What Are The “Guna”

In Yoga and Ayurvedic philosophy, the guna are described as “qualities”; but how can we apply this idea to our daily life?

According to yogic philosophy, many things can be categorised into one of three qualities – tamas, rajas and sattva. These are known as the guna. Tamas usually refers to a sense of heaviness and lethargy. We might describe ourselves as feeling tamasic if we were a bit hungover perhaps or our energy was low and we were feeling unmotivated. If we were going to describe a certain type of music as tamasic, it is the stuff that we rarely hum along with or want to listen to when we feel up-beat. Shoot me, but Radio Head springs to mind, Billy Bragg, Morrissey and the kind of dirges we used to be fond of playing at funerals before we decided a life that had passed should be celebrated! Tamasic weather might be foggy or muggy conditions. Perhaps dark, low clouds or  humidity on a still, colourless day.  In terms of food, heavy produce such as meat, stodgy pastries and alcohol are the the things we need to steer clear from in order to avoid (or move out of) this state of being.

Rajas describes something that is overwhelming or loud, intense and over-stimulating. We can consider ourselves in a rajasic state when we are anxious and jittery or angry and tempestuous; picking arguments perhaps or looking for fights. In a rajasic frame of mind, we often find that we are so busy buzzing around trying to complete – or get others to complete – what we believe are a set of endless tasks, that our mind simply cannot organise itself and we end up feeling over-whelmed and not actually able to do much of value! It can be difficult to get a good night’s sleep in this state and it is wise to avoid over-stimulating foods like spicy curries, garlic, caffeine and energy drinks. It is also useful to tune in to  soothing, up-beat music – or silence! – and to turn off the news and/or psychologically thrilling or scary movies that leave you on the edge of your seat. Particularly before bedtime.

The third guna, Sattva is perhaps the one we all aspire to. It denotes a complete absence of tamas and rajas and has a sense of serenity and calm about it while still incorporating vital energy. Sattvic foods are pure, light and nourishing; fresh fruit and vegetables, light grains, nuts, water and herbal teas. Sattvic music is positive and joyful. It makes us want to sing and dance. Everyday life has a sense of ease about it. Tasks can be managed without rushing or worrying. We sleep restfully and Everything Just Flows! Induce this state by learning to say no occasionally and refusing to take too much on. Particularly those things that you know, from past experience, will create unmanageable stress and anxiety in your life.  Consume fresh, healthy food and observe mindfulness by practising yoga and meditation. And, as much as possible, do your best to avoid things that have a tamasic or rajasic quality about them.