In Hindu philosophy, the gunas are the three equalities of nature which we aim to bring into balance through our yoga practice. These qualities are; Tamas which is solidity, mass, or inertia, Rajas which is dynamism or vibrancy, and Sattva which is luminosity, or the quality of light.
Tamas dominates in our physical yoga practice. The body has mass, and especially as we age, our bones need density and our muscles need firmness. However too much of this feeling of heaviness in the body can turn into sluggishness, so it is good to exert ourselves and penetrate the density of the body infusing it with vibrant energy. For example, if I wake up in the morning feeling dull or sluggish, especially at this tamasic time of year, I practice heating, active, strong poses to break through that inertia. Sun salutations are a great way to counter tamasic energy.
On the other hand, in our minds we want to cultivate a quickness and vibrancy. In the mind the quality of rajas should dominate. But just like tamas, we need to find the appropriate balance for this energy, as to much could lead to a turbulent, frantic or agitated state of mind. So if I find my mind is racing or I feel anxious, the quieter yoga practices of pranayama, restorative postures and/or meditation are most helpful and settling. I do these gentle practices in the evening before going to sleep, or if my work is particularly demanding and I feel anxious or stressed.
The gunas are constantly shifting, from day to day, and even hour by hour. As yogi’s we work on finding a balance of the gunas through practice in order to integrate the quality of sattva. Maybe you’ve caught a glimpse of this state after a well balanced yoga practice and peaceful savasana. Maybe you’ve noticed that feeling of being alert and truly relaxed at the same time, your mind both tranquil and clear. Just imagine feeling that way more of the time.
Once you learn how to identify and then adjust the proportions of the gunas in your yoga practice, this awareness can be transferred into your daily life as well. Check in to see how you are feeling each day; Do you need more activity or more rest? Warming food or cooling food? A walk through nature or a trip to the library? Check in often and make adjustments, you will notice not only more connection with your physical and mental health, but more frequent and longer experiences of sattva.
Meghan Goodman is a yoga instructor and professional dance artist who can sometimes be seen dancing on the side of tall buildings. She has been teaching since 2006, and is currently completing a certification in Iyengar yoga under the guidance of training teacher Louie Ettling. For more information on classes, performances, to book a workshop or private session, please visit www.meghangoodman.wordpress.com