Ever wonder why we feel clear-minded and connected on some days, and agitated and anxious on others? And on others still, we may feel sluggish, unmotivated and unproductive. Sometimes, our lives feel full of highs and lows. We may feel we’re just being pulled along for the ride.
In yoga, these variations in energy flow are called gunas. The word guna literally translates to “quality of life.” The three gunas — tamas, rajas and sattva — can provide powerful insights into the energy at play in our bodies and minds.
Tamas guna is a slow, dark, and heavy energy. When this guna shows up in excess, you may feel:
- a lack of passion and luster for life
- or stuck in a rut.
Too much tamas leaves us with a blocked or sluggish energy flow that weighs down our hearts, bodies and spirits.
The second guna, rajas, is light, sharp, mobile and quick. When we are under the spell of excessive rajas, we may feel:
- an inability to stop moving or relax
- or restless.
This guna can leave us with too much movement in our system, potentially pushing us into further out of balance within our lives.
The third guna is sattva. Sattva is the experience of balanced, integrated wholeness. We experience sattva after a good yoga class, while watching a beautiful sunset or in the woods listening to the sounds of nature. We can think of this as a time when our nervous system switches out of fight/flight (rajas) or freeze (tamas) into rest and digest mode. Yoga and Ayurveda aim to bring our bodies and minds into a sattvic state, because sattva is the energy that best supports our awakening, vitality and well-being.
The gunas are not inherently good or bad. They are simply different manifestations of energy in our systems based on our diet, lifestyle habits, emotions and thoughts. Our tendency toward rajas, tamas or sattva is also the continuation of our previous life experience, according to yogic philosophy. While sattva may seem like the ideal place to be, tamas and rajas have their own gifts to offer which can be overlooked. Without tamas, we would never experience deep rest. Without rajas, we would lack the motivation and drive to keep us working toward our goals.
The chart below explores tamasic and rajasic imbalances, as well as some ways to bring the body back into balance, sattva.
|Signs of imbalance||Sluggishness, depression, apathy, lack of motivation, dispassion, toxic negativity, feeling “stuck,” unwilling to see the viewpoints of others.||Anxiety, agitation, fatigue, overwhelm, irritability, need to control, restlessness, hyperdrive & focus, unable to relax or sit still.|
|Gifts when in balance||Feeling of deep rest, restoration, introspection, courage and endurance.||Feeling of inspiration, motivation, service, passion and willpower.|
|Breathing practice to balance||Kappalabhati pranayama (skull shining breath).||Kaki pranayama (crow’s breath).|
|Supporting yoga practice||A heating & metabolizing practice, such as sun salutations or breath of joy.||A calming & restorative practice such as yin yoga or walking meditation in nature.|
|Lifestyle tips||Exercise first thing in the morning. Gratitude journaling. Take movement breaks throughout the day. Go outside at least once per day, as nature naturally brings our systems into a sattvic state.||Meditate in the evening time. Turn your electronics off after 9 p.m.. Try to sleep at least eight hours each night. Go outside at least once per day, as nature naturally brings our systems into a sattvic state.|