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The 3 Gunas

3 gunasIn the yoga philosophy and Hinduism the primordial nature of intelligence upon which the universe exists and functions is called Prakriti. It is the essential part of the universe and is at the basis of all the activity of the creation. In the text Bhagavad Gita is is described as “primal motive force”. Prakriti has 3 qualities of forces that make up nature and creation and these are called Gunas, meaning strand, thread or rope. So when we explore Tantra yoga, tantra is defined as an instrument that stretches and expands to weave everything together. These threads, the gunas are essential intertwining everything to make up prakriti, nature. These Gunas are divided into 3 qualities; Sattva, Tamas and Rajas.

3 gunas

There is always a combination of the gunas, where one is more dominant and all physical nature is made up from the gunas. when things are being created this is the rajas mode, when things are being sustained this is sattva and being destroyed is Tamas. The Gunas are a binding function and bind us to this world. the Bhagavad Gita details that it is possible to go beyond the gunas and the illusion (maya) of this world. and also in Navratri, the triple aspect of Shakti represents each gina, which i mention below

Here is a list of the 3 gunas




Activity, stimulating, restlessness, envious, angry, hostile, quick temper Truth, Goodness, calm , happy, generous, aware, responsible Inertia, untruthful, apathy, indifference, lazy, sleepy
Energy,   spiritual essence matter
driven under its influence of passion, desire, intense emotions light, illumination. lightness of limbs and senses are clear and strong shadow workdarkness, depressed, distorted thinking
Expansion Upward flow Downward flow
Movement, lots of actions yet not satisfied with results, always wanting more, bigger, greater Intelligence, Consciousness, self-controlled i.e not chasing desire. free from ignorance limbs are heavy , senses slow, clouded mind, Darkness, dull
Binds by passion born of craving and attachment. Binds by means of attachment to knowledge and joy. Binds by means of ignorance and obstruction.
Is the ruling trait when greed, excessive projects, cravings and restlessness arise. Is the ruling trait when the light of knowledge shines forth. Is the ruling trait when darkness, dullness, stagnation, confusion,  and inertia appear.


Working with the Gunas

the task of the yogi/yogini is to cultivate sattva guna so that he can develop discrimination to transcend all there as described in the Bhagavad Gita. One way is to simply observe their play in your life.

Three-GunasTamas for the yogi/yogini might arise on the yoga mat when your energy feels tired, you can’t be bothered to practice or try a  challenging posture a teacher is inviting you to go for. To avoid Tamas in life is to not oversleep, or over eat, inactivity, or fearful situations.

Rajas shows up for the yogi/yogini that is always trying to hard, doing a fiery practice all the time and is so pent up on achieving an asana that they might injure themselves, they forget to feel the asana and soften. In life, over work, loud music, excessive thinking, excessive material obsessions or situations that make you angry or restless.

Sattva is the ultimate state of harmony, balance and joy, infused with consciousness  and intelligence. an all round yoga practice of meditation, asana, pranayama, mantra, mudra. It’s resting in the truth of who you are and observing the other two gun as at play and not reacting to either. that pause can diffuse.

We predominately have a guna and this effects  our perceptions and perspective of the world around us. say you are more rajas you or your mind react to situations and you may have a quick natured temper. on the other hand you may be more tamas and become easily despondent or depressed at situations and will not voice your truth because of fear. think of when you are on holiday, calm, relaxed and at peace (sattva) then you return to your normal routine of work and rushing around agitated (rajas)or the alarm goes off early morning and you are pulled out of your tamasic state of sleep and not wanting to get out of bed and snooze the alarm. You are reacting to the gunas. when you are trying to hold on to one state when another state comes along this is the gun as controlling you… below in the Bhagavad Gita is described the transcending of the gunas




As I approach my weekend yoga retreat  honouring the Divine Feminine the 3 gunas play their role here. the first 3 days honour Kali/Durga and the Tamas Guna to overcome the shadow side of us, then the next three days is Lakshmi to bring to light the fire of consciousness of Rajas. Finally the last three days after you’ve devoted yourself to surrender and observed Tamas and rajas there is Sattva and Saraswati inviting you into her sublime flow of harmony and supreme consciousness…

Bhagavad Gita

In the Bhagavad Gita on another battlefield, Arjuna asks Krishna how he  recognises the man who has gone beyond the three gunas, and how or what has he done to have gone beyond them? Krishna replies listing the characteristics of such a person and by reiterating the central theme in the Bhagavad Gita: non-attachment to the fruits of one’s labor:

Whatever quality arises –
Light, activity, delusion –
He neither dislikes its presence
Nor desires it when it is not there.

He who is unattached,
who is not disturbed by the gunas,
who is firmly rooted and knows
that only the gunas are acting

who is equally self-contained
in pain or pleasure, in happiness
or sorrow, who is content
with whatever happens, who sees

dirt, rocks, and gold as equal,
who is unperturbed amid praise
or blame of himself, indifferent,
to honor and to disgrace,

serene in success and failure,
impartial to friend and foe,
unattached to action – that man
has gone beyond the three gunas.

He who faithfully serves me
with the yoga of devotion, going
beyond the three gunas, is ready
to attain the ultimate freedom.

Bhagavad Gita, A New Translation, 14.22 – 26
Translation by Stephen Mitchell, 2000