Balancing Gunas with the help of Yoga

In ancient system of Yoga, all matter in deep space emerges from the essential substrate called Prakriti. From this Prakriti the 3 main gunas (high qualities) arise developing the crucial elements of all nature – energy, matter and consciousness. These three gunas are, rajas (activity), tamas (inertia or darkness) and sattva (beingness).

Rajas (Activity) is the energy of action, change and movement. Rajas is the fuel of passion and fire. Rajasic energy is also associated with the day light hours. We need rajasic energy to create energy to move successfully throughout our world and lives but as said too much of everything is bad. When we have too much rajasic energy, it heightens emotion and develops hyperactivity, anger, anxiety, aggression, agitation, struggle or fear. When rajas is out of balance the mind and body are overstimulated, the mind becomes restless and you experience a lot of uncontrollable thoughts.

Basic Characteristics of Rajas: Activity, Fire, Passion, Overactive mind, Desire, Wanting, Excessiveness & Staying in the same place.

To reduce rajas, avoid rajasic foods such as cspicy food, fried foods, coffee / caffeinated beverages/ stimulants/ fish, eggs, chocolate, foods that are very bitter, sour, dry and salty. Eating in a hurry is also considered rajasic.

Tamas (Inertia or Darkness) can be thought of as the opposite of rajas. Tamasic energy is associated with a state of inactivity and inertia, heaviness and darkness. When tamas is out of balance your ability to reason becomes clouded and you might experience the darker emotions such as anger or greed. Just as there is more rajasic energy present in daylight hours, tamasic energy is present during nighttime. People who are very tamasic might be depressed or appear lazy. Generally speaking disease states are tamasic.

Basic Characteristics of Tamas: Inertia, Darkness, Dullness, Ignorance, Not wanting, Pushing away, Blocked, Lack & Downward.

To reduce Tamas, avoid tamasic food such as meat, alcohol, tobacco, onions, fermented foods – vinegar or strong cheese, stale food or over ripe food, overly processed food or chemically treated. Overeating is considered tamasic.

Sattva (Beingness) is energy that is in a state of harmony and balance. Positive mental and emotional states of joy and intelligence are associated with sattva. A person who was experiencing a lot of sattvic energy would appear very happy. Sattvic energy also is consistent with healing states and in Ayurveda (yoga’s sister science) sattvic energy is actively cultivated. Sattvic energy is most present during the times between light and dark- in other words dusk and dawn. A person on the yogic path is focused on developing sattva and for this reason yoga asana and meditation are classically performed at these times.

Foods that are sattvic include: whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, pure fruit juice, legumes, milk, butter, nuts, seeds, sprouted seeds, honey and herb teas.

Basic Characteristics of Sattva: Beingness,, Light, Serenity, Understanding, Acceptance, Harmony &Upward.

It is important to realize that we all have all three gunas within us. And while this is true we tend to have a predominant guna. Based on the descriptions above can you figure out what yours is? It is good to be aware of this because once you are aware of your predominant guna then you can predict how might react to certain life circumstances as well know your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll know when you will tend to be thrown out of balance and what you will need to do to bring yourself back into balance.

You also might have times in our lives when one guna is more active then another. Perhaps you have very active time and very productive (rajasic). Or a period when you have been depressed (tamasic). Or a time when we are very balanced and in tune with your spirituality (satvic).

Another way the gunas show up in our lives and directly effect us is through the food we eat. Consider for a minute the average American diet with overly processed and chemically treated foods which are very tamasic. Modern science now confirms that these food items are directly linked to major illnesses including cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. As mentioned above too much tamasic energy leads to disease states. We also know that foods in their whole form such as grains, fresh fruits and vegetables (sattvic foods) are life sustaining and bring health and energy.

Do you practice yoga postures (asana)? How do the gunas show up here? Is your asana practice fiery and passionate? Was your practice was slow and lazy? Or was it balanced?

It is probably becoming clear to you by now that to be healthy, happy, and live a balance life it is important to cultivate sattva in your life.

How to lead towards Sattva? This can be done by:

  • Reducing rajas and tamas
  • Burn it out: One approach to balance too much rajas or tamas is to move towards the condition. For example, you can burn out hyperactive rajas through exercise, your favorite sport or play. You can burn out tamas through indulgence, such as pampering yourself or spending a day in bed.
  • Becoming aware of when you are out of balance – which guna seems most present?
  • Increase activities and environments that produce positive thoughts
  • Eating a healthy, sattvic oriented diet
  • Certain herbs like Gokshura (Tribulus terrestris), Ashwagandha (Withnia somnifera), Vacha (Acorus calamus), Licorice (Glycrrhiza glabra), Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) and Saffron (Crocus sativa) can help.
  • Balancing Gunas with the help of yoga like pranayama (breathing practices), asana (postures) and meditation.

Friends, can you recall moments in your life where you felt “stuck” or overly stimulated? What did you do to bring yourself closer to a sattvic state? Your tips will be highly helpful to readers.


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