Monthly Archives: June 2009

How food affects the mind


We just learned a bit about the qualities of the mind (sattva, rajas, tamas) and there’s much more to it!

You might be asking, “So, what creates the quality of our mind anyway? Are we just born that way?” The major influencer is food. Let’s talk about how food affects the mind.

What we put in our bodies is absorbed and assimilated and transformed into energy (all matter is energy, right)? Foods have qualities to them which can enhance our sattva or build more rajas or build more tamas. The more pure our food is, the more pure our mind will be. THEN we will adhere to making awesome choices for ourselves over and over.

Below are samples of sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic foods and how each of these affects our mind-body balance. You should know, every book and online source lists these foods slightly different. I’ve just listed the basics so you are aware how the food affects your mind when making food choices. See below.

Good questions to ask yourself:
• Where do you fall on the qualities of mind chart?
• How does it relate to the foods you are eating on the chart below?
• What can you do to shift your diet to add more sattva?

Learn even more about how food affects our mind in my book, In Your Elements. It’s a workbook, so you learn a little and then plug your life into it to create your own Ayurvedic plan!

Bit of Wisdom {15} Love is Food

Mind Rules Body

Ok! More goodies about our mental state and whether the quality of our mind is living in sattva, rajas, or tamas. If you haven’t read about the three qualities of the mind (or trigunas) give it a quick read and this will make more sense. A quick reminder, sattva is purity, rajas is activity, tamas is inertia.

Below is a handy dandy chart (download here) which shows each dosha, the gunas, and how they are unique to a person’s mental state. For example, a vata person in a rajasic state will feel totally different than a kapha person in a rajasic state. OR! If you are naturally vata, but feel like a rajasic kapha, that is an indication that kapha is increased/imbalanced in you at the moment. Make sense?


A super crazy example about the trigunas is from the movie “Milk” (Watched it last night. Loved it). When rolling the credits (stop reading right now if you have not seen the movie or don’t know what happens. Skip to next paragraph), it said that Dan White’s psychiatrist testified that White was depressed and eating junk food and sugar-laden soft drinks. He explained that because his diet was so bad, it would worsen existing mood swings. They called it the “Twinkie Defense.” DUDE! This totally makes sense. Assuming Dan White had a pitta personality (firey, intelligent, sharp) like most politicians do, the chemicals and low quality of the food, directly affected the qualities in his mind and turned them completely dark and vindictive. That is a perfect example of a tamasic state of mind, where someone is in complete darkness, ignorance, and delusion.

The best way to feed our minds is by feeding our bodies complete and nourishing foods. Let’s choose food that are high in prana, avoiding canned, frozen, fried, fast food, refined sugars, and processed foods. These foods are lifeless and give no nourishment to the mind or body. They might leave us feeling lifeless, depressed, self loathing, or crabby. If you find you are in a rajasic or tamasic state more than you’d like to be, start observing what you are eating. Make adjustments and begin to incorporate foods closer to the source.

When in doubt, you can always do a mono-diet of kitchari for 3-5 days. I do that every so often and it works wonders for mental clarity and energy levels. Otherwise, let’s just continue being mindful of what we eat. Coming soon is a list of sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic foods!

Quality of Mind

Most of us focus our efforts on keeping our body healthy, but let’s not forget about the mind! The mind is the driver of all we think and do, so if the mind is not healthy, the body won’t be either. It starts with the mind first!

In addition to the three doshas (vata, pitta, kapha), there are three qualities of the mind or trigunas. “Guna” means quality and we can think of them sort of like doshas for the mind. We need all three of them for different reasons but too much of one of them and we will become imbalanced (except sattva, sattva cannot imbalance us).

The trigunas are sattva, rajas, and tamas. Let’s talk about the qualities they give us.

Sattva is pure harmony and does not cause disease. However rajas and tamas can cause disease if imbalanced.

Sattva: intelligence, harmony, purity of thought and action, balance, generosity, stabilty. Inward focus. Creates peace, unconditional happiness, love and contentment. We all need more Sattva!

Rajas: transformation, active, dominance, dutiful, power, prestige, attachment to the senses and desires, living through the ego. Outward focus. Helps us achieve our goals. Yet also is attached to the outcome of our goals, which in the end can cause suffering if we never feel satisfied. Most of us live in Rajas!

Tamas: darkness, ignorance, close mindedness, lack of awareness, obstruction, decay. Downward focus. In the mind it causes fear, depression, dullness, heaviness.

If you find yourself saying, “Oh jeez…Monica B, my mind quality is rajasic! That’s bad!” Well, each quality has its place. Sattva is purity, harmony, ultimate connection to the higher self, pure intention and right action. The more sattva we can have the better, but sattva on its own won’t drive us to achieve anything. Rajas is turbulence, action, ego-driven, goal-chasing and goal-achieving. Rajas helps us achieve our purpose which is not bad, but when we have too much rajas without sattva, we will start to feel bad because we live from the ego instead of our spirit. Tamas is darkness, stillness, ignorance. Sounds bad but think of it this way, we are in tamas when we are sleeping or at the end of a major transition before things start to become lighter, easier. However if we live our lives “sleeping” or “ignorant” it is a completely different thing.

