Being Sattvic

I’ve signed up for the two week Sadhana Intensive course at the Sivananda ashram in Orleans in France this August. It is, by all accounts, quite intense (so much so that everyone I mention it to feels the need to tell me that).

You have to have a well established yoga practise to be allowed to do the course. And even if you do have a well established practise, there are a number of things you have to do in the lead up to it to prepare yourself for the course, so that you can get the full benefits of the exercises you will be doing.

Most of it I do already. No meat, no booze, no drugs, etc. That part’s easy. They also want you to do fifteen to twenty rounds of anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing) every day. Ok, not a problem, provided I remember to do it that is. Where it gets tricky is the sattvic diet.

Trying to follow a sattvic diet, sometimes called the yoga diet, is hard because of the way most ready-made food is made (even the good stuff). To follow the sattvic diet you need to be vegetarian, but also cut out things like garlic, onion (including spring onion, shallots, leek, etc.), caffeine, and a few other things I didn’t even know about.

an unsattvic shopping bag

This is the bag of shopping I bought before going to teach last night. Now I’d been good in not buying veggie sausages. Pretty much all of them contain some form of garlic and onion. In fact most pre-prepared veggie foods have garlic and onion in, mostly because they’re cheap and they add a lot of flavour. But garlic and onion unsettle the mind and make meditation more difficult, so we need to cut them out apparently.

So I avoided the sausages, but what I didn’t think about was the ketchup and baked beans. They don’t have garlic and onion on their ingredients lists, but I’d be surprised if the catch-all term ‘spices’ didn’t include garlic and onion somewhere along the line. So, no ketchup and baked beans for me.

Ok, that’s fine. But where else did I go wrong? Well, mushrooms it seems are a bit of a no-no. I don’t know why? Perhaps it’s something to do with the cleansing quality they are considered to have in Chinese medicine, so much so that you’re meant to avoid them when ill, as they will rob your body of vital nutrients. Or perhaps it’s that they can be ‘gas inducing’, as I just read somewhere. Not what you need if you’re going to be doing lung cleansing exercises.

NB: Just so you know, I’m not saying I believe all or even any of this. This is just what people say.

So that’s half my shopping bag out. But what about the rest? Well, the chocolate pudding is no good because of the caffeine. And depending on who you ask I should probably be avoiding the bell peppers as well, because they’re a bit spicy. Which leaves me with the bread rolls. As far as I know, no one has a problem with bread, yet (though I’m sure someone would have something to say about yeast!).

Anyway…

For my purposes, a sattvic diet means vegetarian food, no garlic, no onion, no mushrooms, no caffeine. Fine. But what about the rest of your diet? What about what your mind consumes?

Swami Krishnadevananda used to tell a story about when he was at the Paris centre. He would spend all week meditating and trying to be sattvic, then on his day off he would go see all kinds of stuff at the movies. Not that he used to go see stuff that was deliberately violent or anything, I just think he wasn’t being too discerning in what he went to see. He eventually realised the pointlessness of doing all this hard work during the week, only to undo some of it on his day off. That’s why he quit going to the cinema.

That’s not to say moives can’t be sattvic. It’s just that the sattvic ones are few and far between. And often not good. When I was staff at the ashram in Austria we used to have movie nights. The films they chose to show that I can recall are Peaceful Warrior, some borderline TV movie with Nick Nolte as a zen master/warrior mechanic type thing, Stardust, a modern fairytale which has more famous faces in it than it deserves, and The Mahabarata, a six hour epic adaption of a nine hour stage play of which the less said about it the better.

Now while these films weren’t exactly bad (with the exception of The Mahabarata which was boring in the extreme!) they weren’t exactly good either. Take away the things that cause the biggest reactions in people – guns, violence, sex, etc. – and you’ve got to be pretty skillful in writing to come up with something that is both interesting and which moves people; in the same way that you’ve got to be a good cook to make nice food when some of the biggest flavours are taken away from you.

So what are good sattvic movies? Well, I’ve been wracking my brains, and this is what I’ve come up with so far:

Now it might seem a little obvious showing a film set in India to a bunch of yogis, but set that aside and what you have is a brilliant film about people being people, trying to come to terms with their own lives in the best way they know how. It’s a great film, and if you haven’t seen it I strongly recommend you give it a try.

I know it’s a kids movie but Pixar are the masters when it comes to making films the whole family can enjoy. And Finding Nemo is one of their absolute best. It’s surprisingly moving, and funny, and well worth your time. In fact I’d say pretty much anything by Pixar comes under the ‘Sattvic and worth seeing’ catagory, they’re just that good.

So, as you’ve probably figured out by now, being sattvic in todays world can be tough. They put garlic and onion in everything because they’re cheap easy ingredients to add flavour. They put sex and violence in everything because they’re cheap easy ingredients to get a reaction with. To be sattvic we need to be discerning about what we consume. We have to check the list of ingredients very carefully. And most important of all, if we’re not sure, we have to be strong enough to just put it down and walk away, and go find something more beneficial for us to enjoy.

The good stuff is out there people, it really is. You just have to but a bit more effort in to seek it out. But when you do, hopefully you’ll find that the effort has been worth your while.

It isn’t easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. As the Stoics say

“Easy decisions, hard life. Hard decisions, easy life.”

I can give up garlic and onion. I can give up mushroom. I can even give up chocolate, though that’s going to be tough. But giving up tea, oh man! Now there’s a challenge and no mistake.

caffeine delivery system

Wish me luck! 😀

Oh, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall off the wagon every now and then. Even the best of us trip up on occasion. 😉

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