“Without a healthy food body (physical body), we cannot remember….. the food body is the most tangible form connecting us to universal consciousness”
– Maya Tiwari
Preparing and eating food can be – and ought to be – a spiritual practice, a way of remembering and connecting with our true nature, our inner spirit. According to the Caraka Samhita, one of the classic textbooks of Ayurveda, “Whatever is beneficial for worldly happiness, whatever pertains to Vedic practices and whatever action leads to spiritual upliftment is said to be established in food.”
Ayurveda and Yoga both emphasize a sattvic diet – or Yogic diet – for healthful and mindful eating and living, as a way of keeping our minds happy and at peace and our entire selves in harmony and balance. The sattvic diet was originally developed for the sadhaka, or Yogi, and the development of higher consciousness. But it need not be for only the austere or dedicated practitioner. We can all benefit from eating in a way that cultivates a healthier and more mindful way of being – and it need not be an austerity, it can (and perhaps should) be a great joy!
So what is “sattvic food” really, and what does “sattvic eating” or “eating sattvicly” entail? Often times sattvic food is defined quite narrowly, as it is presented in the ancient Ayurvedic texts of India. Such definitions can be as esoteric as fruits and vegetables that grow high above the ground, and of course always include dairy products and clarified butter (or ghee) as the cow is considered sacred in India. I don’t believe that such a limited perspective is all-inclusive, or even precisely accurate for all persons, in all environments, for all seasons, during all phases of our lives, or across all centuries. Instead, I choose to turn to broader Ayurvedic principles of healthy eating, as well as the more general concept of sattva (explained more here), to determine what is sattvic food in my personal situation – a westerner dwelling in the northern hemisphere in the 21st century. I have read many other explanations of sattvic food that are more along these lines.
Vedic scholar Dr. David Frawley describes Sattvic food this more generalized way: “Sattvic diet means not only vegetarian food, but food rich in Prana (life-force) like organic fresh fruit and vegetables. It requires avoiding canned and processed food, and foods prepared with chemical fertilizers or sprays. It also means properly cooked fresh food.”
Frawley maintains that a sattvic diet does not require living only on salads and fresh tropical fruit. He explains: “The cerebrospinal fluid has an oily nature and needs certain rich foods to sustain it. Nutritive vegetarian foods like whole grains, seeds, nuts, and dairy products help build the brain tissue and develop Ojas.” [Frawley defines Ojas as “water on a vital level.” It is also likened to the body’s immunity or primal vigor]. Thus, while lighter foods like salads and greens “detoxify the body and increase Prana,” such raw foods “are not adequate to sustain our energy over long periods of time, particularly if we do physical work or movement.” But, cooked foods must be fresh to begin with, and prepared in a way that preserves their original life force or natural healing properties (i.e. not overcooked, fried or otherwise subjected to too much heat so as to alter their fundamental properties).
It is also important to keep in mind the way of eating – in other words, it’s not just about what you eat, but also how you eat. Everything we take into our body and mind is interrelated – whether food, sensations, actions, thoughts or emotions. For example, if we take in a non-sattvic emotion or thought while eating, it will impair our digestion of even the most sattvic meal. Likewise, eating a non-sattvic meal may impair us from properly digesting loving emotions or soulful intentions because of the inertia and/or excitability the food incites throughout our mind and body.
With these broader principles in mind, I encourage you all to join me in experimenting with a sattvic diet as applied to your own personal state of being, by checking in with yourself in an honest way: “how does this food make me feel?” Why do I feel agitated today, or why do I feel light and happy – could it be what I had for dinner last night? Start to test any patterns you notice. Even begin a food journal and document your food and emotions. Try following the above principles, and experiment with avoiding or minimizing the more rasjasic and tamasic types of foods and ways of eating (explained more here). It won’t be long before you gain more insight on what is sattvic food based on your own mind/body constitution – and as well to reveal first hand the intimate connection between body, mind and spirit.