What Are the 3 Gunas? Sattva, Tamas, Rajas
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP, CAADC
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP, CAADC
what are the 3 gunas
According to yoga philosophy, our entire world is made of 3 main qualities of nature or the gunas, known as sattva, rajas, and tamas. The gunas are a part of life; they define the characteristics of each part of our world and the nature of your mind and inner state. When these gunas are in balance, then your inner light can shine forward, and you can access the true state of your being. Sattva Tamas Rajas
At the core of your being lies a spirit soul that is unaffected by changes in the gunas and is actually in a state of perfect balance. But our daily lives often cause these gunas to become imbalanced, leading to mental fluctuations or subtle impacts on your current condition. Through yoga practice, we can gradually begin to bring these qualities of nature into balance, finding our unique state of harmony within. Sattva Tamas Rajas
The word guna means quality, and it describes the different qualities or states of nature in yoga. Yoga philosophy categorizes these states of nature into 3 options: sattva, rajas, and tamas. Now three options may seem simple, but they can actually each be quite complex. See below for a brief summary of the energetic representations of each of the three gunas. Sattva Tamas Rajas
Looking at these descriptions, it may be easy to think that sattva is “good” or desireable, and that rajas and tamas are “bad” or undesirable. But it is important to remember that all three of the gunas are part of nature, and all three are necessary and very important. Additionally, even too much sattva can be harmful sometimes because it can lead to excessive spiritual detachment.
Rajas and tamas are actually essential for life, and at times we need to cultivate them to bring the other gunas into balance. For example, when someone is in a deeply depressed or tamasic state, you may need to apply some rajas through activity and action to lift them out of tamas. Alternatively, if someone has a lot of anxiety or rajas, they may need to bring some tamas or deep rest and relaxation to relieve the agitated rajas.
All of the qualities are important for our daily lives, and the critical distinction is to be aware of when they may be going out of balance and one of the gunas takes over your state of mind. Through yoga and Ayurveda, we can work to bring the gunas back into balance and access our harmonious inner state of being. what are the 3 gunas
The gunas are a significant component of both yoga philosophy and Ayurvedic theory to understand the mind. In Ayurveda, the gunas define your mental constitution or manas prakriti in Sanskrit. We are all born with a unique constitutional balance of the gunas within us. Through Ayurveda and yoga practices, we can reconnect to our original state and find balance in life. what are the 3 gunas
An important thing to remember is that balance looks different for each person. The balance of the gunas in your body does not mean that they are each in an equal amount; it means that they are balanced according to your unique nature or Ayurvedic constitution. But for every person in general, the main goal is to have a predominance of sattva according to yoga psychology. what are the 3 gunas
Additionally, in Ayurveda, one of the leading causes of disease is repressed emotions. Through this process of understanding the gunas, it is essential to remember not to shut out or push away the darker or heavier parts of ourselves. We need to accept each emotion as it arises, notice it, and then let it naturally run its course. Your emotions and the gunas will come into natural balance through this process. what are the 3 gunas
The three gunas make up every part of our world, so it is undeniable that the gunas have a significant role in daily life as well. When we understand the gunas, they can serve as a valuable tool to understand ourselves and get more insight into the constantly changing state of your mind and body.
A primary component of yoga practice is developing awareness of who you really are. The gunas are a tool to define the different states of being that we may experience, and we can use these qualities to bring ourselves into balance. Remember, opposites bring balance – so if you have too much rajas, bring in some tamas (and vice versa). Ultimately, we always want to focus on bringing in more sattva with everything we do.
Beyond yoga practice, we can bring the gunas into balance in life through our lifestyle habits, diet, and mindset. Every single action that we take influences the gunas, and even different foods have varying levels of the gunas within them. For example, rajasic foods may be spicy, pungent, or contain meat. In contrast, tamasic food is heavily processed, artificial, or contaminated. In general, yoga and Ayurveda suggest that we opt for a sattvic diet made of primarily fresh fruits and vegetables balanced for your individual constitution.
The gunas are within us all the time because they make up the fundamental energetics of your body and mind. But have you ever noticed when you get on your yoga mat that your mind feels like it is racing and can’t quiet down? Or maybe you feel a heaviness and lethargy like you barely want to move during your yoga practice?
