The Three Gunas – How To Balance Your Consciousness

The Three Gunas – Balancing Consciousness

Three Gunas

The three gunas are the most subtle qualities of Nature that underlie matter, life and mind. They are the energies through which not only the surface mind, but our deeper consciousness functions. They are the powers of the soul which hold the karmas and desires that propel us from birth to birth. The gunas adhere in Nature herself as her core potentials for diversification.

All objects in the universe consist of various combinations of the three gunas. Cosmic evolution consists of their mutual interaction and transformation. The three gunas are one of the prime themes of Ayurvedic thought. They form a deeper level than the three biological humors and help us understand our mental and spiritual nature and how it functions.

Have you ever had a day when you have been hyperactive, on the go from morning till night, then finding it hard to stop? This is an excess of the energy called rajas, or activity.

Or a day when you can’t rouse yourself from sleep, feel unmotivated and drag yourself through the day? This is an excess of the energy called tamas, or inertia.

What about the day when tranquility prevails, when you feel calm and clear and do no more or less than is perfectly in the flow? This is the balance of the energy called sattva, or harmony.

The ancient scriptures of the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, Samkya Yoga, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, among others, all present these three energies, the gunas, as the basis of the material universe. From the word guna, meaning strand or rope, the three gunas are described as three intertwined strands that bind embodied beings to physical nature or the material world.

The great teacher of classical yoga, Patanjali, says (Yoga Sutras II.18), “The world of objects is composed of the three gunas—the principles of illumination (sattva), activity (rajas) and inertia (tamas). From these the whole universe has evolved, together with the instruments of knowledge—such as the mind, senses, etc.—and the objects perceived—such as the physical elements. The universe exists in order that the experiencer may experience it, and thus become liberated.”

On a spiritual level, understanding the gunas provides opportunities for spiritual inquiry and personal development. On a practical level, the gunas reflect states of mind that manifest as moods and behaviors. Through awareness and discrimination we have the possibility to become a master of their fluctuations.

Rajas: Activity

From the Bhagavad Gita (14.7): “Rajas is marked by passion born of craving and attachment; it binds the embodied Self to never-ending activity.”

As positive energy: Rajas presents such qualities as enthusiasm, excitement, ambition, alertness, accomplishment, passion and an ability to get things done. Vitality encourages work and creativity.

In excess: Too much rajas heightens emotion and develops hyperactivity, anger, anxiety, aggression, agitation, struggle or fear. Thought processes turn off and obsessions arise from desire and an overactive mind and body.

In the physical world: In nature, rajas represents activity. The higher energies of heat and movement are known to be rajasic. Too much movement such as wind or heavy exercise, or higher heat can increase rajas and result in agitation. For example, you may have noticed that you or other people dislike windy days or feel particularly irritable in the heat, whereas others aren’t bothered. It’s helpful to simply notice if the weather affects you on any given day and in what way. If you know you are affected you can then seek balance. In general, calm and temperate weather reduces or helps balance rajas. As you no doubt have experienced, getting outdoors on a beautiful day helps you feel better if you have been agitated.

Tamas: Inertia

From the Bhagavad Gita (14.8): “Tamas, ignorance-born, deludes all embodied beings; it binds them by means of dullness, indolence and sleep.”

As positive energy: Tamas presents qualities such as ease, loyalty, patience, stability and being grounded. Shutting down or coming to rest brings forgetfulness and possibility of renewal.

In excess: Too much tamas leads to laziness, apathy, insensitivity, depression, and feelings of darkness, grief, helplessness or loneliness. Sluggishness overcomes the mind and a sense of avoidance prevails.

In the physical world: In nature, tamas represents stillness as well as darkness. Any damp weather, including the full range of light to heavy rain (cold or warm) can increase tamas or the feeling of inertia. You may have noticed that you or others are more bothered by humidity and dislike being in the rain. In general, clear, temperate and sunny weather can reduce or balance tamas. It’s especially healing to get outside in good weather if you are feeling tamasic.

