How the three levels of existence manifest on the mat.
How many ways can we teach and practice yoga? How many different kinds of classes can we take? Have you ever wondered why one class is so different than the other? Here is the explanation why, according to the Rishis.
In the Book of Yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, we find clear instructions and reference to the three levels of yogis, (including teachers) and all that has ever manifested in the world. The words this text use to explain them are:
These expressions are understood and used by the ancient rishis to differentiate between the levels of energy as they manifest on the day to day physical level. On our soul’s journey we experience the same things based on our own level of receptivity as humans, they say.
Just like three different radio stations can project three different programs at the same time, without distracting each other’s wavelength, three different people can perceive the same situation or message completely differently, based on their own ability to receive.
From Tamas towards Sattva the vibrations increase, become more subtle and fine. I would stay away from saying one is higher or better then the other. They just are. Tamas is not worse than Raja or Sattva, but they are different and become higher as we go on.
Tamas is muddy, thick, reactive, dense, dark, like the sound of the bass guitar or drums. Tribal. Survival. Intense on the physical level. It feels very real in our body.
Raja is vibrant, passionate, flavourful, impulsive, exciting, sensual. Intense on the emotional level. It feels very real in our senses. Like the sound of a Spanish guitar.
Sattva is refined, gentle, quiet, subtle and smooth. Intense on the spiritual level. It feels very real in our soul. Sounds like the harp, and chimes.
The goal of yoga practice is to reach and maintain the level of Sattvic energy, where we recognize our true essential nature.
According to the yogis, everything that ever existed manifests on one of these three levels.
A dinner for example can be tamasic (to serve our survival, fill our stomachs. We eat it for instant gratification, without thinking too much about it. Like a fast food burger, or a piece of toast in the morning.)
A dinner can also be rajasic (a beautifully presented, nourishing meal, full of tastes and spices, to satisfy our senses and to maintain survival.)
A sattvic dinner would be a very small portion of something highly nutritious, perhaps still carrying abundant life energy, such as raw food, or something juicy and fulfilling for the soul. It is still flavourful, assures our survival and increases our vibration.
Besides the many health reasons, this is mainly why yogis are suggested to eat real food, small portions, and so on. But that is not what I mean to share with you today.
Tamasic movies make you fear for your life and physical wellbeing.
Rajasic movies fire you up and move you emotionally.
Sattvic movies inspire you to make a change in your own behaviour to save the world.
Tamasic friends bring the animal out of you. They nag and complain and you can not help but join them.
Rajasic friends excite you to to start a revolution, or to leave your husband if you truly can not be happy anymore.
Sattvic friends will just listen to you, and nod every once in a while, so you can find space to express yourself.
I feel tamasic when I argue with my man. I’m pulled by emotions, trapped by my ego, wish to be right and acknowledged.
When I’m rajasic, I’m able to dance and move crowds of people with me. The sensation of physical and emotional joy in the air is tangible.
In a sattvic energetic state I just wish to be quiet and be present. To absorb this amazing reality we chose and feel one with all participants of nature.
You get it, right?
The longer I have been leading groups of people on the mat, the more I understand the source and purpose of this action.
There are tamasic classes, for the sake of physical exercise, bodily healing and rejuvenation. There are also rajasic classes, when things are extremely emotional, hit hard for the heart and leave us with a great sense of satisfaction on both levels. And then, sometimes, every once in a while there are those really subtle energies moving through us, clearly making an intense impact in all attendees, teacher and student alike. Those are sattvic. I am high, you are high and together we get even higher.
The full attention and intention of you, the student, opens a sacred channel in me, the guide, and in return the divine energy flows back through me to you. The energy is subtle but real, the air is thick with vibrant, radiant light and we all arrive to savasana in a silent awe of something greater then all of us together. I aim to practice and teach yoga to achieve this state. Over and over again.
Those days you walk out of class, saying, “Thank you. I had a really great class.”
I bow my head to that greater goodness (Godness) in you and me. “Namaste” we say…and those days I know we both mean it: Namaste.
On this journey I’m with you and therefore I’m grateful.
Author: Orsi Foldesi
Editor: Travis May
Image: Courtesy of Author