Philosophically speaking, the theory of the three gunas teaches us how reality first manifested itself. The ancient texts of the Rigveda tell us that reality is divided into two categories: Purusha and Prakriti.
Purusha is the spirit, a reflection of our cosmic self or consciousness. Purusha is described as a cosmic man whose sacrifice to the Gods gave rise to all life forms, Purusha is an eternal life force, indestructible and innately connected to Prakriti.
Purusha is the non-perceivable and non-material component, some say the soul of the Universe. Whereas prakriti is the material, it is nature, associated with female energy, creativity and energy.
When the female energy of Prakriti joins with the male energy of Purusha, her creative material nature intwines with his spiritual nature, creating our reality.
Hindu teachings claim that Prakriti is also within humans, not just the nature that surrounds us and it is is composed of three elements known as the Guna’s, which determine our mental states. As always, we are aiming for a balance in these three Guna's as it is this balance that will determine how we proceed in life.
However, everyone has a unique composition, there is no 'one size fits all' approach in Ayurveda, as everyone has different needs.
Sattva - associated with enlightenment, truth, gratitude and contentment
Rajas - associated with movement, action, passion and emotion
Tamas - associated with lethargy, inertia, stagnation and laziness
According to Ayurveda, the aim is to always cultivate Sattva, as characteristics associated with Sattva are spiritual and useful, such as mental clarity and though not enlightenment itself, it can reveal truth and wisdom.
If the Sattva Guna is maintained, nourished and balanced then the mind will feel at peace and the individual will be calm and collected, with a sense of contentment and joy. For example, by nurturing a Sattva state one will make better decisions and live a life of beauty and joy.
In comparison to a Rajasic state where rash or impulsive decision making may occur. Whereas someone in a state of tamas may make a negative choice or decide never to make any choices!
We all have a predominant Guna that may change depending on the situation, By recognising our Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic tendencies we can take an active involvement in creating our reality. As these forces influence our daily lives, the activities we take part in, our relationships and the choices we make. Being self-aware and recognising imbalances is greatly important in Ayurvedic practice, as by recognising our emotions and behaviours, we can start to take positive steps in our lives.
Let's take a deeper look at each Guna, what they represent, and how to recognise imbalances and therapeutically restore equilibrium in the mind.
Sattva is the most desirable Guna, as this is where we feel at peace, feel no jealousy or envy, anger or regret, strictly good vibes! This is a state of gratuitous contentment where everything feels as it should, the waters are calm, and everything is good. We live our best life when we’re in a Sattvic state. Sattva is associated with feelings of harmony, love, joy, perception, intelligence, compassion, honesty, focus, tranquillity, gratitude and truth, in this state we see through everyday delusions.
Activities such as meditation and yoga can be useful tools for building and nourishing Sattva. Breathwork, exercise and mindfulness all contribute to counteracting high levels of Raja and Tamas.
There are also many herbs associated with Sattva, which can be used therapeutically to help restore balance.
Sattva herbs include:
- Fresh Ginger
- Tulsi (Holy Basil)
- Sesame Seeds
These herbs are generally known for their influence on cognitive function while having a calming effect on the mind and body.
Rajas is seen as the energy of change, motion, activity and turbulence. Raja is associated with our desire and passion for people, activities or material objects. When we are high in levels of Raja, this is where we can get things done with a sense or urgency, but that does not necessarily mean that it is the best way to go about a task. Rajasic tendencies can lead to chaotic atmosphere and can leave an individual with an excess of Raja to feel overstimulated. This can lead to an inability to relax or switch of a busy mind. When we have an excess of Raja, we can experience emotions such as control, possessiveness, or to be overbearing and authoritative as well as feelings of stress, fear, anxiety, frustration or anger. Many leaders will most likely be predominantly Raja Guna, as they seek power, control or authority. I'm sure we can all think of a time where we have made a rash decision or said something in the heat of the moment which we instantly regret. A rush of blood to the head which has a negative impact on our lives which could have been avoided if we knew how to recognise that our Raja is out of control and needs to be tamed!
Raja herbs include:
- Cayenne Pepper
- Dried Ginger
- Black Pepper
- Gingko Biloba
These herbs and spices tend to have a warming effect on the body so can be used to counter balance an excess of Tamas, or stoke the bodies digestion to increase circulation if needed.
Tamas is viewed as a state of darkness, resistance and inertia. When we have an excess of Tamas in the body, we can experience traits such as laziness, lethargy, ignorance, dependency and addiction. Tamasic nature can be associated with emotions such as apathy, sadness, guilt, confusion, doubt, shame, boredom and attachment. With excess of Tamas, we start to feel slow and sluggish, experience brain fog, feel unmotivated and unstimulated. We do not make good decisions in this state of mind and sometimes fail to see the bright side of life, maybe complaining more than usual, over eating, or skipping the gym, these can all be put down to Tamas. A state of Tamas is not a fun place to be, and we've all been there!
Tamas herbs include:
- Poppy Seeds
These herbs tend to have a grounding effect so can be useful when counteracting an excess of Raja, when one may need to calm an overactive mind or feel they need to be anchored when losing control.
So now we know a little more about how the Guna's effect our mental state, we can start to think about how we can balance them and use them to our advantage.
The three forces are always interacting with each other, we must remember that nothing is permanent, and they always flow. Usually we are in a mix of Raja and Tamas in our day to day, the modern-day world and its modern day problems all can lead to heavy excesses of both. Raja and Tamas almost act as a tag team, they antagonise each other, both fighting for control. The key to achieving Sattva is simply to tame them both, keeping them in check and finding that perfect balance between the two. Of course, all three have their place and they are always present within us. Different situations require different approaches. Ideally, we want to view our lives through the Sattva lens, which allows us to cope with daily stresses and situations life throws at us. In a state of Sattva, no challenge is too tough and no emotion too strong. If we can consistently cultivate Sattva, then our lives will improve. We will handle stressful situations with ease, make better decisions, and handle relationships effectively. Sure, there's a time and a place to allow Raja and tamas to play out but being self-aware and knowing what Guna your mind and body needs for a specific time is key. This is how you work with the Guna's, by taking an active involvement with each one. In doing so the aim is to develop Sattva, learn to alleviate raja and keep tamas for times of rest and convalescence.
The Guna's are meant to help us on our spiritual path, to become closer to Purusha, the cosmic intelligence, the knower. So have fun and start working with them, you have already begun!