Sattva: Knowledge, Luminosity

From the Bhagavad Gita (14.6): “Of these three, sattva, untainted, luminous, free from sorrow, binds by means of attachment to knowledge and joy.”

As positive energy: Sattva presents qualities such as goodness, clarity, illumination, appropriateness, being in the present and pure consciousness. Virtue brings wisdom and peace.

In excess: One pitfall of sattva is the delusion of the ego, which generates smugness, complacency and self-satisfaction. Another pitfall is attachment. The ancient yogic texts warn against settling into worldly happiness and urge you to wrest yourself away from the material and experience the spiritual nature of the universe.

In the physical world: In nature, light, clear and constant weather is sattvic. But the harmony of sattva can prevail regardless of external conditions.

Basic Characteristics of the Gunas

Rajas Sattva Tamas
Activity Being-ness Inertia
Fire Light Darkness
Passion Serenity Dullness
Overactive mind Understanding Ignorance
Desire, wanting Acceptance Not wanting, pushing away, blocked
Excessiveness Harmony Lack
Staying in the same place Upward Downward

Sometimes rajas predominates, sometimes tamas prevails, and sometimes you may enjoy the state of sattva. As in all of life, these energies rise or descend in a wide variety of combinations. The three strands of the gunas intertwine and affect each other. As long as the energies of the gunas stay in relative equilibrium, everyday life remains in balance. If you realize you have become out of balance, you can shift yourself into a more sattvic state of being.

Those with a preponderance of sattva are characterised by clarity, knowledge, sensitivity and grace in the material world. Many people are sattvic; they are not limited to the wisdom teachers and yogis. Think about any of your family, friends, co-workers or acquaintances who are conscientious and serve with open-heartedness and love.

You are sattvic when you experience heightened awareness or savor wellbeing. Through discrimination you can teach yourself to notice your moments of contentment so you can move towards them when you feel imbalanced. For example, you may be at an outdoor café with a friend, at a family gathering or seated in the stadium, watching your favourite sport. Now’s the time to take notice of how you feel—all’s right with the world. You feel harmony, connection, expansion, even love. If you can, take a moment to increase your awareness at this time. Make a mental note that this is what it feels like to be totally content and at one with the universe. Then at another time when you feel agitated, place that remembered state in your awareness and consciously move towards it.

Heinrich Zimmer, in his book Philosophies of India, says, “The intellect or wisdom-mind is compounded of the three gunas, but by means of yoga, sattva guna is made to prevail. Yogic training purges the wisdom-mind of its original inheritance of tamas and rajas. With the removal of tamas, darkness is removed and the subtle matter of the wisdom-mind becomes translucent, like the waters of a mountain lake. With the removal of rajas, agitation is removed and the rippling of the restless surface then is stilled, so that the waters, already cleared, become a steady mirror.”

  • Overcoming rajas: The next time you feel hyper-busy, take a moment to notice that you have become rajasic. Even if you have many things to do or are in a momentum of getting a lot done, recognize you may have become unbalanced towards rajas. See if you can identify anxiety, irritation or a chattering mind. You only need a moment to become aware of yourself, focus on the centre of your being and become connected to your higher nature, or sattva. You can still continue doing things, but with more awareness.
  • Overcoming tamas: It can be harder to pull yourself up from a tamasic low than to slow down from a rajasic high. Paramahansa Yogananda, the great 20th-century yogi, says, “A restless rajasic man bakes himself slowly in the oven of worries about himself and others. But a tamasic man, as though ossified, is not even roused even by the sizzling process of worries. He exists like an inert, lifeless stone.” By identifying that you have become tamasic, you can try to move yourself out of it. Whenever you recognize an imbalance of tamas, force yourself to get up and do something—anything.
  • Burn it out: One approach to balance too much rajas or tamas is to move towards the condition. For example, you can burn out hyperactive rajas through sport or play. You can burn out tamas through indulgence, such as spending a day in bed.
  • Change your behavior: The other approach is to move away from the condition. You may need to discipline restlessness with imposed stillness or lethargy with activity.
  • Become the observer: You can also take a step back to observe your state and say to yourself, “I am under the influence of rajas. Tamas has me under its grip.” By distancing yourself as the observer you already have more power over the condition. 

