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Working with the Three Gunas

Taking yoga off the mat and applying yogic philosophy to everyday life is when you really begin to notice the effects and benefits of the practice.

However, understanding yogic philosophy and how to apply it to a modern westernised lifestyle is a whole other story. This is our attempt to make this valuable information more digestible.

Working with the Three Gunas

The Bhagavad Gita speaks of the Three Gunas, Tamas (inertia), Rajas (activity) and Sattva (purity). These are qualities that represent the three aspects of all nature (including us).

These three basic qualities exist in all aspects of our own body and mind, and are be expressed in our behaviours, the foods we eat, and our connection with others. The key to working with these gunas is to be able to find a balance between all three.

Once you have an understanding of three gunas and their presence in all aspects of life it’s possible to look for their manifestation within yourself and life around you. We then have a choice of what we give our attention and intention to, what we consume and how we act.

Tamas (enertia, darkness, inactivity, destruction).

Ahh, terrifying right? Well yes and no! It’s impossible to live a completely Tamas free existence. It is therefore our job to be aware and reduce tamas inducing qualities where possible.

Tamas emotions: anger, jealousy, depression, sadness, lethargy, guilt, ignorance and shame.

Tamas foods: animal foods, processed foods, onions, garlic, alcohol.

Tamas actions: laziness, indifference and greed.

We can all identify with the above on some level. We may not choose these qualities for ourselves, but sometimes they are unavoidable. The trick is to balance them out with the following gunas.

Rajas (action, movement, energy, agitation)

You know those days when you have one too many coffees, you’re running a million errands, you have a three year old hanging off one ankle and a restless dog hanging off the other and you still have to write that email, transfer that money, go to yoga, fit a run in and finish that creative project you’ve been working on? Well this is what we call a day with too much rajas energy.

When in balance rajas is a necessary quality in all aspects of life, but in excess rajas can keep us in a constant flight or fight stress response.

Rajas emotions: anxiety, fear, worry, stress, chaos, determination, restlessness, passion, obsession.

Rajas foods: stimulants like coffee and sugar, canned or dried fruit, bottled juices, soft drinks, sour foods, salty foods, spicy foods and fermented foods.

Rajas actions: exercise, socialising, always on the go, multitasking.

You can see how easily rajas can escalate if we’re not mindful, right?

Sattva (balance, purity, peace, contentment)

Sattva is what we’re all chasing! It is the holy grail of the three gunas. But it is unrealistic to think that we could live a completely sattva existence. It is however, what we seek to obtain through the spiritual practice of yoga. Those who practice sattva seek to nourish and purify both body and mind.

Sattva emotions: balance, harmony, peace, clarity, awareness, wellness, kindness.

Sattvic foods: fresh fruits and vegetables, basmati rice, herbs, nuts and seeds, unpasteurised dairy and legumes.

Sattvic actions: meditation, pranayama, asana practice, self study.

It would be near impossible to live a completely sattvic existence. But, if we can hold the intention to bring more sattvic qualities into our emotions, food choices and actions then we can aim to live a life of balance, wellness and peace.

So how do we apply these qualities to everyday life? First it’s helpful to be able to identify what quality you may be a little too dominant in and where it could serve you to add more of a particular guna. Do you need to bring a little more sattva into your food choices and actions? Could you do with a little more rajas qualities like determination and passion? Are you consuming tamasic foods and wondering why you’re feeling anxious, tired and sad?

We’d love to hear how the gunas show up in your life…

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