Every person who finds their way to a yoga mat has a different reason. Some people are on the mat for the physical benefits – strength, flexibility and balance. Other people get on the mat to quiet their mind or to find mental clarity. Still other people are on the mat to seek enlightenment, find emotional balance and hear their own inner voice. Quite often, people get on a mat because someone else wanted them to, because they thought it looked like a great workout or just to try something different. Whatever the initial reason, I have yet to meet a person who practices yoga and walks away without a new perspective.
I began my personal practice thinking it was purely a physical activity – a supplement to my workout regimen. I realized within my first practice that it was more challenging than I expected. Within the first month I knew that I was working on more than just my body. And within the first year, I knew it was becoming my foundation, something integral to my growth as a human being. In the study of yoga there are many concepts that relate to more subtle aspects of what it means to be human. Three of these are referred to as the gunas – energetic qualities that make up life. I recently reread a Yoga Journal article by Linda Sparrowe and have summarized her beautiful explanations of the gunas to share with you.
The three gunas are:
- Tamas – simply defined as stability. Its energetic vibration is slow, which can be negative in the forms of lethargy or stagnation. It is also positive in the forms of its stabilizing effects and steady focus. It gives us grounding in our legs and feet and defines our pure physical form. The negative side often comes when our emotional energy is heavy or tamasic like when we are depressed and particularly hard on ourselves.
- Rajas – simply defined as activity. Its energetic vibration is faster moving, which gets life going and helps us get things done on the physical plane. Too much rajas can lead to longing, too much future thinking and irritation. While it can present as passion, it can also lead to overexertion and disregard for others.
- Sattva – simply defined as awareness. Its energetic vibration is the pure joy of being alive, calm, receptive focus, and compassionate action. We often experience this quality during meditation, when we find the balance of movement and breath being one, when we honor what our own body needs and remain aware of what other people need. It is the space of rest that arrives between an inhale and an exhale. It is freedom from time and space and allows us to be in the moment.
The key to these qualities is balance of tamas and rajas as individual qualities and balance between them. Balance creates a greater capacity to cultivate sattva. If we have too much tamas we need to move more, breathe more profoundly and with energy, and eat foods that are fresh, local and vegetarian. If we have too much rajas we need to slow down, breathe with intention low into the body and eat calming foods. Increasing our sattvic energy means taking care of our bodies, minds and emotions – get exercise in nature when possible, breathe intentionally, meditate daily, create a clean and consistent sleep schedule, take electronic and media breaks daily, provide selfless service to others and the planet.
It may sound complicated and like it is a lot to add to your life. I can tell you from experience that when I began to practice yoga as a purely physical activity, I soon saw that my mind was calmer and clearer, my emotions became manageable and my life began to reflect more sattvic qualities. I began a balance of tamas and rajas simply by getting on my mat every day. Every year that has passed since that first practice, my time with yoga has brought more balance and joy to my life. I have become a better person – not a perfect person, but a person who is working on balance and awareness. So, I would challenge you to get on a mat and see what comes up from the practice for your life.
Namaste (the light in me honors the light in you),