The challenge is to always move yourself towards sattva. Here are some suggestions to balance your energy. Over time you may develop favourites of your own.

To Decrease Rajas (Hyperactivity) or Tamas (Inertia)

Antidotes to Rajas
Antidotes to Tamas
Physically Slow down, rest Get up and do something
Mentally Change your focus from the sensory experiences of the outer world or the chatter of your mind to the inner world of your heart Look outward into the physical universe and participate in it
Emotionally Stop dwelling on your highly charged emotional state; if you are talkative, be silent Change your focus from negative emotions to activity
Food Avoid spicy foods Avoid heavy carbohydrates
Yoga postures Hold yoga postures for a long time; do postures that get you out of your mind and into your body: lionpose, cobra, upward dog/downward dog Increase energy by yoga sequences such as sun salutations: warrior pose, bow, triangle, also balancing poses, such as the tree
Breath Practice alternate nostril breathing to burn out the excess of energy or take slow, deep breaths until you calm down Energise yourself with bhastrika, deep quick breathing from the diaphragm; or slow, deep breaths to help you come into your body
Environment Seek serenity, a place with calming music; or get outside into nature Go anywhere else than your bed, couch or other favourite hideaway; seek the company of others
Meditation Repeat the mantra or listen to recordings of the mantra; if you have an established practice, meditation is a brilliant method to slow down and become centred Use recordings of guided meditations; if you can concentrate, read yoga philosophy or scriptures; use the mantra to energise your meditation

Binding Energies
In his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Yogananada says, “Though a brilliant fetter, sattva is still a fetter. A gold wire can tie a man to a post just as securely as can a wire of silver or steel. Like tamas (ignorance) and rajas (selfish activity), sattva also binds the soul to the body and to the earth plane.”

He adds, “Just as a man understands that he sees a motion picture through the instrumentality of an electric beam of light and a variegated film, so a perfected yogi comprehends that the phenomenal worlds and their activities are merely a dance of shadows and lights—the relativities or expressions of the three gunas, animated by the Supreme light.”

When you take time to consider the gunas you will notice their binding nature. Human beings are entranced by sensory experiences. Creating, building, accomplishing and flourishing are attractive possibilities. At the end of busy-ness everyone longs for release, rest, sleep and sometimes even a bit of laziness. Sometimes we ride the passion of an excess of rajas; sometimes we’re seduced by the self-pity of tamas; and sometimes we’re attracted to the good feeling of sattva.

Sri Ramakrishna, a 19th-century sage, used the gunas in teaching his disciples about their binding nature. He would tell a story of a man travelling through a forest when three robbers fell upon him and took his possessions. One robber wanted to kill him but another recommended tying him up. The robbers bound his hands and feet and went away. After awhile the third robber returned and apologized. He released him from his bonds and took him to the road that would take him home.

Ramakrishna said, “This world itself is the forest. The three robbers prowling here are sattva, rajas and tamas. It is they that rob a man of the knowledge of truth. Tamas wants to destroy him. Rajas binds him to the world. But sattva rescues him from the clutches of rajas and tamas. Under the protection of sattva, man is rescued from anger, passion and the other effects of tamas. Further, sattva loosens the bonds of the world. But sattva also it a robber. It cannot give him the ultimate knowledge of truth, though it shows him the road leading to the supreme abode of knowledge. Setting him on the path, sattva tells him, look yonder. There is your home.”

Sattva, personified by the third robber, sets you free from the attachment of the other two gunas, excess and lack, but you have to apply additional effort to shake off the attachment of even good living to seek the spiritual nature of the universe.

Transcending the gunas

The great teaching text, the Yoga Vashishta (The Supreme Yoga) says, “They who are of a pure (sattvic) nature and they whose activities (rajas) are based on purity and light (sattva) do not live their life mechanically, but inquire into the origin and the nature of this world-appearance. When such inquiry is conducted with the help of the right study of scriptures and the company of holy ones, there arises a clear understanding within oneself in which the truth is seen, as in the light of a lamp.”

