The 3 Gunas And How It Relates To Our Diet and Health

In yoga philosophy, food is not only viewed in terms of its nutritional profile, but also how it affects our minds. What we eat can uplift our moods and keep us calm and emotionally nourished, or they could agitate us and make us dull and lazy. Food can be widely categorized into Sattvic, Rajasic, or Tamasic. We should stick to eating Sattvic food and avoid contaminating our bodies by consuming Rajasic and Tamasic food.

  • Sattvic food are pure food that increases our mental clarity, health, cheerfulness, vitality, and vigour. They should ideally be fresh and natural, organically grown, non-GMO, and without preservatives or artificial flavourings. Examples of Sattvic food include fruits and vegetables, grains, pulses, nuts and seeds.
  • Rajasic food are food that over-stimulates our bodies and minds and prevents us from calming our minds. Such food are typically strong flavours that are spicy, sour, bitter, and pungent. Examples of Rajasic food include onions, coffee, tea, and processed food.
  • Tamasic food are food that are stale, overripe, unripe, decomposed, and unclean. These food can make us full, inert and lazy, and fill our minds with dark and impure thoughts. Examples of Tamasic food include meat, fish, all stimulants (alcohol, drugs), and fermented food.

It can be a daunting endeavour for those of us who consume all types of food to abruptly switch to a Sattvic diet overnight. We can help to ease the transition by gradually shifting our food choices at a pace that is comfortable for us.

Below are some guidelines on how to make the switch to a Sattvic diet as natural and undisruptive as possible:

  • Familiarize ourselves on what foods are Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic
  • Swap out your least favourite Rajasic and Tamasic food with Sattvic alternatives for an easy start
  • Begin to incorporate more Sattvic food into our diet instead of focusing on removing Rajasic and Tamasic food to ease the feeling of deprivation
  • Commit to eating only Sattvic food on weekdays to make it easier to stick to (versus removing all Rajasic and Tamasic food altogether forever)
  • Stock your kitchen with Sattvic food and avoid having Rajasic and Tamasic food in your pantry/fridge as much as possible

Although it will be difficult to completely switch to a Sattvic diet, as long as we commit to pursuing it as a lifelong endeavor and never give up our attempts to adopt a mostly Sattvic diet to nourish our body and mind, we will gradually gravitate towards a healthier diet and lifestyle. We should also not beat ourselves up over the occasional slip-ups and just try harder again. Afterall, “better beats perfect”!

Reflections on What Makes a Yoga Instructor’s Class Enjoyable

While I hesitate to label any yoga classes as “not enjoyable”, most of us have attended classes where we really come out feeling refreshed and find ourselves looking forward to coming back the next week. Such enjoyable classes are less about the modernity/facilities of the yoga studio, but depends much more on the person who is teaching it.

Although the ability of the instructor to perform the asanas and be diligent about consistent practice is important, the ability to do advanced asanas that looks impressive does not necessarily mean that he/she is a good instructor. Reflecting on the classes that I have attended, I realized that conducting a “good” class requires a wide range of interpersonal and communication skills, in addition to technical knowledge of yoga and the human anatomy.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of what I think makes a good yoga instructor (in no particular order):

  • Clear instructions and good communication skills that are easy to understand
  • Warm, genuine and engaging personality
  • Ability to make personal connections so that students feel like you are genuinely motivated to help them improve and make the most out of each class
  • Encouraging and positive empowerment of each student to be the best versions of themselves
  • Ability to modify postures for students of varying experience/flexibility/pre-conditions
  • Conducting the class in a challenging yet not too intense pace, depending on the abilities of the group of students present
  • Energetic and radiating positivity instead of appearing bored or going through the motions
  • Deeper knowledge of yoga, such as how each pose relates to our anatomy and how it can benefit various parts of our body

Although I still have a long way to go, but I will continue to attend yoga classes to observe what I (and other fellow students) enjoy most about them and try to pick up the good traits to bring to my own classes in the future. By always being open to constructive criticism and being willing to let go of my own ego and learn to improve the way I do things, I will be able to improve and become a better instructor with every class I attend/teach.

