Food and Mood
Updated: Jan 4, 2020
This year, NAMA (National Ayurvedic Medical Association) held its 15th annual conference at 1440 Multiversity in Scotts Valley, California. The conference theme was "Ayurveda and the mind," and they couldn't have chosen a more apt location than the serene Multiversity campus.
I was on a panel titled "Food and Mood: Diet Approaches to Balancing the Mind and Feeding the Senses." Panel chair Dr. Akil Palanisamy is the author of "The Paleovedic Diet." It was great to meet Amadea Morningstar, whose Ayurveda books I had read before starting my own Ayurveda journey.
In my panel remarks, I shared about Dharaniya Vega, Ayurveda's holistic approach to well-being, which emphasizes freedom from unwholesome deeds of mind, speech and body as a recipe for happiness.
Seekers of well-being in the present and future must examine the thoughts, words and actions they are holding on to. [7.26, Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana]
The virtuous one, who is free from all unwholesome deeds of mind, speech and body, is indeed happy and enjoys the fruits of virtue (dharma), wealth (artha), and desires (kama). [7.30, Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana]
The link between mind and body is central in Ayurveda, and this is captured by the three gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas. The following verse in the Charaka Samhita establishes the concept further:
वायुः पित्तं कफश्चोक्तः शारीरो दोषसङ्ग्रहः| मानसः पुनरुद्दिष्टो रजश्च तम एव च||५७|| vāyuḥ pittaṁ kaphaścōktaḥ śārīrō dōṣasaṅgrahaḥ| mānasaḥ punaruddiṣṭō rajaśca tama ēva ca||57|| (Just as) Vayu, pitta and kapha are described as bodily doshas, rajas and tamas are mentioned as the mental ones.  -- Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana, 1.57
Rajas and Tamas are doshas, or imbalances of the mind. It is interesting to note that Sattva is not an imbalance, but a state that is free of imbalances, where reality can be perceived without distortion. It is the "natural" state of being. Rajas is the active state of being, and when someone's rajas is healthy, that active state is energetic. When it is unhealthy, that active state is agitated. Tamas is the state of inertia. When someone's tamas is healthy, they are in a restful state. And when it is unhealthy, they are in a lethargic state.
It is important to note that all three gunas have a role in our life. Rajas and Tamas are not to be eliminated from our lives. Without a healthy rajas, constructive action is impossible. And without a healthy tamas, we cannot rest and rejuvenate.
Ayurveda analyzes food not just along the dosha vectors but also along the guna vectors. Light and easy to digest food is considered sattvik. It promotes clarity and is associated with forgiveness and austerity. Rajasik food tends to be spicy and salty, hot, and harder to digest. It stimulates action and when out of balance, is associated with anger, hate and manipulation. Tamasik food is heavy and the hardest to digest amongst the three gunas. It induces sleep and when out of balance, is associated with dullness and ignorance.
Ayurvedic Therapeutics is three-pronged:
1. Physiological Therapy (Yukti Vyapashraya Chikitsa)
2. Psychological Therapy (Sattvavajaya Chikitsa)
3. Spiritual Therapy (Daivyavyapashraya Chikitsa)
While physiological therapy has tended to get more public attention, the other two are just as important in Ayurveda.
Finally, I want to dispel the misconception that "khichdi is always beneficial because it is tridoshic and sattvik." While that may be so in theory, we are what we digest, and if we cannot digest khichdi, it will lead to dis-ease. The same khichdi, if not fresh and eaten as a leftover, will turn tamasik. Khichdi with a lot of hot spices can easily be rajasik.