The Sattvic or Yogic Diet
By Gary Gran, CYT, D.Ay.

 


Sattva is defined as the quality of purity and goodness. Sattvic food is that which is pure, clean and wholesome. A sattvic diet is food that gives life, strength, energy, courage and self-determination. In other words, sattvic food gives us more than the gross physical requirements of the proper mix of proteins, carbs and fats etc. It also gives us the subtle nourishment necessary for vitality and consciousness. Food is seen as a carrier of the life force called prana and is judged by the quality of its prana and by the effect it has on our consciousness.

These are important considerations in the practice of yoga. Yoga is defined as those practices that lead to anushasanam, which means the governing of one’s subtle nature (Yoga Sutras 1:1). The goal of yoga is described as chitta vritti nirodha, the quieting of the mind-field (YS 1:2). Yoga practitioners advocate the use of the sattvic diet to support these subtle goals.

A beginning practice in both ayurveda and yoga is to simply observe the effect of each food choice we make and, from our experience and awareness, begin to make small changes. As we progress in this practice we can recognize three broad categories called the gunas. Some foods leave us feeling tired and sluggish. This is called the tamasic effect. Other foods leave us feeling agitated or over-stimulated--the rajasic effect. The third category belongs to foods that leave us feeling calm, alert and refreshed. This is the sattvic effect and the basis of the sattvic diet.

If we persist in this practice, we will arrive at our personal version of the sattvic diet. The Bhagavad Gita describes the sattvic diet as “promoting life, virtue, strength, health, happiness and satisfaction.” Sattvic foods are “savory, smooth, firm and pleasant to the stomach.” By contrast, the Gita describes the rajasic diet as “excessively pungent, sour, salty, hot, harsh, astringent and burnt,” leading to “pain, misery and sickness.” The tamasic foods are described as “stale, tasteless, smelly, left-over, rotten and foul” (BG 17:8-10).

The true test of our foods comes when we meditate. All meditators know that there are two main problems. One is falling asleep--the tamasic effect. The other is an over-active mind--the rajasic effect. If we want to be able to quiet the mind and maintain our alertness to explore our subtle nature, we need to follow the sattvic diet. “When sattva predominates, the light of wisdom shines through every gate of the body” (BG 14: 11).


The Traditional Sattvic Diet
Although it has been suggested that one can arrive at the sattvic diet through trial and error, it can be most helpful to consider the general characteristics of the sattvic diet, which traditionally is described as pure foods that are rich in prana. Organic foods are therefore recommended for both their purity and vitality. The food should be fresh and freshly prepared. Leftovers are decidedly tamasic. There are some exceptions, but most people understand that if you make a beautiful meal one day and feel great from it, that is no guarantee that you’ll get the same effect or pleasure the next day.

Sattvic foods are light (as opposed to heavy) in nature, easy to digest, mildly cooling, refreshing and not disturbing to the mind. They are best prepared with love and awareness. On this last point, please note that just as our food affects our mind, our thoughts and emotions also affect our food. You can consume high-quality food, but if it is prepared or eaten in anger, it will have a disturbing effect. On the other hand, you can sometimes take less than pure food and bless it to overcome its impurities. The idea ultimately is to absorb that which is nourishing and eliminate that which is not--and to keep our thoughts positive, especially when eating or preparing food.

Pure, sattvic food needs to be chewed carefully and eaten in modest portions. Overeating is definitely tamasic. The food should be enjoyed for its inherent taste and quality, rather than the spices and seasonings that are added. Too much salt and spice has a rajasic effect, which fuels desire and leads to over-satiation, the loss of taste and the loss of pleasure. “When rajas predominates, a person runs about pursuing selfish and greedy ends, driven by restlessness and desire” (BG 14:12). A refined sense of taste leads to increased pleasure.

Fresh Organic Fruits: Most fruits, including apples, apricots, bananas, berries, dates, grapes, melons, lemons, mangoes, oranges, peaches and plums, are considered especially sattvic. Sometimes yogis go on fruit fasts, where they avoid all foods except fruit and fruit juices, when doing a special sadhana (advanced practice) or have undertaken a vow. Fruit is also considered symbolic of generosity and spirituality and is often exchanged as an offering or a gift. Three dried fruits known as triphala are used to keep the digestive system operating optimally.

Fresh Organic Dairy: Dairy is considered controversial these days, but the yoga tradition insists on the value of a wholesome food freely given by the symbol of motherhood, the cow. We need to use the highest quality organic fresh dairy to benefit from its sattvic qualities. Milk, butter, clarified butter (ghee), fresh home-made cheese (paneer), whey and fresh yogurt (especially lassi) are all recommended. They benefit from careful preparation, and the extra effort to learn the recipes is well worthwhile. For example, milk can be diluted and warmed with mild spices (i.e. fresh ginger, cinnamon and cardamom) and served with raw honey to overcome any mucus-forming tendencies. Traditionally, if a yogi is doing advanced practices, the dairy provides needed lubrication, grounding and nourishment. In fact, dairy along with fruit have been described as the epitome of the sattvic or yogic diet.

