kept in check.
All three gunas are essential in nature, but a strong sattva is helpful for a clear and calm state of mind. The mind is the subtle part of our body and is influenced by everything that the body takes in through its diet and senses.
Which brings us to the truth of the statement that we are indeed what we eat! If we are what we consume, then in a broad sense, we can exercise control in shaping how we want our mind to be. We can and must take charge of the forces that govern us.
Dr Anita Duggal is a retired psychiatrist resident in the UK. She studied Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science and was awarded an MSc with distinction in 1992. She has also studied Ayurveda in the UK as well as in India and was awarded an MSc in Ayurvedic Medicine from Middlesex University in the UK in 2007. Although she has worked mainly within mainstream Mental Health Services, she has always maintained a strong interest in Ayurveda and its approach to mental health.
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