Did you know there are three essential qualities to all matters? These essential aspects of nature, the gunas, come from the Ethereal Prakriti to make up all things. You’re probably wondering what that means and does it really affect you at all?

YES it does! Trust me, having knowledge of the gunas is just as powerful as knowing your dosha(ayurvedic constitution). Keep reading to learn why…

What Are The Three Gunas (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas)

The gunas, according to Samkhya philosophy, are the three things that all matter is made up of: activity, passivity, and pure balance. They are what make up your identity, sense of self, or individuality(ahamkara).

An easy way to think of the gunas is that they are similar to the makeup of a cell. Just as a cell has three parts: proton, electron, neutron; the gunas act similarly:

  • Rajas guna would be like the proton – kinetic energy
  • Tamas guna is like an electron – inertia or potential energy
  • Sattva guna equals the neutron – pure balance and intelligence 

Literally everything is made up of cells. Think of these cells or the things they make up (you, me, a table for instance) as governed by the three gunas.

In Sanskrit Guna stands for “quality”, “tendency” or “attribute”. Often fluctuating, these “qualities” are always present, in relative amounts, in you and the objects around you. You may have a predominant guna, similar to the idea of doshas in ayurveda. Similarly too, they can be increased or decreased through the interaction of external objects or going inward. Let’s break down what exactly each of these attributes entail and how to increase/decrease them in your life.

Sattva Guna

Sattva, the neutron of the cell, is a space of harmony. When sattva is dominant you feel in balance, at peace, connected to higher intelligence, gratitude, contentment, and calm. Sattva is what makes liberation possible. This is often the ultimate goal with yoga.

However, the three gunas are never in a state of total balance, nor are they meant to be. This imbalance is what signals that you are alive. If ever they are all in a permanent state of perfect balance that would indicate something is dead. That it has transcended the physical world and returned the vast ocean of universal consciousness.

This tells you that balance is fleeting. Which is true. It’s why you practice your yoga regularly. To return to balance. This makes it that much sweeter when you do find your balance, because you know it’s not meant to be permanent. But you always know that you’ll be able to find it again.

How to find balance (Sattva)

What are the things that bring you a feeling of happiness and peace? Really think about it, this will look different for everyone, these are the things you’ll want to do to boost sattva. Perhaps you notice you feel your best when you are consistent with your yogic practices? Or when you eat fresh foods? Do these regularly to invite more sattva into your life.

If you’re struggling to think of things at the moment here are some suggestions in developing sattva:

Bring more balance with Sattvic Foods: 

  • Ghee/butter
  • Milk (specifically cow’s milk)
  • Leafy greens
  • Fresh fruit 
  • Turmeric 
  • Ginger
  • Cinnamon

Take my chakra quiz to find your dominant chakra:

Rajas Guna

Rajas, the proton of the cell, is the energy of action.  This is your space of change, movement, joy and inspiration. Conversely this energy can also turn into restlessness and chaos. If you were to categorize a time of day into rajas it would be the afternoon. The time where the sun is highest and you are at your most energetic. You can see rajas in nature when you see overgrowth of plants or the bees buzzing around collecting pollen. 

How to balance Rajas

If you feel like you’re going a mile a minute and you need to slow down, your rajas may be in excess. Try:

  • Soothing pranayama
  • Working on boundaries
  • Taking a nap
  • Yin Yoga

Decrease Rajas by avoiding rajasic foods like:

  • Tea/coffee
  • Fried Foods
  • Spicy Food
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Vinegar/pickled foods
  • Salty foods

If you want to increase rajas:

  • Eat spicy foods
  • Do an energizing practice or workout
  • Get in the sunshine
  • Make plans – and stick to them!

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    Tamas Guna

    Tamas, the electron, is inertia. This is where you feel stable, held, and safe. It is also a space of laziness, darkness, heaviness, and confusion. Boredom and grief can also be categorized under tamas guna. You might feel lethargic if your tamas is too high. You’ll also find tamas in nature, with the bear that hibernates in the winter, or the flower that closes its petals for the night.

