Understanding the 3 Gunas: why it's useful & how we can apply this knowledge to our lives

How can we use our understanding of the three 'gunas' (also known as the three fundamental energies that make up everything in the universe) in our daily lives and with our approach to others?

This - like most vedic concepts - is a complex topic. So in this post I will briefly cover the following;

  1. What is Ayurveda and how does it connect to Yoga?

  2. The Gunas - also known as the 3 fundamental energies

  3. How we can use knowledge of the gunas as a tool to further our practice and increase our awareness in our day to day lives.

First; what is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is the traditional healing system of India. Ayurveda can also be seen as the medical or healing aspect of Yoga. This is because Ayurveda, like yoga, views the Body, Mind and Soul as one.

Ayurveda starts by healing the root physical and psychological causes of disease, but that is not all; Ayurveda’s ultimate goal is to improve our lives so that we can gather enough energy to move onto the spiritual path.

In other words, where Ayurveda ends, the path of Yoga begins.

The ultimate goal of Yoga is Self-knowledge. Self-knowledge requires a calm and balanced mind because unless the mind is calm and clear it cannot perceive anything properly.

One key concept in the Ayurvedic process of purifying the mind is through the understanding of the gunas.

The 3 fundamental energies; sattva, rajas, tamas

These three energies are known as the gunas. Sattva is pure energy, rajas is the energy of action or movement, and tamas is inertia or darkness.

Everything in our external world, including our bodies and our minds, are made up of these three energies, and these three energies are constantly in motion.

On the path towards purifying our minds and bodies we move from a dark or tamastic state, through action (rajas), towards a Sattvic or pure state of consciousness. So what does this mean and how can I apply it to my life?

3 fundamental ways understanding the gunas can help us in our day to day lives

To have a richer experience of the gunas I recommending completing the chart attached to the bottom of this post, which will showcase to you the current play of these energies in your own life. These energies are always in flux, so remember the results of this chart are not a fixed thing!

After completing your chart, you may find you have a high rajas score - this is very common! Most people in today's age generally live in a state of rajas; constantly striving, motivated by outwardly moving action with the goal of satisfying desires and avoiding pain.

During this time where many are dealing with the far-reaching effects of a worldwide pandemic, we may also find ourselves with an increase of tamastic energy - fear, lethargy, dullness of mind, and feelings prone to depression are all tamas.

But the point is not to judge your current emotional and energetic state. More than that, if we can be aware of the energies to play within physical-emotional body now, we can better understand our own state and start making small, everyday changes to transform our habits towards a more healthy, balanced, sattvic state.

There are many ways to do this, but changing your diet from a tamastic diet (think processed foods and leftovers) to a more sattvic diet (fresh fruits and vegetables) is a simple example!

When we start to understand the play of the gunas in our own lives, we can also become more sensitive to these energies in others. This helps us to adjust our approach when connecting with each person individually - understanding that not only is each person different to the other, but that the same person is also different from day to day!

Finally, and this is something that has had a huge impact on me personally, understanding the Gunas can help us to understand and accept change.

When we see how all three Gunas exist within all of us, we can become a little less attached and a little less judgemental of ourselves and others. We can also be reminded that at anytime we have the power to change!

With good perception, and the cultivation of small, consistent habits (like practicing yoga daily!) we have the power to move from a tamastic (dull and depressed) state in the direction of sattva - a creative, vibrant state that is full of life!

Find your current mental constitution by filling in this chart:

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Michellé D'Almeida is a yoga teacher and student of Ayurveda Yoga Academy with 5 years of teaching experience. She is also founder of Ayurveda Yoga Africa and co-founder of Ayurveda Yoga Africa's Online branch: Yoga Together Online. Join her online for classes throughout the week!