May 18, 2024
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The Three Gunas: Using Ayurveda to Find Your Rhythm

The ancient Ayurvedic concept of the three Gunas can be used to bring more flow, ease and harmony into our relationships, careers, health and spiritual practices, because this system provides an energetic map of the Universe itself. If we align ourselves with its fundamental rhythm, we can use the system of the gunas to facilitate a greater and more natural flow of health and prosperity in all aspects of life. 

The ancient Ayurvedic concept of the three Gunas is similar to the Chinese concept of yin and yang. The gunas are three forces or energy principles which set up the relationships of polarity that are inherent in every aspect of life. Including the physical, emotional, mental or spiritual planes. Without the gunas, no polarities could occur, no movement could take place and life as we know it could not arise. In this way, the ayurvedic model of energy relationships provides a map of the subtle anatomy of all things. To study the gunas is to study the way things come into being and sustain themselves through time.


The first guna is called Sattva. Sattva is the neutral ground from and within which energy moves. It is a neutral field which allows energy movement and is the aspect of balance inherent in all polarity relationships. It is the stillness within motion that is at the center of any event. In this way it is identified with source, essence and the unconditioned natural state of all existence.

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Rajas is the positive, expansive, yang, or masculine phase of the polarity movement. It is the fiery sun aspect of the energy cycle. The rajas principle is the driving aspect of energy, suggesting action and propulsion. It is expansive, centrifugal and forward-moving. Rajas is identified with assertion, warmth and the drive behind an event or experience.


Tamas is the negative, contractive, yin, or feminine phase of polarity movement. It is the cool, lunar aspect of the energy cycle. The tamasic principle is the quality of the centripetal phase of energy. The phase of completion, receptivity and crystallization into forms.

Cycles of Movement

Energy moves in cycles of relationship among these three principles and this is how everything comes into being. Rajas governs the positive impulsive phase of energy, sattvas governs the neutral ground which allows this movement, and tamas governs its negative phase of completion into fully manifested being.

We can see this cycle anywhere we look. An empty lot is sattvic, while construction is rajasic, and the completed house is tamasic. A seed is rajasic, and fertile soil is sattvic, and the flower is tamasic. Exercise is rajasic, the period of rest and recovery is sattvic, and a toned body is tamasic.

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In modern times, most people are primarily preoccupied with the rajasic and tamasic phases of energy movement. Most of the time, we are paying attention to the kinetic activity and active effort involved a situation, or else to the completed results and realization of the goal. For instance, if we want a new house, we are placing most of our attention on the outcome of ownership, and/or the work that goes into acquiring this ownership. If we want to get in shape, we are putting most of our attention on the outcome of how we want our bodies to look, and/or the work that goes into making it look that way. Most of us are not placing much attention on the sattvic phases of these processes. The space of total neutrality within which movement and realization take place.

Yet a study of the gunas shows not two, but three phases of energy in motion. And we would benefit if we incorporate into our lives an awareness of the importance of the sattvic principle. After all, a flower does not bloom simply from the work attended upon the seed. Merely tilling a seed into soil does not bring it to fruition. There is a long period of gestation where the seed lies in neutral ground, undisturbed. Within this space of non-movement, the flower is able to come forth. Without the space provided, there would be no flower.

Similarly, we do not become stronger during the activity of weight training. Lifting weights causes trauma to our muscles and actually breaks them down through subtle tearing. You might have noticed that you are actually weaker, not stronger, at the end of a hard workout! We achieve muscle tone transformation during the sattvic period of rest following the rajasic training. In a period of neutrality, the muscles are able to repair and regenerate themselves, coming into the tamasic phase of strength through non-activity.

If we apply this understanding to our manifestation practices we will greatly enhance and accelerate our deliberate creating. Desire and inspired activity in pursuit of a goal is rajasic. The manifestation of this desire is tamasic. We must remember that between the phases of desire, action and the realization of the desire in physical form, we must provide a space of neutral, unconditional space.

In this state of neutrality, we must completely let go of both the attachment to the desired outcome as well as the attachment to taking action in pursuit of it. If you are excessively attached to harvesting your fruit, you will pick your crops before they are ready and wind up with nothing edible. If you are too attached to reaching your goal weight, you may become discouraged. Or throw away the real progress because it is not the image you are holding in mind. On the other hand, if you excessively till or water your garden, you will extinguish the life force trying to come forth within it. If you exercise every day without rest, you will injure and wear out the muscles you are training, and prevent the transformation you are seeking.

Honor the extremely important phase which lies between desire and manifestation, between action and realization, for it is actually within this phase that transformation occurs. Take time to step outside of the rajasic and tamasic phases of energy into the sattvic phase. Find stillness, peace and connection to the essence of life itself.

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Now you know everything about the 3 gunas.