“What is my place in the universe? Who am I? Why am I here?” These are some of the questions of spiritual inquiry that lead to freedom from the binding energies of the gunas.

As an individual becomes more set in a sattvic life, a broader perspective arises. Sattva as an energy naturally leads upward to a higher state of being or towards knowledge and experience of the divine. Sattvic people tend to question their existence, their relation to the physical world and the spiritual foundation of the universe. The path of the yogi is to experience spirituality as well as serving the material world.

With a nature of stillness, the sattvic person is seated in the third eye, the chakra or energy centre within the body that represents being able to see inwards as well as outwards. By looking inwards, the spiritual context of the universe unfolds. In time even the fetters of goodness dissolve and the yogi experiences ultimate unity.

The philosophy of yoga says the universe exists to be experienced and the goal of human life is to become liberated from bondage. This bondage is the attachment of the gunas; once you can let go of too much, too little and even “just right”, you are well on your pathway home.

(c) copyright 2009 Swami Dayananda

The Seven (7) Natural Laws of the Universe

The 7 Natural Laws of the Universe

In Indian religions, dharma is the Law that “upholds, supports or maintains the regulatory order of the universe”. The Classical Sanskrit noun dharma is a derivation from the root dh?, which has a meaning of “to hold, maintain, keep”, and takes a meaning of “what is established or firm”, and hence “law”. It is derived from an older Vedic Sanskrit n-stem dharman-, with a literal meaning of “bearer, supporter”, in a religious sense conceived as an aspect of Rta.

We are part of everything in the Universe.

Cosmic Dance

The contemporary religions of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism all have the concept of dharma at their core. In Buddhism and Hinduism it points to the purification and moral transformation of human beings. In Buddhist philosophy, dhamma/dharma is also the term for “phenomena”. The philosophies of Yoga are based on these natural laws as well.

The 7 Natural Laws of the Universe

The Law of Attraction is just part of one of the 7 natural laws of the Universe: the Law of Vibration. Of the 7 Laws, it may be the most important in how our everyday lives play out, but all of the laws are in effect whether we are aware of them or not. Knowing what the 7 laws are and how they work can make a significant difference in applying them to create the life you truly desire.

The 7 natural laws are in no particular order, but since the Law of Attraction has been discussed so much in The Secret, we’ll start with it.

The Law of Vibration states that everything vibrates and nothing rests. Vibrations of the same frequency resonate with each other, so like attracts like energy. Everything is energy, including your thoughts. Consistently focusing on a particular thought or idea attracts its vibrational match. How to apply it: Focus on what you want instead of what you don’t want.

The Law of Relativity states that nothing is what it is until you relate it to something. Point of view is determined by what the observer is relating to. The nature, value, or quality of something can only be measured in relation to another object. How to apply it: Practice relating your situation to something worse than yours, and you will feel good about where you are.

The Law of Cause and Effect states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Every cause has an effect, and every effect has a cause. Be at cause for what you desire, and you will get the effect. All thought is creative, so be careful what you wish for… you will get it. How to apply it: Consistently think and act on what you desire to be effective at getting it.

The Law of Polarity states that everything has an opposite. Hot-Cold, Light-Dark, Up-Down, Good-Bad. In the absense of that which you are not, that which you are… is not. Polar opposites make existence possible. If what you are not didn’t coexist with what you are, then what you are could not be. Therefore, do not condemn or criticize what you are not or what you don’t want. How to apply it: Look for the good in people and situations. What you focus on, you make bigger in your life.

The Law of Rythym states that everything has a natural cycle. The tides go in and back out, night follows day, and life regenerates itself. We all have good times and bad times, but nothing stays the same. Change is constant. Knowing that “This too shall pass” is great wisdom about life’s ebb and flow. How to apply it: When you are on a down swing, know that things will get better. Think of the good times that are coming.

