The Three Gunas: Revealing Your Greatness
The yogis and rishis of ancient India were constantly trying to understand nature and help others find their way through it with greater mindfulness and ease. Their wisdom applies just as much today as it did thousands of years ago which is why I’d like to share the gunas with you.
The three gunas are a beautiful trinity of energy that are the cause of all creation, animate and inanimate. All three are necessary: sattva (purity), rajas (activity), tamas (dullness). Yet when we overindulge in one over the other as human we find ourselves out of balance. Even sattva, the purest of them all can cause you to have your head in the clouds and forget your purpose here on Earth.
Understanding the gunas and how they show up in your food, actions, thoughts, relationships, etc. can help you recognize when you’ve moved out of balance and come back into your center, aligned with your highest self.
Most of us swing back and forth like a pendulum from tamas to rajas or inactivity to doing too much and then back again. We focus on doing (rajas) and having (tamas) instead of being (sattva). When we are swinging back and forth through highs and lows it is difficult to see that there is a third way of being, one filled with more peace, ease, abundance and joy. We spend more time in the swing and pass over the peace so rapidly it feels as if it isn’t even there!
(see the video above)
When you can learn to recognize your own patterns of the gunas and how they impact you, you now have conscious awareness of the energy in your life and have the ability to choose a new path if you so desire. You realize that your greatness has been there all along, waiting for you to choose it. When you do start choosing your true identity more, the other energies will lose their pull over you and stop pushing you around so much. Granted, they will always be there—we need tamas to sleep and we need rajas to help us when we are up against a deadline. But now, your spirit will be guiding rajas and tamas instead of your small self and ego.
Let’s get to know each of the gunas a little better because all aspects of our lives can be sattvic, rajasic or tamasic. The more conscious and aware we become the more we are able to make mindful choices that support ourselves and others around us.
Sattva – Purity
On the path of waking up to your true self, sattva is the energy that is guiding you. Sattva is pure, light, open and free. You feel secure in expressing yourself, you are confident and at ease. No one nor no thing can push you around. Increasing sattva helps you reduce drama, the need to prove yourself or feel like you have to be perfect. In doing so, we no longer take things so personally and find a greater sense of well-being and happiness in our lives. This happiness isn’t determined by external circumstances, instead it comes from within, your true nature revealing itself.
Your diet is filled with light and fresh foods. They are mindfully cultivated, organic when possible and are whole foods. Sattvic diets allow the mind and body to be calm and stable. Many people follow a vegetarian diet to enhance their sattvic guna.
When sattva is predominant, you look for and see the good in the world and all your life experiences. You know that life is happening for you, not to you and you want to grow and learn from the universe. You enjoy keeping your house tidy and have a sacred space just for you and your practices. You are connected with nature and take time for yourself regularly to be outside. You enjoy spiritual practices and make them a priority.
Tamas – Dullness
While sattva is neutral, tamas is the negative pole of duality. It consists of low energy and lots of inertia which makes it difficult to get things moving, and its nature is to obstruct. It causes ignorance and delusion to take over your mind and prevents the development of awareness.
Basically, it is you deciding to binge watch Netflix all weekend instead of getting outside for a walk, doing the chores that you’ve been avoiding and making a delicious meal for you and a friend. Tamas energy makes it really hard to get you motivated and up off the couch. Tamasic energy tends towards depression and the desire to numb and block out the world.
Another example of tamas at play is you watching a yoga class on your computer while sitting on the sofa eating ice cream. Maybe there was just a little rajas energy that got you to roll out your mat, but when it came down to doing something good for yourself something inside of you took over and said to do the opposite. That is tamas at work.
Tamas energy is filled with dullness that guides you to take the path of least resistance, even when you know that it is usually not the best choice. This includes your diet. A tamasic diet is filled with highly processed foods (chips, packaged, preservatives), stale foods (think 3 day old leftovers), fermented foods (kimchi and sauerkraut) and basically nothing fresh or healthy. Tamasic foods have a heavy and dulling effect on the mind and body and make you feel lethargic and clouded. Overeating is a common trait of a tamasic diet.
Rajas – Activity
Rajas is the positive polarity which creates action, agitation, and constant questioning. When rajas is at work, you are anything but certain which keeps you in a loop of doing, proving, and people pleasing. Instead of letting your sattvic light of love and calm shine through, rajas energy is filled with self-doubt and always wondering what other people are thinking about you, creating stress for yourself and everyone around you. Anxiety is a common experience and you are prone to taking on other people’s energy and holding onto stress.
Rajasic energy is the path of force, pushing through and making things happen in life rather than aligning with flow. When it is dominant you can’t stop moving and may even feel guilty for taking a break. Rajasic energy makes it really hard to chill and relax. It overwhelms your intuition and your inner knowing and you often end up doing things you regret.
That’s not to say rajasic energy is all bad! It is very useful when you have a big project coming up that needs organization, strategy and implementation. When you need to burn the midnight oil to meet a deadline, rajas is an ally.
Rajasic foods have a stimulating effect on the mind and body. Stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, sugar and can also include hot and spicy food, onions, garlic, and meat. Rajasic foods make you feel agitated, unsettled, and irritable. Forgetting to eat because you are too busy is a common aspect of a rajasic diet as is having a Red Bull to get you through the afternoon lull.
Putting it all together: the gunas in real life
Getting to know the gunas is a fun exercise in awareness. Start looking at your daily activities through the lens of the gunas and determine which actions are dominated by which guna. Don’t be like many spiritual seekers and think that sattva is automatically going to be your predominant energy. That’s your ego talking and is actually quite rajasic in nature. 😉 Here’s a brief look at my day and how the three energies play out.
- I wake up and meditate first thing. –On the surface this looks mostly sattvic and is when my mind is calm. Yet, some mornings I feel quite heavy and lethargic so that would be a bit too much tamas. Other mornings my mind is crazy active, that would be rajas playing with me.
- I sit and have a cup of coffee and chat with my family about the coming day. A balance of all three. I am fully present–sattva. I am slow moving–tamas. I engage in conversation–rajas.
- Getting the kids fed, ready for school and dropped off is all rajas energy.
- Working in front of my computer doing social media, content creation, checking emails etc. can once again be all three. Sattva when my intention is aligned with my work and keeps me uplifted. Rajas to get the work done and stay focused. Tamas is at play since I’m sitting all day.
So, you see, we need all three gunas for a balanced life. However, if we want a spiritual aspect to our lives, we want to begin to develop more sattvic energy so that we have the right motivation for the other two energies to work harmoniously through us. Listening to our highest selves allows us to take breaks when we need to, to get moving and cross of items on our to do list and to be fully present for the journey of our lives.
Understanding the gunas is your path to understanding and revealing the greatness that you are. No need to swing back and forth like a crazy person on an amusement park ride. Let sattva guide you to a place of empowerment, authenticity and ease so you can be the wonderful person you were designed to be.
You being the best version of you possible is important to the way I coach people. Having clarity about how you work through the gunas is one of the ways we start to develop a deeper relationship with you and the patterns you've developed over time. Knowing yourself is the key to improving yourself and through self-study, persistence and great love you will not only know who you are but you will own your significance in this world and what roll you are here to play in it.
With great respect and love,
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