These are examples of when rajas or tamas may be predominant within you and can significantly impact what you bring into your practice and how you would adjust your approach on those days. Connecting to your inner state can give you some clues into what might be happening in your life and how you can start the therapeutic process of finding balance.
When you notice a predominance of rajas within you, there are two approaches you can take. Sometimes you need to bring in a more vigorous movement to release that rajasic energy within you. Still, sometimes rajas needs to be balanced with tamas through deep restorative poses and slow practices. See below for some excellent yoga practices for balancing rajas:
Supported Supine Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend Pose (Upavistha Konasana)
Humming Bee Breath (Bhramari Pranayama)
In contrast, when you notice a predominance of tamas within you, that is when you want to bring some rajasic or energizing practices to help lift you out of that state, followed by sattvic practices to cultivate a clear mind and pure heart. See below for some excellent yoga practices to balance tamas:
Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar)
Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
Warrior 2 Pose (Virabhadrasana II)
Skull Shining Breath (Kapalabhati Pranayama)
No matter what guna is predominant within you, we always want to continue cultivating the sattva guna. Nearly all yoga practices contain an essence of sattvic guna due to the nature of yoga itself. But some specific yoga techniques can help deepen sattva within you and connect you to the higher states of divinity in yourself and the universe. See below for the best yoga practices to cultivate sattva:
Lotus Pose (Padmasana)
Tree Pose (Vrikshasana)
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana Pranayama)
The gunas are an excellent lesson on how to stay connected with your internal state at all times and make even minor adjustments to your practice to bring balance into your life. What are you feeling at this moment? Take the time to note your current state without any judgment, and then use the practices of yoga to find balance within.
Ultimately, through yoga practice, the main goal is to transcend these temporary states of nature and move beyond the duality of the gunas. The gunas are an excellent tool for understanding the qualities of nature. But ultimately, we want to be conscious of not becoming overly attached to any of these states of being and to focus on the higher meaning and purpose of life.
When understood correctly, the gunas are a complex philosophical concept that can bring great depth to your understanding of yourself and your yoga practice. Learning the theory of the gunas is one of the first steps to personalizing a yoga practice for others and understanding the process of yoga therapy.
In our online yoga teacher training courses, we dive deeper into the gunas and discover how each yoga pose, breathing practice, and meditation technique can influence these qualities within us. When you join us for our upcoming yoga teacher training courses, you will not only discover these gunas for yourself, but you will learn how to apply them practically. So, reach out to us today for more information on how you can join!
Founder of Online Yoga School and Yoga & Ayurveda Center
Steph has over 25 years of experience in yoga and movement. Her understanding of yoga and the human body has been influenced by lifelong dancing and holistic health. She found her life’s purpose in helping people become happier and healthier through her own healing journey. Steph assists her students in knowing the joy and wonderment of integrating the mind and body through accessible yoga. She encourages an authentic and life-nurturing practice, one that brings greater consciousness to each moment and every movement of the body with a heavy emphasis on breath.
With a masters degree in counseling, Steph brings awareness, acceptance and a down to earth approach to her classes. She studied with Maty Ezraty and later completed her second 200-hour training with Nancy Candea at Yoga Impact in New Jersey and her 300-hour training with Chris Loebsack at Boundless Yoga Studio in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. The perpetual student, Steph has studied with Leslie Howard, Travis Eliot, Bryan Kest, Donna Farhi and countless others. She has extensive training in pelvic floor yoga, restorative yoga, yin yoga, power yoga and accessible yoga. Most recently, Steph was certified as a Grand Master of Meditation through Swami Vidyanand.
Steph founded Yoga and Ayurveda Center with her husband. She later launched Online Yoga School to support her local trainings and has recently launched a virtual yoga studio to accommodate the international community of trainees.
When she isn’t on her mat, Steph can be found volunteering, enjoying her husband and children, dancing and cooking. She currently enjoys serving on the board of World Yoga Federation and Meditation Alliance International and previously enjoyed serving on the Education Committee of Yoga Alliance and places a strong emphasis on inclusivity in her teacher trainings.
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