When you start to delve a bit deeper into your yoga practice, you will start to hear about the gunas; sattva, rajas and tamas. The gunas make up our prakriti, which is everything in our ethereal universe, consciousness, matter and all energy. To put it simpler, they are the energy of everything you think, feel, touch, see and taste. They cannot be deleted and they exist always. They are the lens of our perception and have a huge influence over how we see our lives and how we react. They can hinder us or help us grow. To get a better understanding of these natural forces, lets first take a look at each one.
Sattva is light. It is the force of moving forward. It is encompassed by goodness and constructive harmonious living. It manifests itself in clarity and mindfulness. It is content. A person who is living mostly in sattva is an observer of their life, they fill their bodies with nutritious sattva food (vegetables, fruits, whole foods), they perceive their life authentically and can let go.
Rajas is a tornado. It is our passion, our activeness and our confusion. It is anxiety and rushing. It is running, but in the wrong direction of life. Rajas is a lot of uncertainty. A person with too much rajas is always rushing and not necessarily accomplishing anything. They are filling their bodies with not so healthy food choices and they can attach to things easily. Their lens on life is panicked or scared.
Tamas is darkness. It gives the perception of chaos. It is the force of running away. A Tamas mind will wake up grumpy and negative. A person in tamas will fill their bodies with food that is too processed and fake, and will live attached to too many vices. Tamas is found in ignorance and depression. It is your negative thoughts and your judgement of others and yourself.
The connection between yoga and the Gunas
The gunas are very powerful. When you start to learn about them, you will start to see them everywhere. Tamas is strong when you awake grumpy and your mind is foggy. Rajas is your racing anxiety and is there when you lose your cool in a conversation. Sattva is how you feel in a yoga class. It is the look you see on your yoga instructors face and the feel of the class room. Sattva is that instant shoulder dropping, rush of relief you feel when you roll out your mat. You know the calmness is coming, but did you know it was sattva all along. There is a reason this force is strong in yoga and meditation. Yoga practices were formed with the gunas in mind, and to create sattva in the mind and body. It is the physical and mental practice you can use to consciously alter the levels of the gunas in your mind and body.
Why we need to understand the gunas
Sattva sounds amazing right and you may already be thinking, sattva is the goal. You are partly right. These forces are woven together, they make up everything and just as we find balance on the mat, these forces find balance in the universe. They each have their time and place. It might be hard to think of a time when we need tamas, when we need to feel lethargic and be still, but tamas is helpful when we are sick and need to rest. Rajas is the force of our passion and zest. It can raise our anxiety but it can also push us to achieve our goals, to keep going. Moderation is key with the gunas. It always comes back to balance.
Perception and Cultivation
The gunas are the lens of our perception. Whichever force is strongest in and around us is how we are perceiving our objective ethereal world. We are beginning to understand these forces and we can probably start to see them in our lives but what do we do with them? By practising yoga and meditation, we can consciously raise and lower each guna in and around us. We can choose the lens we view life through. It is though our practice, our thoughts and our healthy lifestyle that we raise sattva, which in turn lowers tamas and rajas.
Steps to take in working with the gunas
- Start to notice the gunas at work outside your consciousness.
- Observe the woven interplay and the balance of tamas, rajas and sattva. See the need for all three and how the universe balances them.
- Witness the forces in your own life and consciousness. See which forces are present during different times of the day, or at different occasions.
- Through practice, thoughts and lifestyle, start to bring Sattva into your lens. Cultivate your life of calm and clarity.
Learning about the gunas, seeing them in your surroundings and observing them, can help you in cultivating sattva in your everyday life. In yoga we learn that we are in control, that we need to observe our thoughts and not react and now we have seen the forces that are at play in these moments. We can take the reins of our life and guide ourselves towards calm and clarity. You can have that air and glow that your yoga teacher possesses, it is all about choices.
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