    How to balance Tamas

    If tamas is your dominant guna then you’ll want to do things that lift your energy. For example, if you wake up in the morning and are lethargic, you can do a couple things to give yourself an energy boost:

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    Decrease tamas by avoiding tamasic foods like: 

    • Wine
    • Tobacco
    • Heavy meats
    • Eggs
    • Pastries
    • Leftovers
    • Overly processed foods
    • Fast food

    If you’re looking to increase tamas try:

    • Yoga Nidra
    • A hot soothing bath
    • Curl up on the couch with your favorite blanket and book!

    Note: If Samkhya philosophy tells us that the gunas govern all things, then it’s important to understand that they exist not only in all objects of the world but in your physical AND subtle bodies. Meaning they also govern your chakras. 

    For example: Rajasic throat chakra would be someone who talks really fast and A LOT whereas a tamasic throat chakra may be someone who speaks meekly or quietly. A person who keeps their head down when they speak or just won’t speak at all. The sattvic quality would be a chakra in balance.

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    The Bhagavad Gita and The Gunas

    The gunas are mentioned several times in the Bhagavad Gita(an ancient Hindu spiritual text outlining much of Indian philosophy). 

    Early in the story Krishna tells Arjuna of these three qualities. Krishna expresses that you should transcend duality, not to be focused on the outcome of action (rajas guna) nor attached to safety (tamas guna).

    Does this sound familiar to you? Sounds a lot like principles of the yoga sutras ishvara pranidhana (relinquishing control) and tapas (cultivate the opposite) to me.

    Krishna goes on to explain that all of these actions are the qualities of nature and it is the ego that leads you to believe you are in control of them. When in fact, that is not always the case. 

    In chapter 14 Krishna provides great detail of each guna along the spiritual path and details how to transcend this material energy.

    You might be wondering why this is important?

    Krishna is basically giving you a step by step of how to live a sattvic lifestyle. You can’t be in a constant state of sattva, but you can definitely bring more of it into your life. This is where your daily practice comes into play. This also correlates to the 3 principles of practicing yoga philosophy I teach in my Yoga For Self Mastery course. 

    Common Questions About The 3 Gunas

    I understand that these philosophies can get a little confusing. Here are three common questions about the three gunas:

    What are the gunas in our body?

    You are constantly fluctuating between all three gunas, whether that be mentally, emotionally or physically. For example, your menstrual cycle has a tamasic quality to it. It is your body telling you it’s time to rest and reflect. Whereas if I’m at my son’s baseball game and I’m excited, jumping up and down, shouting and excited. Or dancing to loud music. This is my body in a rajasic state. And finally if you ever have those moments where you feel happy in your own skin, perhaps after your morning practice? You’d be experiencing a sattvic state in your body. 

    What is the spiritual importance of gunas?

    The three gunas are what rule this state of maya(illusion) that we live in as human beings. When you cultivate sattva guna, it allows you to move through your karma with grace and ease. And, as the Bhagavad Gita says, someone who transcends the three qualities is suitable to be one with Brahman(source). – The Bhagavad Gita 14.26

    How do you balance the three gunas?

    Remember, if the gunas are in complete balance it means you are not alive. So the goal is not to bring them into balance but rather to leverage them in order to move through life more harmoniously. Check in with yourself regularly and ask, “do I need more rajas right now? Maybe more tamas?”. Then invite those energies in with the practices suggested above.

    Closing Thoughts

    The gunas can affect your psychological, emotional, or energetic state. Remember, the gunas affect all things, all elements of this material reality. They are constantly in a state of flux and interacting with each other. Self observation of your mind and body will guide you. This will allow you to invite in the energies you need to find those fleeting moments of sattva more often. If you need a guide, I’d love to help you on your journey to live your yoga with my Yoga for Self Mastery course!!

    Next Steps

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