The Dance of the Gunas: Nature's Three Fundamental Forces



Yoga finds some of its roots in the over-lighting philosophy of samkhya, a Sanskrit word which means ‘that which explains the whole’. It could be said that samkhya represents the theory, and yoga represents the practical application of that theory. Samkhya specifies the number and nature of the ultimate constituents of the universe. It has been known as a system of perfect knowledge. Within the wisdom of samkhya sits the knowledge of the three gunas - ‘guna’ means ‘quality’ or ‘nature’ - and they are associated with all the objects of the universe, both animate and inanimate; all born of nature. The three gunas are: sattva – light, bliss and goodness; rajas – passion, heat and movement; tamas – darkness, inertia and coldness. We need elements of all the gunas for life to exist. However, there are aspects of the three gunas that are desirable for yogic practice, and the underside of these same gunas which are impediments to yoga practice. For instance: sattva guna is activated by meditation practices that turn the mind inwards to stillness and peace; rajas guna is activated by pranayama and dynamic yoga asanas; and, the inertia of tamas guna is invaluable when wanting to sit still and meditate. On the underside: attachment to silence and lightness (sattva guna) may mean that it is difficult to deal with the comings and goings of everyday life; an out of balance rajas guna may manifest as anger and combativeness; and an overly tamasic person may act in lazy, careless ways. Yoga also teaches that the only reason to explore the true nature of mind is to realise that everything that arises from the mind is an expression of consciousness; indeed, the mind itself exists within consciousness. Without this understanding, a yoga practitioner may continue journeying into the maya (illusion) of the mind ad infinitum. Through yoga, we develop the mind as a whole in order to acquire balance within the manifestation and expression of the three gunas in our lives. Consequently, understanding the three gunas provides a practical basis for the process of self-awareness and self-discovery that assists yoga practice. Through yoga practice, a deep understanding of the three gunas, and how this awareness can support balance, can be attained. Level 3 Yoga Teacher Training gives a deeper understanding of Samkhya and the three gunas, and how to make them allies in our day to day life!


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