Understanding the Three Gunas by Clare Kerrigan

3 gunasThe three gunas: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, are qualities or attributes of the mind.

Because of the vastness of our minds, the gunas give an outline to the complexities of our feelings.

Sattva: Brings lightness and clarity, knowledge, interest and contentment.

Rajas: Brings heat, compulsion, restlessness and desire.

Tamas: Can lead to feelings of ambivalence, delusion, lethargy and lack of clarity.

Cultivating an understanding about the gunas can heighten our awareness of self-knowledge on and off the mat. Being able to watch the streams of thoughts and feelings as they arise in our daily lives gives perspective and flexibility in terms of fully understanding ourselves.

It’s beneficial to know there is a parallel with the three doshas in Ayurveda because our diet and what we eat affects the mind, we need healthy nutrition to maintain a clear mind. The three doshas are a similar concept to distinguish body qualities and functions, they relate to the five elements. They are:

three-gunas-mayaVata: Air, dry and light.

Pitta: Fire, heat.

Kapha: Water and Earth, stability.

(The element of space is common to all three doshas).

When we speak of one of the gunas or doshas being out of balance it means that one of the qualities or functions has increased or decreased, therefore creating an imbalance.

In yoga Sattva (contentment) is the state of mind that we strive to attain – but none of the gunas are concrete, instead they constantly shift, moving like clouds, metamorphasising from one to another. As our feelings change, so do the different states represented by the gunas of rajas, tamas and sattva.

As a practitioner being able to stand back and observe what you need, rather than actively trying to capture the contentment (this leads you away from sattva and instead to rajas/desire). By being instinctive with your practice, knowing that on the days when you’re coming up with excuses, telling yourself that you’re too busy to practice – that these are the days when you need it the most. Alternatively on the days when you are driven by a compulsive state of activity, maybe slow the gift of your practice down, spending longer in certain postures: More yin than yang. By listening to your mind and acknowledging how you’re feeling in that moment and then by practicing yoga accordingly and without expectation.