January 08, 2019
What are the three Gunas
The three gunas are part of early yoga teachings, they are the three qualities of nature. Understanding the gunas brings a deeper sense of awareness to the whole science of yoga.
The history and philosophy of yoga is extremely in depth and complex and crosses through many different spiritual teachings.
The Gunas appear in many ancient teachings and scriptures including the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita plus many more.
Understanding and exploring the gunas brings a whole new sense of self-knowing and deep awareness to our connection to the rest of the universe.
On a personal level the gunas allow us to connect with different feelings, emotions and behaviours. By observing the movement of each guna it is possible to observe our actions without judgment and witness how different situations influence our behaviour and emotions.
What is important to understand is that these qualities of nature are present in everything and for change to occur there must be movement between the gunas and one guna must be more prominent.
The prominent guna is forever changing, this can be moment to moment or activity to activity, the rise and fall of gunas is a continuous movement.
But what are the three gunas?
The three gunas are natural qualities that are present in everything. Known as the qualities of nature they are called Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
Sattva is pure by nature.
Rajas is highly energised.
Tamas is slow moving and often regarded as laziness or inertia.
None of these gunas are to be viewed as a negative force, changes to which guna is most prominent is required and necessary for any kind of change or evolution to occur.
The gunas are considered by many spiritual teachers to be binding. It is believed that those who are not bound by them are able to reach moksha or liberation.
This piece is not about reaching an enlightened state it is purely to introduce the gunas so that we can notice if and when they influence us.
For those embarking on a spiritual journey higher levels of sattva are favourable.
However as soon as we aim to increase sattva we then become bound by this notion.
By looking at how the gunas are present in Yoga, Food and Music we can develop a greater understanding about how they rise and fall and influence every aspect of our lives and being.
Yoga and the Gunas
A Tamasic Yoga Practice – when tamas is the prominent guna the yoga practice is not mindful, it could be lazy, tired and slow without any focus, the mind could be drifting and not really engaged with the practice.
A Rajasic Yoga Practice – when rajas is the prominent guna, the practise is usually driven by the ego, it could be fast moving, without focus, the mind might be highly active, bouncing from one thought to the next. The practitioner might be more concerned with the physical results.
A Sattvic Yoga Practice – when sattva is the more prominent guna the practice becomes more spiritual.
The prominent guna within a yoga practice can change frequently, even during one 90 minute yoga practice or as one asana is performed. The gunas constantly change.
Food and the Gunas
Identifying the prominent guna in different foods can also help reveal the presence of the gunas and how the influence they bring.
Sattvic Foods - are usually freshly grown, they are consumed raw or lightly cooked and rich in pranic energy, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, grains and pulses.
Ahimsa (non-violence) also supplies us with guidelines to increase sattva in our diet, if you are consuming meat it is important to consider how the meat was reared and sacrificed.
Sattvic food is easy to digest and rich in nutrients.
Rajasic Foods - include fizzy drinks, chocolate, heavily seasoned or spiced food and food that overly stimulate the senses such as; - sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
Rajasic food can leave you feeling highly energised for a short time.
Tamasic Foods - includes fast food or anything that is pre-cooked or pre prepared and is hard or slow to digest.
Mushrooms are also tamasic as they grow in the dark and contain relatively low levels of prana.
Tamasic food has limited nutrients and is heavy in the stomach.
Music and the Gunas
By looking at which guna is more prominent in different styles of music it is possible to increase awareness of the gunas and how they influence our moods and behaviours.
This is just a guide an example. As many types of music will have more than one prominent guna and throughout the music there is often a rise and fall of the gunas.
Sattvic Music – includes mantra, chanting and music for meditation, which feature instruments and tones that resonate with the different energy centres.
Rajasic Music – high energy music, very busy with lots of different sounds and tones.
Tamasic Music – is usually slow, lethargic and of a non- spiritual nature.
By becoming aware of your current balance of gunas music could help to change your prominent guna, here’s how.
If you are feeling a little sluggish and listen to music that is energetic you might find that you shift your prominent guna from tamas to rajas.
By listening to mantra or spiritual chants your prominent guna might then become sattva.
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 and even fun. The gunas will constantly change. There is no right and no wrong it is a journey of self- discovery.
Whilst discovering and becoming aware of the gunas and the influence they bring, it is interesting to see if you can discover what changes first, the circumstances or the guna?
This is just a brief introduction to the gunas; their presence goes way beyond this article.
“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
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