Yoga and How It Straightened My Spine

I have always struggled with a hunchback/kyphotic spine since I was young. People around me (especially my parents) would comment on my hunched back issue and how it would worsen with age and lead to back pain, stiffness, and muscle fatigue.

I have tried wearing a back straightening brace (which felt very uncomfortable and thus unsustainable), and custom-made orthotics by a podiatrist (shoe inserts to correct for my flat feet), but I could never permanently “solve” the issue. It was a challenge for me to straighten my spine intuitively or walk around with a straight spine naturally. The moment I stopped consciously focusing my thoughts on maintaining a straight spine, I would naturally revert to a hunched back.

After starting the Yoga TTC, I struggled on the 1st day with a lot of bending poses that requires a straight spine, such as Uttanasana, Ardha Uttanasana, Paschimottanasana, etc. I could not straighten my spine and my poses would look misaligned. The instructors told me that I had a kyphotic spine and I needed to do a lot of back straightening exercises to lengthen and straighten my spine naturally.

Following their advice and diligently doing the spine straightening stretches they recommended and trying to do the yoga poses with a straight spine as much as possible, after just 1 week, I saw drastic improvements in the straightness of my spine. My family members have all commented on how straight my back is now (even when I am not consciously trying to straighten it). Many of my fellow TTC coursemates have also expressed astonishment at how my back straightened so much in just 1 week. Even my instructor pointed out that my spine is no longer kyphotic.

I am very happy with the drastic improvement in my posture as it was one of the reasons why I wanted to do yoga. I am pleasantly surprised at the rapid speed of improvement and am further convinced (not that it was disputed to begin with) of the health benefits of yoga after my own personal experience. I look forward to learning a lot more, and eventually help others overcome their back problems with the help of yoga, just like how I overcame my hunchback problem thanks to yoga (and my instructors!).

Applying the 5 Principles of Yama to Being a Yoga Instructor

In the Eight Limbs of Yoga, Yama consists of 5 principles by which a yoga practitioner should live by and apply in our lives. The 5 Yamas are Ahimsa (non-violence, non-injurious), Satya (truthfulness, non-telling of lies), Asteya (non-stealing, non-covetedness), Brahmacharya (chastity, fidelity), and Aparigraha (non-possessive, non-greedy). These principles helps us to focus on having the right attitudes/intentions in order to live well and have positive relationships with those around us.

In the context of being a yoga instructor, the 5 Yamas can be interpreted as upholding the following behaviours:

  • Ahimsa – We should be aware that different students have differing experience levels/flexibility/pre-conditions, and we should not push students too hard to the point of injury. Asides from physical harm, we should also be sensitive to the words we say, our tone of voice, and body language, so as to not stir up any negativity in our students. We should be encouraging instead of condescending, and empower others instead of criticizing their abilities.
  • Satya – We should not pretend to know something we don’t. When students ask questions, we should not lie, but instead we should acknowledge our own limitations. Offer to help them do more research and seek the help of more experienced teachers and come back with an answer the next time (if possible), instead of faking our abilities/knowledge.
  • Asteya – We should not try to steal students from other yoga teachers by bad-mouthing the abilities of other teachers. Instead we should do our best to improve ourselves and teaching methods in order to attract more students instead of resorting to underhanded method to increase the number of attendees. We should also not steal the time of our students by showing up late for class or not being fully focused in the present when assisting a class of students.
  • Brahmacharya – Although the traditional meaning of Brahmacharya is celibacy, it can be interpreted as directing our energies (sexual and others) into meaningful pursuits. In a yoga class, we should help our students channel away their non-productive and energy-zapping thoughts like worries, stress and a cluttered mind. We can try our best to do this by beginning each class with a short meditation session, prompting students to focus on their breath, and reminding them to enjoy the process of yoga and relax. Hopefully they would be able to leave each class feeling refreshed, energized and able to direct their energies into positive things.
  • Aparigraha – We should not be greedy and possessive of our students. We should not be unhappy if they choose to go to another teacher’s class or not show up at our class. We should be fully present and motivated to help each student make progress when they come to our class, but we should also be detached and not feel resentment should they choose to stop coming to our class.

By remembering how to apply the Yamas as a yoga teacher, it will guide us to become the best versions of ourselves and help our students gain the most out of every class.