Understanding Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas: Balancing the Forces Within

In the tapestry of life, every individual embodies a unique blend of qualities, shaped by the interplay of cosmic forces.

Just as nature showcases an endless array of colors, patterns, and textures, each person reflects a distinctive expression of existence.

According to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine and holistic healing, these qualities are known as gunas.

First time hearing of Gunas? Don’t worry, we’ve got you!

Gunas, the primary forces of cosmic intelligence and life itself, are named sattva, rajas, and tamas.

Rooted in the Sanskrit word “guna,” meaning “that which binds” or “thread,” they are intricately woven together, forming the fabric of the objective universe.

For practitioners of yoga, awareness of the gunas illuminates whether we are truly progressing in life (sattva), spinning our wheels (rajas), or losing our way (tamas).

All three gunas are present in every experience, in a constantly shifting interplay, each with its unique attributes – tamas (stability), rajas (activity), and sattva (awareness).

Understanding the Gunas

Gunas govern the mind and emotions, revealing how we respond to life’s situations.

One time, I had an opportunity to talk to my yoga mentor, which said something that really hit my mind differently.

He said; “Never make decisions when you’re angry and never make promises when you’re happy.”

On that matter, one quality is always more present or dominant than the others and determines our spiritual growth.

According to Ayurveda, understanding the gunas is essential because these energies, intertwined in a complex dance, shape everything we are.

Sattva: Illuminating Clarity

Sattva, or awareness, embodies pure truth and compassionate, selfless action. It is a state of inner clarity that fosters healing and facilitates spiritual growth.

Sattva is not enlightenment itself, but it unveils what is true and real. It manifests as beauty, virtue, balance, kindness, and inspiration, promoting the vitality, energy, and lasting pleasure of nature.

It brings light and awakening to the soul, a love that unites all things together.

In nature, it manifests as the perfect design of a fully formed flower or as the unique beauty of colors in the sunset sky.

Well, it can be anything really, as long as it presents a positive image in your mind.

A person influenced by sattva possesses a harmonious and adaptable nature, showing consideration for others and self-care, leading to freedom from physical and mental illness.

Cultivating Sattva

Now, recognizing Sattva and making it worth a while takes some practice. Some people, on the other hand, might find it comes naturally for them.

It all depends on the type of person, really. Usually people we all describe as the ones who light up the room when they enter have an ability to easy recognize and appreciate the beauty energy of the life and surroundings, however, if you’re not one of them, here’s a couple of tips that might help you become one:

  • Take better care of yourself.
  • Focus on activities that bring you joy.
  • Be gentle and forgive yourself because no one is perfect.
  • Meditate regularly to quiet the mind and emotions.
  • Spend time in nature and connect with animals and plants.
  • Be grateful for all the good in life.
  • Exercise daily according to your abilities – walk, practice yoga, or engage in sports.
  • Eat fresh food (plant-based, organic, and local).
  • Practice devotion (bhakti yoga) and engage in activities for the benefit of all beings.

Cool! Now let’s talk about Rajas!

Rajas: The Energy of Activity

Rajas, or activity, is the quality of motion and the energy of change. It is also the energy of unbridled enthusiasm, passion, and confidence to get things done.

In nature, rajas enable the germination of seeds and the birth of babies. It is the force of passion, desire, sensory stimulation, and emotion, effort, but also pain.

The activity of rajas can lead to a movement towards sattva (increased spiritual understanding) or towards tamas (increased ignorance).

Therefore, guna can act positively or negatively.

Rajas brings happiness by promoting the connection of the senses with their objects, attaching us to them, resulting in sensory pleasures of all kinds.

A person dominated by rajas is often in control of their life, so losing control is not something that they are accustomed to, and frankly, not reacting well to.

Although rajas encourage and provide pleasure for a short time, because of its unbalanced nature, it can quickly bring pain and suffering.

Much more than often, people affected by rajas usually blame others for their unhappiness.

The energy of rajas is directed towards the future and often manifests as longing, craving, or melancholy. The vibration of rajas is at a higher frequency than that of tamas.

How to balance out Rajas?

For this guna, the main rule is – slow down, slow down, slow down.

Especially in this day and age, where each of us is constrained with expectations and burdened with results, it’s really hard to stay focused, and by that, I mean to keep yourself and your wellbeing in focus.

However, as pretty much with everything, hard work and dedication will pay off.

So, there’s a way to balance out Rajas, and you might wanna give a chance to some of these techniques and tips!

  • Engage in yoga to “take off the edges” of your being.
  • Practice meditation to calm the mind and desires.
  • Walk through nature to feel inner peace.
  • Gentle pranayama practices, such as Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) or Sitali (cooling breath), can calm the nervous system, clear the mind, and cool the body.
  • Avoid spicy or fried foods.
  • Eat antioxidant-rich foods like leafy vegetables.

Tamas: The Energy of Inertia

Tamas, or dullness, has a poor reputation as it is often described as the force of gravity and darkness that slows things down and keeps them in limited forms.

Tamas hinders personal growth and veils our clear consciousness like a curtain. It is the principle of materiality or the dormant mind.

In its more sattvic form, this guna can provide a stable and focused influence in life. The nature of tamas and its energetic vibration is heavy and dense. It causes decay and decomposition in nature.

Manifested in the mind, tamasic energy is dominant when we fear taking responsibility for our lives, when we feel depressed, or when emotional burdens make it difficult for us to get out of bed.

Tamas leads to mental blocks, suppression of emotions, stagnation of energy, and inaction when action is needed.

Balancing Tamas

  • It is often necessary to move from tamas to rajas to return to sattva.
  • Move and dance to music.
  • Do daily exercises like Sun Salutations and the Five Tibetan Rites, which will activate the spirit and vitality.
  • Practice breathing techniques like Kapalabhati Pranayama
  • Walking meditation or singing work well to lift energy and focus the mind.
  • Choose fresh local fruits and vegetables, minimally prepared to refresh the mind and body.