Did you recognize yourself in any of these? The first step is purely awareness. Honestly, if you were tamasic, you would not be reading this blog. You would not give a flying fig about alternative holistic sciences. Stay tuned for more information on diet (sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic foods) to help move you to a more sattvic state.

You can learn more about how to create a more sattvic mind here or get my book, In Your Elements to understand the full scope of how the quality of our mind affects the quality of our life!

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Pineapple Mask

Dude! Pineapple makes a great face mask, especially for sensitive pitta skin. If you have other fruit hanging around, banana is good for dry vata skin, and strawberries are good for oily kapha. So fun!

Just mash up the fruit and put it on clean skin. Fling your feet up above your heart and rest for 10-15 minutes. Rinse! You can do this once a week. If you try it and love the effects, let me know.

Seasonal Dosha Chart

Hey! I just wrote about pitta season but I realize I’ve never mentioned the rest of the year and how it is governed by specific doshas. And that’s really important! So, voila! Below is a crash course of the doshas, what seasons they relate to, and how they affect the body and mind. If you would like to download a .pdf of the dosha chart, here you go!

Dosha Chart

Summer Pitta!!

PITTAS! Where are you? Gimme a show of hands!! Hey guess what? It’s early June…which means it’s almost summer and Ayurvedically speaking, it’s pitta time! Remember, pittas are made of fire + water and the sun relates to pitta. In fact, the sun stays out much longer now as we crave fresh fruits, salads, ice cream, and cold drinks to balance out the external heat. During summer, the fire element literally increases in all of us. The vatas and kaphas will love the heat of summer because it is opposite of their cool nature and it warms them up. Pittas who are inherently warm always, will get cranky and will most likely complain that it’s too hot, quickly followed by some solution to cool themselves off :)

In summer we are prone to pitta problems like sunburn, heat stroke, heat rash, extra pimples, and itchy eyes. We may find that we have a shorter fuse as our “blood boils” over things that normally might not bother us as much. Pittas will sweat like crazy because one of the sites of pitta is the skin which it allows excess heat to escape to keep us cool. We might find ourselves taking a dip in a pool or lake to cool off or enjoying a nice bike ride with plenty of wind in our face. Ahhh…so soothing for pitta.

Just as in fall, the nature of summer tells us exactly what to do. We don’t need to be told not to wear a down jacket in summer because our bodies know that it’s just too darn hot! That’s pretty obvious. But what about seasonal changes in diet and exercise that might not be so obvious?

If you only remember one thing, remember that pittas need to stay cool, calm, and stress-free.

Diet. Pittas should avoid excess salt, spicy foods, yogurt (always), sour fruits (including tomatoes), red meat, alcohol (sorry) and fermented foods. These foods all have “heating” qualities to them, which will send pitta swimming through the body like a hot oil, increasing emotional, mental and physical heat. Pittas should favor the “sweet” taste by eating fresh sweet fruits like mango, coconut, berries, pomegranate and peaches to name a few. This would be the time you can eat cereal with milk and can enjoy salads with fresh veggies and a sweet dressing. Oo!! Tossing a cucumber slice in water will taste especially refreshing! Other foods to balance pitta are ghee, milk, and all grains.

Exercise. Pittas should avoid exercising in the sun or participating in anything overly competitive (competition increases emotional heat). Evening walks, bike rides or early morning runs would be good. Swimming would be best for our hot-bodied friends, but I know water is not always accessible. Yoga is good for all bodies all year round, but absolutely NO bikram for pittas!!

Pranayama. Pittas should practice Nadi Shodhanam daily to help relieve stress. I do this every day before my shower and it has made a world of difference with my stress/tolerance levels!

Watch fire. Pittas can calm the eyes by watching a natural flame.

Burning, itchy, or stressed eyes. To calm the eyes, massage the feet with ghee or almond oil OR you can talk a stroll barefoot in the cool grass! Cotton balls soaked in milk are also very soothing for irritated, burning eyes.

Skin. One of my very favorites is spritzing rose water on my face during the warm months. You can buy this or you can make your own by putting a few drops of rose essence into a spritzer bottle. Spritz away!

Scents. Sandalwood is great for ridding any negative energy and it’s very soothing for the skin too. Pittas loooove the smell of sandalwood. It’s instantly calming. Mint, ylang-ylang and camphor are some other scents that would balance pitta.

As summer approaches, let’s all be mindful of those pittas around us and within us! Remember the key is to keep them cool and sweet. I look forward to any questions you may have and am happy to share more tips to keep my pittas healthy and very haaaaaappy.

Bit of Wisdom {14}