Nuts, Seeds and Oils: Fresh nuts and seeds that haven’t been overly roasted and salted are good additions to the sattvic diet in small portions. Good choices are almonds (especially when peeled and soaked in water overnight), coconut, pine nuts, walnuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. Oils should be of highest quality and cold-pressed. Good choices are olive oil, sesame oil and flax oil.

Organic Vegetables: Most mild organic vegetables are considered sattvic, including beets, carrots, celery, cucumbers, green leafy veggies, sweet potatoes and squash. Pungent veggies like hot peppers, garlic and onion are excluded, as are gas-forming veggies such as mushrooms and potatoes. They are considered rajasic and tamasic respectively. Sometimes the shortcomings of these foods can be overcome by careful preparation. An excellent practice is to drink freshly made vegetable juices for their prana, live enzymes and easy absorption.

Whole Grains: Whole grains provide excellent nourishment when well cooked. Consider organic rice, whole wheat, spelt, oatmeal and barley. Sometimes the grains are lightly roasted before cooking to remove some of their heavy quality. Yeasted breads are not recommended unless toasted. Wheat and other grains can be sprouted before cooking as well. Favorite preparations are kicharee (basmati rice cooked with split mung beans, ghee and mild spices), kheer (rice cooked with milk and sweetened), chapathis (non-leavened whole wheat flat bread), porridge (sometimes made very watery and cooked with herbs) and “Bible” bread (sprouted grain bread). Sometimes yogis will fast from grains during special practices.

Legumes: Split mung beans, yellow split peas, organic tofu, bean sprouts and perhaps lentils and aduki beans are considered sattvic if well prepared. In general, the smaller the bean, the easier to digest. Strategies include splitting, peeling, grinding, soaking, sprouting, cooking and spicing. Legumes combined with whole grains offer a complete protein combination.

Sweeteners: Yogis use raw honey (especially in combination with dairy) and raw sugar (not refined).

Spices: Sattvic spices are the mild spices including basil, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, fresh ginger and turmeric. Rajasic spices like black pepper, red pepper and garlic are normally excluded, but are sometimes used in small amounts to keep the channels open (rajas is used to counter tamas). But beware. Taking rajasic spices with tamasic food does not equal sattwa. A teacher once said you are more likely to fall asleep and have restless dreams!

Supplemental Protein: Yogis are advised not to indulge in flesh foods. It is said that the fear and anger of the animal being killed is transferred to the person eating the flesh. Fresh meat is considered rajasic, and old meat is considered tamasic. Another approach is to avoid the flesh of mammals, especially if one is using dairy products. How can one eat the flesh of one’s (symbolic) mother? This approach allows for some high-quality fish, poultry or eggs. Even then it is recommended to abstain from flesh foods a minimum of three days a week with at least two prolonged periods of abstention from all animal foods every year. Purists rely on dairy for supplemental protein as it is given freely and is considered non-harming.

One problem of the vegetarian diet is that it can become too cooling. For this reason, yogis of the Tibetan plateau sometimes include meat for warmth. One can also learn to promote bodily warmth through yoga practices centered on the navel region. An ayurvedic approach is to include warming and strengthening herbs in the diet like ashwagandha, astragalus or ginseng. Special combinations include masalas (based on cumin seed, coriander seed and turmeric root), hingashtak, draksha and chyavanprash. There are also mineral and ash preparations used called bhasmas. One that is favored in the Himalayas to keep the body warm in cold weather is a preparation of deer antler called sring bhasma.

Sattvic Herbs: Other herbs are used to directly support sattva in the mind and in meditation. These include ashwagandha, bacopa, calamus, gotu kola, gingko, jatamansi, purnarnava, shatavari, saffron, shankhapushpi, tulsi and rose.

Do remember that the above suggestions are just a starting point. Undoubtedly there are many other foods that will qualify. And some of the traditional suggestions may not be suitable for everyone. So put them to the test until you are full of “the sattvic essence.” In the words of the Charak Samhita, one of the classic textbooks of ayurveda, “The persons having the sattvic essence are endowed with memory, devotion, are grateful, learned, pure, courageous, skillful, resolute, free from anxiety, having well-directed and serious intellect and activities and are engaged in virtuous acts” (CS III-8:110).

