Embracing Lazy.

Via Leigha Butler
on Jun 15, 2010
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lazy girl
Love your lazy side.

Letting the Dark Guna Do Its Thing

My spirits were soaring high after my morning yoga class today, so it was in contrasting moods that my friend and I met up after class to talk about our summer plans. Jacqui, a fellow yoga teacher and one of the most energetic people I know, has been searching for a new apartment for months now. Unfortunately, every place she visits seems like it’s either crumbling, dirty or too far out of her price range. Today her mood was so low she could barely perk up to talk.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I can usually brush things off, but I’m just feeling so disappointed.” She explained that she felt like her life was in limbo, that she couldn’t make her next move or come to the next chapter of her life until she had a new space to claim as her own.

As I listened to her, I thought of the gunas, the three qualities of nature that exist in different proportions—sattva (purity), rajas (movement) and tamas (stillness). It is said that every manifestation of nature—a rock, a carrot, your cousin Larry—is made up of the gunas. To be in balance is to let sattva shine through in its goodness and clarity. In order to do that, one must practice her yoga postures, thereby engaging in a rajasic activity.

But tamas, although necessary and present in every being, has earned a reputation for spoiling the guna balance. In his introduction to Light on Yoga, for instance, Yehudi Menuhin describes tamas as, “(the dark and restraining quality), which obstructs and counteracts the tendency of rajas to work and sattva to reveal.” If tamas were a person, it’d be the tatted-up, pack-a-day lover you don’t bring home to momma. Privately, though, this tamas character would caress and cradle you like no one else has.

To keep my own gunas in their ideal balance, it’s the tamasic qualities I’m generally fighting off. My inclination is to sleep long and lazily, to lie around reading, to eat to fullness, to sit on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and the remote by my side. Jacqui, on the other hand, has admitted that her dominating characteristic is rajasic—she’s always on the move, onto the next big project, unable to sit, unwilling to relax.

Jacqui is probably a better new-millennial kid than I am. These days, rajas is in. It’s rajas that propels a person to strike deals on her Bluetooth while she shops for toothpaste and balances her checkbook. It’s a rajasic tendency that values doing over being. All of which makes me wonder, perhaps out of self-interest, could tamas be just the antidote an acquisitive culture needs?

Part of what Jacqui was experiencing this morning, I suppose, was discomfort in tamas. She has been so bent on moving, and moving fast, that sitting still and waiting feels like some kind of cruel prison sentence. Before we left each other today, we agreed to meet up for hiking and a book club later in the week—and I’m glad. Her energetic spirit can be just the spark I need to get up off of my comfortable seat and move around. And I suspect that my own unwound, tamasic energy—yes, the dark, obstructive parts of me—might help to remind her that it’s okay to relax, that there is much to be learned from stillness.

One posture that helps me embrace my tamasic side is baddha konasana, the bound-angle pose. To get into it, ground your sit bones firmly; press the feet together; sit tall; engage mula bandha (tighten the space under your pelvis); and imagine a tree that must set roots far down into the earth in search of a water source. Simply sit for a few minutes and know that you are at home wherever there is ground beneath you.

I’d love to know: Which guna is your dominant one?


About Leigha Butler

Leigha Butler writes about yoga, happiness and sustainability here and at Willows Wept Review. She teaches Vinyasa yoga and English lit in New York's Hudson Valley and holds a master's in Literature & Environment from the University of Nevada, Reno. Find her on Twitter, or via email.


8 Responses to “Embracing Lazy.”

  1. Charlotte says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful piece. In the sutras, Patanjali says: "The world is the play of the gunas, the universal energies of light, motion and mass. They take form as the elements and the senses. The purpose of the world is to provide us with experience, and thus to lead us to liberation." The powerful implication of this is that our sensory connections with the world around us, and our understanding of the relationships of these qualities in our selves provide the fodder for liberation. It's an inspiring idea.

    As you say, every being, every entity in our world embodies all these qualities, and it is the "play" of these qualities that distinguishes us. In the West we tend to think "rajas-good, tamas-bad," because we tend toward doing rather than toward being. As a result we have remade yoga in our rajasic image and tend to think that profound practices such as meditation, Restorative yoga or yin yoga are lazy. I beg to differ. It's in those quiet times that we are most challenged, as your story illustrates. In the quiet, we start to experience the discomforts that our constant activities keep at bay. This is much more challenging to the Western psyche than continuing our rajasic lives into our yoga practice. For the gunas to be in balance, we need to embrace all three in our lives and in our practice.

  2. Leigha says:

    Thanks for your careful reading and thoughtful words, Charlotte. I agree with you that it's those quiet moments that cause many of us to squirm and squeam. Eventually, as you imply, it's those same moments that offer us the most insight–into our true selves and into our authentic purpose.

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  5. Scott says:

    Wow, a place to be intelligent, spiritual, and reflective! I got to this site today via a friends link, and Leigha's face quietly beamed out of the literary group, and chose this article 🙂 NIcely written! It occurs to me to rank these for myself on a scale of one to ten… Purity – 5, Movement – 5, Stillness – 6.

    I am a massage therapist, qigong practitioner, and working at being a Constructive LIfe Guidance Coach. I've seen my 'mission' in my locale to balance out the voracious elite consumers, really just a bit better than most of us at marching lock step with society – doing what they are supposed to do 🙂 Rajastahs! Like Charlotte was saying.

    I went from judging this, and trying to balance this to granting them some dues of admiration at how well they channel their energy, to maybe I am quite out of balance from my side too 🙂 Mentally I am pretty Raja-ish – I need to get more physically Raja'd. Sattva – a daily meditation practice that tends towards this – and working at making this more and more an in the world experience. Tamas – well like I said, I may be sitting still, but my mind likes to be occupied… like writing this comment… so it is only partial stillness. I am learning about the Chinese medical model bit by bit. They might call this some form of stagnation ( generally to be avoided ). From a Taoist look I might want to balance more physical movement with more stillness of the mind simultaneously.

    For my typical client I am bringing stillness to their world which is so filled with other anxious making… Since our society particularly the busier clusters, people haven't spent much time in stillness – it may seem quite weird, and like Charlotte said put one squarely with all the feelings that are not being dealt with moment to moment – which for many wouldn't make one feel good about sitting still… Young people lives seem to be structured to death, at least around here, and free time seems to be tied to cell phones or video games. It seems some positive Stillness needs to be incorporated in all this. Offering a family yoga class – 'yoga night' – where a whole family could decompress, or have yoga as a P.E. class in school… or Tai Chi or several of this type of thing so one might find a form they connect with and keep practicing.

    I like the pose you shared in this ariticle Leigha. I will try it, and perhaps recommend it!


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  8. Kayla says:

    Thank you for your insightful words and information about the gunas, Leigha. I appreciate your words about balance and embracing stillness as a beautiful and necessary part of life. It is interesting to see how our Western culture seems to be rajasic inclined or at least respects and encourages rajasic behavior more so than the other gunas. Perhaps this imbalance is an insight to the prevalence of dissatisfaction and depression in our culture? Hm.