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Understanding The Three Gunas

The Three Gunas are considered the three qualities of nature. They cannot be fully understood without first considering the yogic philosophy creation. This philosophy is referred to by the Sanskrit word amkhya. The belief is that forces came together to form the three Gunas. Amkhya philosophy begins with two forces coming together – urusha and rakruti.
Urusha
 is unmanifested. It is the formless, passive, and beyond any and all attributes. It is beyond space and time.
Prakruti
 is the creative force of action. It is the source of form, attributes, and manifestation. These opposing forces came to form something called ahad.
Mahad
 is considered to be the cosmic intelligence. From ahad was created begahamkar – the ego.
Ahamkara
is the sense of “I am.” It is from here that it is said the three Gunas or three qualities were born.

The three Gunas – sattva, rajas, and tamas.

  • Sattva is stability. It is pure awakening, pure essence, and light. 
  • Rajas is a dynamic movement, passion, and drive. 
  • Tamas is imbalance, chaotic, anxious, lethargic, energy inertia.

These three qualities are in everyone and in everything. No one is entirely sattva, rajas, and tamas. Certain things and people have more of certain qualities than others, but the philosophy states that all three pervade all of existence.

In yoga teacher training, students are usually asked to live a “ratvik” lifestyle for the duration of the training. What does that mean? It means purity. Purity in thoughts, actions, and desires. This could mean creating a quiet mind by limiting listening to music that is impure or has rajasik or ramasik features. This is also represented in how your living area is maintained. To maintain a ratvik space it should be cleaned and tidied daily, with the bed made each morning. All dishes should be done immediately and surfaces wiped.

What is often the biggest focus for students or yogis studying the three Gunas is how they are represented in food. This is very important as it is typically a daily variable that can create harmony or imbalance. If we are experiencing more amas in our lives than needed, it can be represented in depression and lethargy. If rajas is dominant, it could be represented by stress and overexcitement. If sattva is present then we are grounded and peaceful.

There are too many to list. Some great examples are bananas, apples, almonds, broccoli, celery, lettuce, papayas, sesame seeds, sweet potatoes, and zucchini. These foods are pure.

What would make a food rajasik? We can recall that rajas is a movement. Therefore, rajasik foods are that can create stress and stimulation. These foods include garlic, lime, dried dates, avocado, tomatoes, and potatoes.

Tamas is inertia and lethargy. This is represented in leftover, rotten, or dead foods. This is where animal meat comes into play as it is not part of the ratvik yogic diet. Any refined sugars, mushrooms, alcohol, processed foods, or microwaved food considered ramasik.

The three Gunas are the three qualities of our universe. Becoming closer to a ratvik lifestyle brings us closer to urusha – pure existence.

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