In Sanskrit the word Guna has many meanings, depending on the context it can stand for thread, merit, quality, peculiarity or attribute. The main Gunas (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas) are fundamental qualities of nature (Prakriti), that express themselves throughout all creation.
Doshas, on the other hand, are substances or biological energies found in nature. Let’s think of doshas as a set of three primary colors. They mix in different amounts with each other creating an almost endless number of color varieties.
What color exactly are we going to get is depending on the painter and his brush. So Guna is like this brush – the dynamic force that brings the elements or doshas into certain manifestation. Now, let’s think of brushes, pardon, Gunas and their qualities!
First, imagine Sattva Guna as a white brush. It makes all paints looks like pastel watercolors. It’s smooth, light and subtle. How would this manifest in one’s mind? A sattvic mind finds delight internally and do not look for outside pleasures. It is also able to “switch off” the outside noise and it pursues its highest goals with alignment to dharma. It is characterized by concentration, purity and focus.
Secondly, think of Rajo Guna as a red brush with sharp ending. It is moving fast on a canvas and if you press too harsh, the paper can break under its pressure. Rajo Guna is very active quality of the mind. It is characterized by criticism, restlessness and dissatisfaction.
Lately, imagine Tamo Guna as a black, clumpy brush. It’s stocky, heavy and may cause stains and imperfections in the painting. The tamasic mind often gets lazy, procrastinates or feels depressed. It is characterized by lust, greediness and animalistic instincts.
All the Gunas are a part of creation, one cannot exist without the other. Like doshas they complete each other and are part of the perfect engineering of this plane. Sattva is needed to reach enlightenment, but if there was no Rajas, what force would make us act and keep us going? Also Tamas is needed in order to provide structure or necessary rest for the body.
Nevertheless, I believe that the problem of this day and age, is that we lost the balance between these three qualities. We have too much Tamas and Rajas and not enough Sattva, in order to reflect on our actions from the place of highest truth. Luckily, the practices of Yoga and Ayurveda are designed specifically to raise the sattvic qualities in our life.
Gunas in Ayurveda
Getting to know the qualities of three Gunas completely changed the way I think about doshas in Ayurveda. It helped me to better understand my doshic make-up and how certain characteristics of doshas manifest in my life depending on Gunas. Let’s take Vata for example. In the Sattvic state it will make me feel inspired and creative, but in Rajas and Tamas it will manifest more of its nervous or even auto-destructive side.
This knowledge also helps me to plan my day accordingly to the time in which a particular Guna is prevalent. For example, I know that I have a lot of Vata and its sattvic creativeness can be expressed best in the morning, so I plan my creative activities right after I wake up (usually before 6 a.m.).
Mornings are for me the most sattvic time of the day and I can truly feel that I create “from the heart” around this time. It is also the best time of the day to practice yoga and meditation.
Then during the day, hectic qualities of Rajas start to take over. When we are immersed in the daily chores and activities, it is often hard to take a mindful break and enjoy the sacred pause. Rajas is what always keeps us busy all the time and stands behind the famous excuse “I don’t have time for this”.
Tamas dominates at night time. Slowing down in the evening helps us to come out of too much Rajas. The evening Kapha hours (6-10 p.m.) should be all about grounding yourself and preparing for a deep, restorative (“tamasic”) sleep.
Gunas and the Yoga practice
Understanding Gunas in context of a yoga class can help you to design a better practice for yourself or your students. In order to raise Sattva (in shavasana or meditation), we put our body and mind through Rajas (asana, vinyasa) and Tamas (pauses in between the exercises) throughout the practice.
The goal of a daily sadhana should be getting into the state of flow (meaning: state of complete immersion in an activity). This can only be achieved in a sattvic state, when the mind is quiet and concentrated. Sattva helps us to clear our minds from a daily clutter and bring us closer to the pure state of bliss.
However, it is impossible to jump right to this sattvic state, if we are predominantly in the dull and heavy state of Tamas. Therefore in yoga we move our bodies first, in order to move our mind to Rajas, and only then proceed with meditation, pratyahara or pranayama exercises. These practices can further quiet down the mind and help us to enjoy deep relaxation at the end of the class, ideally in the state of Sattva.
Gunas in Vedic Astrology
In Vedic Astrology understanding the Gunas helps us to understand the qualities of the planets and Nakshatras (the lunar mansions). Depending on the strength and position of the planet it can give different results.
For example Saturn has tamasic qualities, but strongly placed or in the sign of its exaltation, it is able to become more sattvic. Analyzing the natal chart this way can tell us more about individual’s in-born predisposition towards a certain Guna or Gunas.
If you are into astrology, see this video from Sam Geppi explaining the three gunas from the Vedic perspective.
Don’t forget to comment and let me know what do you think about Gunas. How can you see them manifesting in your life? 😊
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