Do you remember that movie The Goonies, an adventure comedy flick. Well in yoga, we have our own version of the gunas. These are the states of being in our mind and tie us to our ego. We can be more affected by one type of guna at one time and another at a different time, making life our own adventure. We may not find a treasure map like the group of kids in the movie but, transcending our attachment to these states, may be the treasure in the end.
These are the three gunas:
Tamas (darkness, inertia, ignorance) think mud, earth, covered
Rajas (action, passion, chaos) think fire, movement
Sattva (steadiness, balance, pureness)
In the philosophy of Yoga, all matter in the universe arises from the fundamental substrate called Prakriti. From this ethereal Prakriti the three primary gunas (qualities) emerge creating the essential aspects of all nature—energy, matter and consciousness. These three gunas are tamas (darkness), rajas (activity), and sattva (beingness).All three gunas are always present in all beings and objects surrounding us but vary in their relative amounts. We humans have the unique ability to consciously alter the levels of the gunas in our bodies and minds. The gunas cannot be separated or removed in oneself, but can be consciously acted upon to encourage their increase or decrease. A guna can be increased or decreased through the interaction and influence of external objects, lifestyle practices and thoughts.Tamas is a state of darkness, inertia, inactivity and materiality. Tamas manifests from ignorance and deludes all beings from their spiritual truths. To reduce tamas avoid tamasic foods, over sleeping, over eating, inactivity, passivity and fearful situations. Tamasic foods include heavy meats, and foods that are spoiled, chemically treated, processed or refined.
Rajas is a state of energy, action, change and movement. The nature of rajas is of attraction, longing and attachment and rajas strongly binds us to the fruits of our work. To reduce rajas avoid rajasic foods, over exercising, over work, loud music, excessive thinking and consuming excessive material goods. Rajasic foods include fried foods, spicy foods, and stimulants.
Sattva is a state of harmony, balance, joy and intelligence. Sattva is the guna that yogi/nis achive towards as it reduces rajas and tamas and thus makes liberation possible. To increase sattva reduce both rajas and tamas, eat sattvic foods and enjoy activities and environments that produce joy and positive thoughts. Sattvic foods include whole grains and legumes and fresh fruits and vegetables that grow above the ground. All of the yogic practices were developed to create sattva in the mind and body. Thus, practicing yoga and leading a yogic lifestyle strongly cultivates sattva.
The mind’s psychological qualities are highly unstable and can quickly fluxuate between the different gunas. The predominate guna of the mind acts as a lens that effects our perceptions and perspective of the world around us. Thus, if the mind is in rajas it will experience world events as chaotic, confusing and demanding and it will react to these events in a rajasic way.
All gunas create attachment and thus bind one’s self to the ego. “When one rises above the three gunas that originate in the body; one is freed from birth, old age, disease, and death; and attains enlightenment” (Bhagavad Gita 14.20). While the yogi/nis goal is to cultivate sattva, his/her ultimate goal is to transcend their misidentification of the self with the gunas and to be unattached to both the good and the bad, the positive and negative qualities of all life.
Reclined Bound Angle
Props: bolster, 4 blocks (or firm cushions, pillows or rolled-up blankets), 4 blankets and one extra blanket for warmth, strap and eye pillow
Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Opens the chest and abdomen benefiting breathing problems.
*This week we used the imagery of lying on a pool float – perfect for the hot, humid day that we had.
Place a block lengthwise under one end of a bolster to prop it up on an incline, add another block under bolster for stability. We used the wall in this week’s class placing the bolster at a higher elevation. Place a double-fold blanket on floor next to low end of bolster and a long rolled blanket on top next to bolster (for sacral support). Sit with your back to the short, low end of the bolster. Place two blocks where your knees will rest (can top with a soft blanket or use other props as necessary for propping knees) Bring your legs into Bound Angle Pose with the soles of your feet together. Wrap a blanket around your feet to create a feeling of containment. Lie back on the bolster. Place supports under your arms so that they are not dangling and there is no feeling of stretch in the chest. Stay in the pose for 10 to 15 minutes.
Legs up the Wall
Props: 1-2 blankets, strap, eye pillow, blanket for warmth, neck roll, a bolster for behind legs
Benefits: increases circulation and helps venous and lymphatic flow from the lower body; relieves swelling and fatigue in the legs; helps relieve muscular skeletal stress in pelvis; quiets the mind and can help promote ease in meditation and sleep.
Begin with using a double-folded blanket to be placed right above sacrum (see photo), setting it approx. distance 6-8″ from wall (adjust in pose). Sit down on the blanket with one hip pressed right up against the wall. As you lower down, swing your legs up the wall. Once in the pose, you can adjust distance to wall, angle of legs to all, blanket and placement of legs all for comfort. Hips and tailbone will be in space between wall and blanket. Arms rest by your side, palms face up or variation with Goddess arms (photo above).
Variations: To ground legs, blanket or sandbag to hang from soles of the feet. Strap can be placed around calves, so you lose the feeling of holding up legs. Tight hamstrings or really uncomfortable with legs directly up the wall? Try a bolster angled into the wall to rest legs on, add blankets for more support or move hips further from wall. Another variation is Legs up on a Chair or on a bolster with blankets on top to bring knees into a 90 degree angle.
Props: bolster, 2-3 blankets, block, neck roll, eye pillow
Benefits: counteracts the slumped position of our posture from sitting, computer use, driving, everyday activities. Opens the chest to help breathe easier. Improves digestion, reduces fatigue and can lift your mood.
Just like a babbling brook with boulders (soft ones!), imagine your body like the soft rushing waters laying over those boulders, smooth, flowing. It will allow the natural curves of the body to be held up gently and the breath to flow.
On your mat, place the bolster will your knees will be, one blanket rolled up where the bra line is (base of scapula), a block for the feet or the heels can come to the floor and a neck roll for the cervical spine. Shoulders rest on the floor, arms to side with palms facing up. If ankles need support, use rolled-up blanket or dish towel. Eye pillows can lightly rest on eyes or even be used on forehead (useful for headaches) or even on shoulders (wherever you need to release tension). To begin with stay in pose for 10 minutes working up to 20 minutes. Great to use in savasana. Feel the heart open, the strain from holding yourself up all day evaporate.
Variations: Feeling cranky in the lumbar spine? Place blanket to fill the curves. Want to feel more grounded while still opening the heart? Place rolled up blanket against wall and soles of feet touching blanket. Need to feel cuddled? Swaddle your head in a blanket cradle.