And then, when your mind has become sattvic and peaceful like a clear pool of pure water, you may bypass the gunas altogether. Such souls, the Gita tells us, “are unmoved by the harmony of sattva, the activity of rajas, or the delusion of tamas. They feel no aversion when these forces are active, nor do they crave for them when these forces subside. They remain impartial, undisturbed by the action of the gunas. Knowing that it is the gunas which act, they abide within themselves and do not vacillate. Established within themselves, they are equal in pleasure and pain, praise and blame, kindness and unkindness. Clay, a rock and gold are the same to them. Alike in honor and dishonor, alike to friend and foe, they have given up every selfish pursuit. Such are those who have gone beyond the gunas” (BG 14: 22-25).


Gary Gran is a certified yoga teacher and ayurvedic practitioner who teaches and offers private consultations in Evanston, IL. He is the co-director of the Evanston School of Yoga (847.869.7221) and Annapurna Holistic Services (847.733.1059). Gary can also be E-mailed at ggran9@earthlink.net.

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  • What a great thread for highlighting the benefits of healthy eating...

    i must say eating healthy (fresh fruits, fibre grain, vegetables) have always made me feel so much more healthier and energetic... !

    i definately would consider cutting the meat out -maybe not completely- but maybe once or twice a year- i cant say i could ever be strict with the no meat policy, because i love fish!

    kalopsia, the only way i can think of making potatoes sattvic (i love potatoes) is by creating the intention to absorb the good elements only... it works... :)

  • do you think there is a way to prepare potatoes that is sattvic? (not sweet potatoes) anybody following this diet, could you please add me? or thinking about following it, im raw vegan mainly fruitarian atm, but i would love to discuss this, i think it has extreme potential. thank you for sharing the much appreciated info, seraphima <3 much love.

    • I don't really follow the sattvic thing myself. I just eat pure raw god/nature's foods. I love potatoes. Still eating sweet potatoes too, but I also very much enjoy regular potatoes too. The little red ones seem to be a bit more juicy than the big brown ones. And then those pointy white/yellow sweet potatoes are my favorite; not too sweet, but just right in my opinion. And I do nothing to them other than give thanks and my personal blessing and enjoy the life force of it merging with and giving me strength. I realize some of what I said is a little contradicting to SeRAphima's OP, but I think the important thing is to listen to your body and really pay attention to what you put into your body and how it responds to you. We all have different bodies as individuals in this physical world and we all have our own little toxins and pollutants to work out of our systems. Potatoes might be just what I need while hot peppers and ginger may be best for another. I'm not suggesting anything I am observing in anyone here , just giving examples. Either way, I REALLY enjoyed SeRAphima's post and I hope what I added helps others too! :)

      ..love

      EDIT: Oh, and after seeing that picture... I eat lots of bell peppers too! Mmmmm.... I almost enjoy that more than my old pineapple breakfast of recent! :) ahaha

  • Hello all; purity eaters! ;)

    Raw foods changed my life! I eat only raw and organic as much as possible. It is a simple choice that you make to love and honor SELF. I will not go into the toxins/poisons/pollutants in especially US foods, but primarily all processes and cooked foods. I lost ALL my extra weight so fast! We're talking nearly 50 lbs in  4 months! I do still have approximately 5-8ish to go, but it still progressively comes off very fast! :)

    This can be a difficult battle of will within many, but I quit smoking 15 years(approximately) cold turkey too. It was a simple choice to be healthy.  Later I did the same thing with caffeine and then sugar/soda pop and candy stuffs. It is a choice to love SELF. There is no well, i will ease into it. It is something you have to decide within your own self to be pure and love and worship the body.

    As soon as I started feeling the effects of living food, I started noticing all kinds of wonderful changes within; more energy, more happy, less sleep, regular digestion, accelerated healing, etc... I even reversed a cancerous lump in my left breast! It used to be a big bump and hurt quite sharply at times. Now it is hardly even noticeable. I have to really search to find any remnants of it anymore. :) Geesh... 1st time I said that publicly.

    On the note of "living food" criticism, I had a friend recently that said to me, "Yeah it is living until you cut it and pluck it from the tree/root/stem!" My response to that mindset is: You came into this world with a stem too -Rooted within your mother through your Umbilical Cord. The Doctor cut this and you are thriving! ;) This is God's/Nature's way. Think about how many foods continue to grow/ripen even after you pick them; apples, peaches, pears, plums, tomatoes... It is food's(Raw) soul purpose to give back and empower creation through consumption.

    I even bless my food personally and give thanks to its cycle of life fueling my own life force. The way I look at is I don't want to treat my food with anything less than how I would treat my own body, so I love and honor the food I eat. Give thanks and love as I hold it in my hand and as it breaks down within my body. It is a real relationship I have with the food.

