The Three Gunas

The three gunas, namely sattva, rajas, and tamas refer to three different types of energy we encounter in life:

Guna means a ‘strand’ or a ‘rope’, and it is said, within the Samkhya system that these three strands braided together generate the process of prakrti, the process of constant change, continual transformation and evolution. Everything at all levels of manifestation is said to be a different combination of these three basic energetic threads of creation. “

The Mirror of Yoga: Awakening the Intelligence of Body and Mind by Richard Freeman

Tamas is the energy that embodies the following: inertia, lethargy, boredom, fixity, dullness, darkness and illusion. It is the energy that is most effectively associated with the past because of the way the past is fixed. When we find ourselves in a tamasic state we often gravitate towards foods that will increase our feelings of heaviness and lethargy.

Rajas can be seen as the complete opposite of tamas, as this energy is one of activity, passion, motion, desire, restlessness and sorrow. It can be associated best with the future, as it is the energy of projection and externalisation. When in this state we search for foods that stimulate the body, like coffee.

The third energy is called sattva and is mostly present in harmony, goodness, purity, selflessness, compassion, joy, happiness, knowledge and intelligence. When we find ourselves in a sattvic state we are drawn to foods that will make us feel light and healthy. Sattva transcends the tension between the past and the future, between what has happened and what we think would happen. It is embodied by the present and really is the natural occurring state of things.

We are in a constant state of flux and change, and different yoga practices teach us to cultivate an awareness of the above energetic states, while urging us to remain alert and flexible so that we can learn to gracefully and skilfully transition between them. Our urge to label, classify and give priority to things we consider more important may tempt us into believing that we should strive to attain and maintain a sattvic state. To live a pure sattvic life should never be the goal of our yoga practice though:

“For a state to be truly sattvic, it must have at least in its background the elements of tamas and rajas, and it must occur spontaneously. If you become attached to the idea that being in a constant sattvic state is most desirable, and you then try to become sattvic, either you will wind up rajasic in your pursuit of sattva or you will become upset at the inevitable decay of your happy sattvic state into a sleepy, dull, fixed tamasic state. In either case you will suffer deeply.”

The Mirror of Yoga: Awakening the Intelligence of Body and Mind by Richard Freeman

Instead of constantly striving for or comparing everything to what we consider to be ideal, we should allow our experiences to transform us through paying attention to the present moment. The gunas as they move and shift are the natural pattern of change and serve to remind us of our own impermanence and the impermanence of everything around us.


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