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How to find Balance with Yoga - The three Gunas

Focus of the month - April 2023

written by Marlene Schmitt

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant."Anne Bradstreet

Spring is a season of new beginnings, growth, and renewal. As the trees start to bud, and flowers bloom, we too can take this time to reflect on our own growth and renewal. Maybe you even feel an energetic boost in your own body or experience lighter temper and just a little bit of a brighter mood.

As we look at nature changing with the seasons and adapting to new conditions we feel how this is also reflecting on our own energetic experience.

Many ancient traditions, such as Yoga, Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as well as modern physics, teach that everything in the universe is energy. A tree, a computer, and even a chair are all forms of energy; each vibrating at a unique speed that allows us to see, touch, and use it. Every thought, feeling, and experience we have also has an energy vibration that is imprinted into the body as physical sensations. This non-tangible energy can best be understood by delving into one aspect of yoga’s subtle body wisdom, the three Gunas.

In the philosophy of Yoga, all matter in the universe arises from the fundamental substrate called Prakriti (nature, source). From this ethereal Prakriti the three primary Gunas (qualities of energy) emerge creating the essential aspects of all nature, energy, matter, and consciousness. The three Gunas are Tamas (stability), Rajas (activity), and Sattva (consciousness) and they play a significant role in our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The awareness and conscious manipulation of the three gunas are a powerful way to reduce stress, increase inner peace and reestablish balance.

Yoga is a practice to attain balance and harmony between these three Gunas, which are not only physical properties but also describe mental and spiritual states. These Gunas are always present in different combinations, and their dominance can influence our thoughts, actions, and behavior.

"Falling out of balance doesn’t matter, really and truly. How we deal with that moment and how we find our way back to center, every day, again and again that is the practice of yoga." Cyndi Lee

Satva is the quality of purity, clarity, and goodness. It is associated with virtues such as self-control, compassion, wisdom, and inner peace. People who are predominantly Satva are calm, peaceful, and content. They are interested in spiritual pursuits and are dedicated to self-improvement.

Rajas is the quality of action, passion, and energy. It is associated with qualities such as ambition, restlessness, and desire. People who are predominantly Rajas are highly active and driven, but they may also be impulsive and impatient. They are focused on achieving their goals and can be highly competitive.

Tamas is the quality of inertia, darkness, and ignorance. It is associated with qualities such as laziness, apathy, and ignorance. People who are predominantly Tamas are lethargic, sluggish, and unmotivated. They lack enthusiasm and are not interested in self-improvement or spiritual pursuits.

The three Gunas are not fixed, and they can change over time and one quality is usually more present or dominant than the others, depending on what challenge you’re facing and how you respond to it. When you overreact because someone cut you off in traffic, Rajas becomes dominant. If you feel tired after a big plate of pasta, Tamas is governing. As you emerge from a calming restorative practice, you may experience the sattvic quality of inner peace and harmony.

However, it is essential to strive for a balance between the three Gunas to live a fulfilling life. When Satva dominates, we experience inner peace and happiness, when Rajas dominates, we experience passion and energy, and when Tamas dominates, we experience lethargy and depression.

The practice of yoga and meditation can help us to cultivate Sattva and reduce the influence of Rajas and Tamas. It can help us to develop self-awareness and self-control, which is essential for living a balanced and fulfilling life.

Yoga practices to balance the three Gunas:

  1. Sattva: To cultivate Sattva, practice gentle and calming yoga practices such as Soul Flow, Yang to Yin, Yin yoga, or Mindful movement. Focus on postures that encourage introspection, such as child's pose, forward folds, and Savasana. Practice devotion (bhakti yoga) by chanting Mantras and provide openhearted service for the benefit of all beings. According to Ayurveda, a plant-based diet that’s organic and local, as much as possible will support your sattvic state, as well as going to sleep early and awakening at dawn. Daily meditation, putting aside your electronics and spending some time alone in nature can all help to calm the mind and promote inner peace.

  2. Rajas: To balance Rajas, practice slowing down more. Soul Flow, Yang to Yin or Yin Yoga are classes that will dampen down the flightiness of Rajas. Gentle pranayama practices, such as Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) or Sitali (cooling breath), soothe the nervous system, clear the mind, and calm down the body. To quiet Rajas, Ayurveda recommends sitting down at all meals, skipping spicy or fried foods, and eating plenty of antioxidant-rich plants, like leafy greens.

  3. Tamas: To reduce the influence of Tamas, practice yoga practices that promote warmth and stimulation, such as Vinyasa, Warrior Flows, or Ashtanga Yoga. Focus on postures that encourage heat and movement, such as sun salutations, backbends, and twists. Shaking your hands as you lift your arms overhead several times will get Tamas unstuck, as well as a few rounds of Kapalabhati (skull-shining breath). Ayurvedic practitioners suggest avoiding tamasic foods, such as meat, garlic, onions, and breads as well as leftovers and instead choosing fresh local fruits and vegetables. These practices can help to reduce feelings of lethargy and promote a sense of invigoration

In conclusion, the practice of yoga can help us to balance the three Gunas and cultivate more Satva in our lives. Through the practice of yoga, we can experience inner peace, happiness, and a sense of purpose. It is essential to remember that the balance between the three Gunas is a journey, and it requires consistent practice and self-awareness.

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