Food and Mood: Introduction to the 3 Gunas


These days many of us are conscious about eating in a healthy way.  Back in the old days of the yogis thousands of years ago, before pizza, they came to an understanding of how what they put into their body influences their physical, mental and emotional state. Here is an insight to these yogic principles.


The Yogis invite us to be mindful of the 3 Gunas. Gunas are qualities or characteristics. These three qualities are present in everything and their interplay determines the form, quality and behaviour of all things.


1. Rajas / rajasic - it means aggressive, restless, fiery, passionate

 Rajas is experienced as movement, activity, agitation and desire. Rajasic states include passion, alertness, determination, self-centeredness, anxiety, restlessness, anger, greed and worry.

Examples of foods that create this quality are coffee & caffeinated drinks, highly spiced foods, onion & garlic. Food that is too spicy, too pungent, too sour, too bitter. Foods and drinks that lift your energy and give you a buzz.


2. Tamas / tamasic - it means lazy, lethargic, dark, ignorant.

Tamas is the densest of the three qualities and experienced as inertia, obscuration, inactivity and fear. Tamasic states include laziness, doubt, sadness, hurt, shame, boredom, apathy and ignorance.

Examples of foods that create this quality in us are meat, eggs and alcohol. Old, stale, processed, overcooked and fried foods.


3. Sattva / sattvic - it means pure, harmonious, clear, balanced, peaceful.

Sattva is experienced as stillness, balance, harmony, and clarity. Emotional states associated with sattva include happiness, joy, peace, love, freedom, friendliness, openness, creativity, fulfilment and inspiration.

Examples of foods that create this quality are fresh organic fruits and vegetables. Foods (can be raw or cooked but overcooked makes it tamasic) that are as close to their original form as possible. Whole grains and nuts, beans and lentils, plant-based oils., mildly sweet foods (natural, unrefined sugars), honey, molasses and spices such as cinnamon, basil, coriander, ginger and turmeric.


Stop Listen Feel

As yogis practice to be aware, they find themselves choosing a predominately sattvic diet. This in turn promotes focus and clarity. A yogi is aware of the changing states of the mind and energy and, when YOU stop, listen and feel, you are too. Knowing how you are feeling you can use your understanding of the above qualities of the gunas to adapt your diet and bring yourself into balance.


Prana - Energy

Prana is a Sanskrit word. Prana is our energy, our life force. Prana is in all living things. A yogi chooses to eat prana rich foods, as then they will benefit from that energy. This is one of the reasons a yogi is vegetarian, as meat is dead, it has no prana. Stale, old, over cooked and processed foods also have no prana. That healthy organic carrot that has been in the fridge for a month and bends like an advanced asana yogi has also lost its prana and has the tamasic quality.



According to Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, it is recommended that we eat as much as we can fit in our hands. Over eating causes stress on digestion. For example you may have experienced eating a Christmas lunch that was so enjoyable you had a few servings! Afterwards you feel lethargic and require a nana nap. You will have just experienced for yourself how overeating creates tamas quality. It does not mean don’t do it. The point is to be aware and keep it in moderation most of the time so you can maintain optimum wellbeing.


Benefit of Fasting

Yogis fast from food periodically. It needs to be adjusted according to your lifestyle and health so it does not have a negative effect. In Yoga in Daily Life we fast 1 day a week, either a Monday or Thursday. On this day we have only 1 meal, but can drink as much as is needed. Natural health practitioners say this gives a healthy rest to the digestive system. It also aids in removing food as a base for emotional comfort and assists us to go deeper within. They say everything we need is already within us, and this is a step to experience that.


Stress & Digestion

When we are stressed our digestive system shuts down. The body systems give attention to the process of either fighting or fleeing. These days our stress response is on much of the time and that leads to poor digestion. We can be eating healthy pranically charged sattvic foods, but if our digestion is poor we will not get the benefits. The remedy is relaxation.



A sattvic diet promotes a clear, focused and calm mind that is conducive to meditation. It also reduces the restless and toxins in the physical body so it is easier to sit comfortably for longer.


It’s not only food

The gunas can also be applied to other influences in our life that affect us in the same way. Those external influences that lift us, deplete us or balance us such as:

  •  the company we keep
  • the information we take in via all media
  • the work environment and our relationship to our job
  • what we do (or do not do) in our leisure time



The 3 Gunas are one part of the science of Yoga that help us to understand ourselves on this physical / material level that we can live a life in harmony and balance.


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3 gunas - food and mood