The Law of Gestation states that everything takes time to manifest. All things have a beginning and grow into form as more energy is added to it. Thoughts are like seeds planted in our fertile minds that bloom into our physical experience if we have nourished them. How to apply it: Stay focused and know that your goals will become reality when the time is right.

The Law of Transmutation states that energy moves in and out of physical form. Your thoughts are creative energy. The more you focus your thinking on what you desire, the more you harness your creative power to move that energy into results in your life. The Universe organizes itself according to your thoughts. How to apply it: Put your energy and effort, your thoughts and actions into attracting what you desire, and you will surely attract the physical manifestation of that energy.

The 7 Natural Laws of the Universe are working with you and for you. Take charge of your life by focusing on what you want, and by law, you will have it.

Yoga Teachers We Must Stop Flaunting Our Ass-anas

Yoga Teachers, we must stop flaunting our Ass-ana.

By: Theresa Pauline

There are many, many, amazing yoga teachers out there who—even though they aren’t standing on their little finger on some tropical island—are inspiring in their own quiet ways. If I had a nickel for every time I saw a posted photo of a yoga teacher in handstand, I’d be a millionaire.

Yoga Posture - Hand Stand Splits

Hand Stand Split

There is a fine line between shining your inner spiritual light brightly so that others feel inspired to do the same…and shining the light, a little too bright, blinding the onlookers. 

I follow many yoga teachers who I admire on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Lately, while scrolling through my news feed looking for something inspiring to share with my own students, all I see is pictures of these beautiful teachers in challenging postures, in very exotic places. 

Fact: I know from my own experience that the fancy stuff gets the most attention (a plethora of “likes”). My question is: in a world where social media unintentionally has an influence on participants’ emotional well being, who are these posts really serving and how? 

The Economist reported:

…in February, 584 users of Facebook aged mostly in their 20s were surveyed. They found that the most common emotion aroused by using Facebook is envy. Endlessly comparing themselves with peers….this leaves Facebook’s users more than a little green-eyed. Real-life encounters, by contrast, are more WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get)… 

Let’s be honest: social media is where many young budding people of the modern world turn to for news updates, inspiration and to stay connected. This is having some serious negative unintended consequences in many realms. 

The realm of yoga should be safe, right? 

Wrong. It is driving the definition of “yoga” more and more towards fancy postures. With teachers playing to the audience and posting themselves in the most difficult “asana” postures, they draw the most likes, the most attention, and the most number of vulnerable yoga students feeling inadequate and oh so far away from ever being “good at yoga”. 

One could go so far as to say that the overuse of the difficult posture posts might even deter some new or inconsistent yogis from diving deeper into their own practice. Leah, a yogi who is looking to get re-started said, “There is a teacher who I really like who does yoga in the park near my house, all of a sudden I started noticing that she was constantly posting all these photos of her in all these crazy poses…it really intimidated me and made me scared to go because I could never do any of that.” 

When teachers constantly post photos of themselves in difficult postures, this gives a totally erroneous impression of what yoga is about. Social media gives yoga teachers the perfect opportunity to positively impact the health and minds of their students and instead they all too often increase anxiety levels and feelings of inadequacy. 

After starting this article I took a gander at the sites I follow and saw of course, many photos of teachers in advanced handstands and arm balances. Just as I was starting to feel the frustration emerge, I saw this: 

This is what a real yoga body looks like.

What a real yoga body looks like.

This is What a Real Yoga Body Looks Like, an article written from the heart from a real live yoga teacher, Rachel Priest. 

This inspired me, it gave me hope and I was reminded that there are many, many, amazing yoga teachers out there who, because they aren’t standing on their little finger on some tropical island, perhaps aren’t as visible. But they are out there inspiring in their own quiet ways. 

I must recognize that obviously there are some positive impacts of teachers posting photos of advanced yoga postures. They are beautiful and they are inspiring for mid-level to advanced asana practitioners who already understand the foundational elements of yoga. They understand that their asana practice is a moving meditation using breath work and postures to focus the mind. 

