Yoga describes three forces at play in the universe as the gunas, or guna. They are represented in nature and also as specific qualities of our minds called tamas, rajas and sattva. We are all under the influence of the three gunas and they are in constant flux. We are always being ruled by one and we all have tendencies toward one more than the others.
What are the Gunas?
“The gunas are the nature of joy, joylessness, and dejection
and have the purpose of illuminating, activating, and restricting.
They overpower each other, are interdependent, productive,
and cooperative in their activities”
– from The Yoga Tradition by Georg Feuerstein
We experience tamas when we are lethargic, low energy and uninspired. The most extreme version of tamas is depression. Rajas has taken over when we are anxious, high energy, and action-oriented. Rajas presents in its most extreme form as severe anxiety. Sattva can be defined as that magical state where the other two are absent. You are not anxious or depressed. You are filled with a sense of vitality and buoyancy in both body and mind. You are calm yet energized.
There are times when it is desirable to be in a more tamasic state, like when you are trying to fall asleep at night. If you have to study for a test or finish a big project, a rajasic state is more helpful. It is normal to vacillate throughout the day between these different qualities.
In the sattvic state everything becomes clear and the world is more illuminated. We are much less reactive and agitated by external triggers and we feel more harmonious and content. While it would be wonderful to permanently be this way, it is more realistic to try and induce this state as often as possible and to develop daily habits that help to create sattva. This awareness helps us to understand our moods and how to regulate them with different practices such as yoga, meditation, exercise, playing music, and creating art to name a few.
Bring attention to how easy it is to fall asleep and how it feels to get out of bed in the morning. What is your energy level throughout the day? How do you react in stressful situations? Observe your state of mind at different points in time and notice if you have a tendency to be more tamasic or rajasic. Looking through the lens of the gunas will show you things about yourself without judgment or ridicule. Know that we are all subject to these forces and that we can integrate practices into our day to bring about a more sattvic state.