Have you heard about the Gunas? No, they are not Disney characters! According to yoga, there are three basic qualities or energies that make up everything. They are rajas, tamas, and sattva.
Rajas is the energy of action, change, and movement. Rajas are the fuel of passion and fire. Rajasic energy is also associated with the daylight hours. We obviously need rajasic energy to create energy to move successfully throughout our world and lives. When we have too much rajasic energy we might appear to the outside world as extremely busy, go go go, do do do! Does this sound like you? Maintaining a high degree of rajasic energy leads to burnout! When rajas is out of balance the mind and body are overstimulated, the mind becomes restless and you experience a lot of uncontrollable thoughts.
Foods that are rajasic include spicy food, fried foods, coffee / caffeinated beverages/ stimulants/ fish, eggs, chocolate, foods that are very bitter, sour, dry, and salty. Eating in a hurry is also considered rajasic
Tamas can be thought of as the opposite of rajas. Tamasic energy is associated with a state of inactivity and inertia, heaviness, and darkness. When tamas is out of balance your ability to reason becomes clouded and you might experience darker emotions such as anger or greed. Just as there is more rajasic energy present in daylight hours, tamasic energy is present during nighttime. People who are very tamasic might be depressed or appear lazy. Generally speaking, disease states are tamasic.
Examples of tamasic food include meat, alcohol, tobacco, onions, fermented foods – vinegar or strong cheese, stale food or over ripe food, overly processed food, or chemically treated. Overeating is considered tamasic.
Sattva is energy that is in a state of harmony and balance. Positive mental and emotional states of joy and intelligence are associated with sattva. A person who was experiencing a lot of sattvic energy would appear very happy. Sattvic energy also is consistent with healing states and in Ayurveda (yoga’s sister science) sattvic energy is actively cultivated. Sattvic energy is most present during the times between light and dark- in other words dusk and dawn. A person on the yogic path is focused on developing sattva and for this reason, yoga asana and meditation are classically performed at these times.
Foods that are sattvic include whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, pure fruit juice, legumes, milk, butter, nuts, seeds, sprouted seeds, honey, and herb teas.
It is important to realize that we all have all three gunas within us. And while this is true we tend to have a predominant guna. Based on the descriptions above can you figure out what yours is? It is good to be aware of this because once you are aware of your predominant guna then you can predict how might react to certain life circumstances as well as know your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll know when you will tend to be thrown out of balance and what you will need to do to bring yourself back into balance.
You also might have times in our lives when one guna is more active than another. Perhaps you have very active time and very productive (rajasic). Or a period when you have been depressed (tamasic). Or a time when we are very balanced and in tune with our spirituality (satvic).
Another way the gunas show up in our lives and directly affect us is through the food we eat. Consider for a minute the average American diet with overly processed and chemically treated foods which are very tamasic. Modern science now confirms that these food items are directly linked to major illnesses including cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. As mentioned above too much tamasic energy leads to disease states. We also know that foods in their whole form such as grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables (sattvic foods) are life-sustaining and bring health and energy.
Do you practice yoga postures (asana)? How do the gunas show up here? Is your asana practice fiery and passionate? Was your practice was slow and lazy? Or was it balanced?
It is probably becoming clear to you by now that to be healthy, happy, and live a balanced life it is important to cultivate sattva in your life. This can be done by:
- Reducing rajas and tamas
- Becoming aware of when you are out of balance- which guna seems most present?
- Increase activities and environments that produce positive thoughts
- Eating a healthy, sattvic oriented diet
- Certain herbs (subject for another article)
- The practice of yoga: pranayama (breathing practices), asana (postures), meditation