“The Study of asana is not about mastering the posture. It’s about using the posture to understand and transform yourself.” ~ Gary Kraftsow 

As we progress in our whole practice over time, perhaps a desire will spark to push the boundaries of self, to get rid of old ideas of what we thought was possible for our bodies and then we dive deeper into our asana practice with more advanced postures. 

My goal for my 30th birthday coming up in a couple of weeks is…guess what!? After eight years of practicing, getting into handstand! It hasn’t been about the posture itself but about my own belief system and understanding how my practice creates results. It has been about the journey. If it happens, I will share with my students that it happened for me and the reason I share is because, if it is possible for moi to stand on my hands, then so can they…eventually. 

No one steps onto their mat for the first time and nails an advanced posture, nor should they try, the posture is not the goal. The first step is to get on the mat and to breath, get the journey started. New students are not going to want to get onto the mat in the first place if they think yoga is about advanced postures, and this is exactly what is happening. 

Our job as yoga teachers is to inspire, not to intimidate. Let’s stop flaunting our ass-ana. Once in a while let’s show them handstand, crane, bird of paradise, whatever, but we should make sure they understand it is about the journey.

Yoga TeacherAfter growing up in Knoxville, TN, Rachel moved many times with her family and then continued to travel the world globally through the years. After struggling with an 8 year long battle with eating disorders, Rachel Finally found her freedom and self acceptance and love through the practice of yoga and rock climbing. Rachel currently lives in Charleston South Carolina and teaches at various gyms and studios in the area, promoting the idea of self love and acceptance. Beyond Teaching, Rachel is a beach bum at heart and loves the waves and ocean and soaking up the sun.

Spiritual Awakenings – Ruthless Compassion

Spiritual Awakenings

We’ve all experienced those people and situations that could drive a Saint to lose it.  I recently found this perspective and found it extremely insightful on how to approach difficult people, or situations.

Ghandi Quote

Ghandi Quote

Someone said that the concept of ruthless compassion is an oxymoron, i.e. a contradiction in terms. However, I want to clarify: “ruthless compassion” is not an oxymoron; it’s a kind of dynamic tension between seemingly opposite forces, in which one aspect tempers the other.

For example, compassion without ruthlessness is simply mushy niceness without backbone or boundaries. Ruthlessness without compassion is merely vicious callousness. When combined, however, we get the best of both attributes: the loving-kindness of compassion & the fierceness & no-compromise stance of ruthlessness.

Ruthlessness plus compassion is empowerment without cruelty; compassion plus ruthlessness is love with appropriate limits. When we practice ruthless compassion, we accept the other person, but not necessarily their actions; we understand their behavior but don’t necessarily tolerate it.

Those of us that practice and live a Yogic lifestyle have as our foundation, The Eight Limbs of Yoga, as outlined in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. 

The first limb is called the Yamas, and there are 5. The second limb is called the Niyamas. And there are also 5.  These are likened to the ten commandments. By observance of these restraints it helps one to attain a healthy mind and body. And to live in this world in harmony with others, everything else on the planet we inhabit, and the planet itself. Asana or Postures, is not at the beginning of the Yogic Journey.

These ethical guidelines, briefly outlined below, are challenging, some more than others. Be they are aspirations. And each person is at a different place on their Yogic path.

The Yamas:

  1. Ahimsa: non-violence (or love)
  2. Satya: benevolent truth, absence of falsehood
  3. Asteya: non-stealing
  4. Brahmacharya: spiritual advancement by education and training. Some traditions associate Brahmacharya with celibacy.
  5. Aparigraha: non-appropriation, absence of avarice

The Niyamas:

  1. Shaucha: cleanliness of thought, mind and body – purity.
  2. Santosha: happy satisfaction; good contentment.
  3. Tapas: spiritual effort; austerity.
  4. Svdhyya: self study, study to know more about God and the soul, which leads to introspection on a greater awakening to the soul and God within.
  5. Ishvarapranidhana: surrender to God 

To practice ruthless compassion may seem in conflict with these. However, I feel, that as long as genuine kindness and compassion are practiced along side this, then we continue to honor these observaces. Your thoughts?