Discover the Three Gunas and Experience a Deeper Sense of Self-knowing
I first discovered the three gunas in a yoga teacher training course at the Sivananda Vedanta Centre in Neyyar Dam, India.
Discovering the three gunas can open the door to a whole new sense of self-knowing. The gunas appear in many ancient teachings and scriptures, including the Bhagavad Gita, where the concept of the three gunas is taught and discussed.
I am a huge fan of the gunas; they allow us to connect with different feelings, emotions and behavioral traits at any given time, space or circumstance. By discovering and watching the rise and fall of each guna, we are able to observe our actions without judgment and witness how different situations can influence us.
The Three Gunas
The three gunas are natural qualities present in everything. They are considered by many as binding, and it is believed those who are not bound by them are able to reach moksha or liberation. I must add here, this piece is not about reaching an enlightened state. It is about introducing these qualities so we can notice if and when they influence us.
Satva, Rajas and Tamas
The three gunas are known as Satva, Rajas and Tamas. Satva is considered to be pure by nature; Rajas is highly energized, and Tamas is slow moving and often lazy.
It is important not to view any of the gunas as a negative force. The Sivananda Vedanta teachings state, for any kind of change or evolution to occur there must always be a prominent guna. Although higher levels of Satva are favorable for those embarking on a spiritual journey, we must understand, as soon as we set out on a quest to raise Satva, we instantly become bound by this guna.
The Gunas in Food
Identifying the prominent guna in different foods can help to illustrate their qualities and influences.
Foods containing high levels of Satva are usually freshly grown, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and pulses. These foods are rich in pranic energy and should be consumed raw or lightly cooked. This does not mean all yogis need to be vegetarian. Ahimsa (non-violence) provides us with guidelines for our choice of diet. If we are following a yogic path, we are not supposed to knowingly cause harm to another living being, so if you are consuming meat, it is important to consider how the meat was raised and sacrificed.
Foods containing high levels of Rajas include fizzy drinks, chocolate, heavily seasoned or spiced food and food that overly stimulates the senses, such as caffeine and alcohol.
Foods containing high levels of Tamas include fast food and anything pre-cooked or pre-prepared which is slow or challenging to digest. Mushrooms are also considered to be Tamasic as they grow in the dark and contain relatively low levels of prana.
If we consider how we feel after eating food from each group, then it is possibl
e we experience the following:
>> Tamasic food could slow you down and lay heavy in the stomach.
>> Rajasic food might overly stimulate your senses.
>> Satvic food is usually easy to digest, rich in nutrients and creates a good feeling.
It is important to realize this piece is not about casting judgment; it is purely an exercise of awareness, and noticing if food from each group has an influence on the current balance of your gunas.
The Gunas and Music
The presence of the gunas is also notable in different styles of music, and one piece of music may contain traits of more than one guna.
For example, we may feel a little sluggish, but by listening to energetic music we may find our mood shifts to become more Rajasic. If we listen to something more spiritual, again, our mood might change. Everyone is different and will be moved differently; there is no right or wrong. They are your feelings and your moods and it is useful to be able to identify different triggers.
The Gunas and Yoga Practice
In a similar way, yoga practice possesses qualities from the gunas. Moving through a series of yoga postures will of course help to clear energy lines (nadis), raise levels of prana and is an extremely positive step. There are times when moving from posture to posture could be regarded as a slightly Tamasic practice (but still a positive practice).
If we bring a little mental inquiry and self-exploration to how the body feels as we move through each posture, the practice might then be viewed as slightly more Rajasic; as in, we are more energized and active throughout the practice (this is also positive). Through this Rajasic activity, we can take the practice further by connecting with ourselves on a deeper level to experience inner stillness.
The mind is able to settle, and we are able to practice without performing or competing with ourselves or others, turning the practice into a more Satvic experience. This is an example of how each guna is a positive influence. The prominent guna within a yoga practice can change, and even during one practice you could move through any combination of prominent gunas.
The three gunas have been included in many different spiritual teachings for thousands of years. Discovering what your prominent guna is at different times and situations can be useful or even fun. The gunas will constantly change. There is no right and no wrong; it is a journey of self-discovery.
At some point during your observances, it will be fun to see if you can discover which changed first? The circumstances, or the guna? The answer will be different every time; it is your perception and experience that counts.
“The three Gunas of Nature are the world of the Vedas. Arise beyond the three Gunas, Arjuna! Beyond gains and possessions, possess thine own soul.” ~ The Bhagavad Gita
Sue Fuller is a leading yoga teacher and writer who just loves sharing yoga with others. She taught, and has studied yoga globally and has witnessed students from all walks of life enjoy the benefits. Sue is the creator of the Yoga 2 Hear range of audio yoga classes and has written three training courses for The British School of Yoga. Sue is the resident yoga expert for Natural Health magazine UK and her writing is featured on many websites and in publications such as Body Fit, The Yoga Magazine, Om and many more. Sue is also the co-founder of Wellbeing World Online an online store that retails audio classes (CD’s and MP3’s) in yoga, pilates, sound healing, meditation, relaxation and much more.
Editor: Jennifer Spesia
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