Yoga Journal|July - August 2020

Understanding the Gunas— the Three Energetic Qualities That Make up All of Life— Can Help You Find Balance and Insight
By Linda Sparrowe

When we think about energy, we often think about the physical and mental types—the oomph that helps us move through a vinyasa or focus on a task. It's easy to identify when these energies are lagging, and most of the time we know how to replenish or balance them: We eat healthy foods, rest, get out into nature, connect with the people we love, commit to consistent asana practice, or let go of some questionable habits.

But energy is more than what fuels the body or the mind. Many ancient traditions, such as yoga, Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism—plus modern physics—teach that everything in the universe is energy. A table, a computer, and a bicycle are all forms of energy; each one vibrates at a speed that allows you to see, touch, and use it. Every thought, feeling, and experience you have also had a unique energy vibration that is imprinted into the body in the form of physical sensations and then hopefully released on the wave of the breath. This non-tangible energy can best be understood by delving into one aspect of yoga's subtle body anatomy—the gunas.

The gunas (Sanskrit for strands or qualities) are energetic forces that weave together to form the universe and everything in it. There are three Gunas, each with its own unique attributes: tamas (stability), rajas (activity), and sattva (consciousness). It might help to think of gunas as tendencies: the habitual ways you respond to any situation that arises.

All three Gunas are present in every experience in a constantly shifting relationship with one another. One quality is always more present or dominant than the others, depending on what challenge you're facing—and, most important, how you respond to it. When you overreact because someone cut you off in traffic, rajas becomes dominant. If you emotionally shut down to avoid having a difficult conversation, that's a sign that tamas has taken the reins. As you emerge from a beautiful restorative practice, you may experience the sattvic quality of joy.


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July - August 2020