    The power is not the food alone here. It is a choice to choose love and to choose purity for self. Amazing healing stories will birth within each and anyone choosing to love and honor and protect self. When you truly make this choice, the transformation is exponential and a joyous journey of empowerment. Food is only a part of the choice, but one of the biggest steps. There are also many others pollutants entering your mulit-dimensional bodies. Don't get caught up in what you may or may not be doing well enough. Let "joy" be your guide as to your progress and fulfillment.

    Right now is a crucial time for cellular growth and regeneration! This is a very special time to take advantage of what is happening to your bodies. I have found that potatoes have been giving my body the most benefit per bite ratio over any other food right now! Of course all of us have different bodies and different things going on that we are working on in each individual scenario, but as far as myself and three of my closest friends all experimenting on which foods are best to eat right now, we ALL agree that the little red potatoes are our bodies best friends right now!

    Think about all those minerals in there! They are building blocks for your body in this very special time of awakening and rebuilding our bodies at a cellular level! You want to reawaken your DNA and do this fast?! Potatoes are the ticket! ;) Of course I would not recommend anyone eating cooked food suddenly start munching on potatoes all day. Although your body will love this, it will just be too much of an impact for your taste buds, but starting with mixed salads and working into it... well believe me, your taste buds really do change! I go to the fridge and see apples, pineapple, orange bell peppers, see my stash of raw and unsweetened nuts on the counter top and my body says to me, "POTATO!" ahahaa I bite into a potato now and love the taste! Yams/sweet potatoes(the orange ones) are far too sweet for me to eat on their own anymore. I need to eat a sweet potato with a regular potato. Otherwise it is just too much sugar at once for me.

    My absolutely favorite food right now is the tan skinned white/yellow inside sweet potatoes. They are just barely sweetened, yet still have all those lovely minerals your cells are needing so right now!

    Well there you go; 4 raw food eaters eating almost primarily raw potatoes! Please do understand however; this is our personal experience. I am only sharing to help you all make YOUR own decisions better through listening to YOUR own intuition and bodies. I hope that helps!


    ..love


    ~Paraleyes

  • Thanks for this post, i really need to get my body in balance , and I'm sure this information is gonna help a great deal. i'm on the verge of going Vegan. i wish i knew what i know now years ago, as a child i never liked meat but told it was good for me. to keep me healthy and strong, so much miss lead information in this world. :( 

    But thanks again. x 

  • ADHD is a resoult of junk food, meat, ciggarets and alcohol ingested by parents passing such poisons to their next generation's children......................

  • another wonderful post( I,e seen more of those posts lately and am happy ) about a diet of fresh, uncooked, raw and organic(home grown) produce and conductor of so called "Life~force" ingested with such diet.Darn it, who ever wrote that couple 1000's of yrs ago knew something important...........me think~!~

  • As much as I would love to follow this kind of diet and believe me I do, $ has a lot to do with why people eat the way that they do. I do my best to eat as much variety of the right foods as I can afford but it's going to take a lot to open up before many others like me will be able to squeeze what money they can out just to be able to do it. But thanks for sharing!!

    • @Emory, This is completely untrue. I apologize for getting up in your space about this issue, but it really is not so. I eat raw foods only and my food bill is substantially less than it was in the past. Even when I was eating lots of cheese and ranch dressing as a transitional phase. . . I can eat for about $35-$40 every 5 days approximately. I used to eat all kinds of crap that added up so quickly eating fast food, cereals, milk, pizza, pasta and meats. . . I could spend close up to $100 per week on the old cooked food for myself by the time I added up everything.

      Please understand that I am trying to keep this positive and motivational. This all said with love, so when I say if you are truly serious about wanting to make this change, and I say this to anyone, feel free to email me and I would be very glad to coach you through your transitional phase. The amount of power and freedom you regain for your daily routines is truly indescribable! Of course, cosmic energies playing a roll too! ahahaa BUT not without the living food fueling the way!

      So anyways, this was a preconception that I had as well and until I actually took the plunge and made the choice for SELF, I wasn't able to prove myself wrong.

      It is a simple choice to choose love, to be happy, to want to do and be goodness, a divine incarnation of higher self. . . and food is a step that we all make at some point.

      ..love

      Thank you SeRAphima for the OP! :)

    • yes, it is true that produce bought in dollar stores ; cans and packed , is cheaper, but if one considers growing their food, buying seeds in bulk, foraging, by all means saves more money than meater and junk fooder. More, vegetables and fruits in every story , you choose to shop, is just about as cheap or even cheaper than all the junk, prepackaged, processed food on the shelfs of commercial chain grocery store.

      I do grow my food and forage fruits in local forest but I also sprout seeds everyday that cost about a $1 a day for hefty salad.................

This reply was deleted.

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