May is such a beautiful month here in middle Tennessee. All the spring rain from March April has reawaken the glory & vigor of Nature; flowers are cycling through blooms, trees are flush with leaves, baby birds are hatching and lizards are waking up from their cold-weather slumber. It's a majestic time of the year, and I can't wait to take my first swim in a waterfall for the season.
As Nature begins her transition from the foundational growth energy of Kapha that's dominant in spring into the transformational energy of Pitta that's dominant in summer, there's also an uptick of Vata to initiate this change of season. Keep in mind the transitions happening in Nature are often time reflecting what's happening in our own beings, so if you're experiencing excessive hunger, physical fatigue, difficulty focusing or FOMO-related anxiety these can be good signs to invite a little more Vata & Pitta balancing into your late spring self-care rituals.
Before shifting gears to the newsletter's main topic, I want to take a moment to update you in my life. I'm going to take another big step on my soon-approaching academic journey; on May 23rd I can officially register for my first semester of classes at Maryland University of Integrative Health! In a little more than two years--August 2024-- I'll be graduating with a Master's in Yoga Therapy and it feels good to visualize this as my perfect 41st birthday gift to myself. I'll be making changes to my service offerings so I can focus on being a student, and I'll keep everyone posted with those changes as the time comes. However, one thing I can announce is I'll be suspending my Ayurvedic counseling services starting August 2022, so if you have been considering booking a session with me, time is running out! Visit my Ayurveda page to schedule yourself a session before I'm on hiatus from this service.
Getting back to the newsletter!
May is also Mental Health Awareness month, so in the spirit of elevating Sattva Guṇa in the hearts & minds of my community, I hope this newsletter serves as a small guiding light on your path to wellness. Just a heads up, this will be a longer read so take your time in digesting this month's topic as it's a big one that calls for compassionate self-reflection.
If you've attended any of my Ayurvedic workshops or worked with me for Ayurvedic lifestyle counseling, you've probably heard me talk about this shifting back-and-forth between overactive, overworked Rajasic behavior and exhausted, depressed Tamasic behavior. These self-destructive & self-sabotaging patterns are what my Ayurveda teacher Mas Vidal called "Rajas-Tamas loops."
This yo-yoing between Rajas & Tamas can be a hard cycles to break; in my personal experience, at times it has taken years to recognize my own self-sabotaging & self-destructive behaviors, and even more years to work on dissolving them. Sometimes they still show up, but as I continue to dedicate myself to Sattvic living through yoga, meditation & Ayurveda the longer the intervals are between step-backs and the faster I'm able to bring myself back. The timeframe is long, but this type of work is for the long-haul, and it is time well spent. Working to free yourself from Rajas-Tamas loops will alleviate yourself from past & future suffering, and in time elevate your consciousness to your highest abilities.
Now may not feel the best time to start making changes, but it's always the right time to start making positive changes, and it's okay to start small. Sometimes making positive changes can feel so overwhelming that may require medical intervention and/or professional psychological counseling services to help find your footing on a Sattvic path, and that's okay, too. If you are in need of medical or counseling resources you are welcome to email me and I'll help point you in the right direction to the best of my ability. But for now, what the heck even is Sattva, Rajas and Tamas? Let's take a quick dive.
What Are The Three Gunas?
The philosophical foundations of Yoga & Ayurveda are vast & deep. There are literally thousands of years of contemplation, debate, analysis, knowledge, experience, observation & wisdom. We'll focus on one foundational concept that both Yoga & Ayurveda share, and that's the three Guṇas.
Sourcing from the philosophy of Saṇkhya Darśana, the cosmic attributes of the three Guṇas are keystone concepts to deepening your understanding of what a yogi or yogini is seeking to cultivate through the various practices, rituals & routines to harmonize & purify the mind-body. Furthermore, understanding the Guṇas will help you call out & change the self-destructive & self-sabotaging patterns you knowingly or unknowingly let control your life. The word Guṇa is a Sanskrit term that--within the context of Saṇkhya--generally translates to "quality," "attribute," "tendency," "subdivision" or "property." These three attributes are universal/ cosmic properties that influence all of the known material world of "name & form," which includes you & me.
The three Guṇas and a short description of their distinct natural attributes are:
Sattva Guṇa is light, clarity, harmony, awareness, creation, potential energy
Rajas Guṇa is movement, desire, passion, action, sustenance, kinetic energy
Tamas Guṇa is heavy, darkness, dullness, matter, destruction, inertia
It's important to understand that these three Guṇas are neither good nor bad; they simply exist as necessary energetic attributes to the manifestation of the physical world. From the viewpoint of Saṇkhya Darśana, the interaction of Sattva & Rajas Guṇas give rise to the organic substances of the mind (manas, ahamkara & buddhi), the 5 senses & the 5 actions, which are the building block of the subtle body; while the interaction of Rajas & Tamas Guṇas give rise to the inorganic substances of 5 subtle elements & the 5 physical elements, which are the building blocks of the physical body. For this reason, the physical & subtle bodies that make up our unique individual human forms are a combination of all three of Sattva, Rajas & Tamas Guṇas.
Identifying Disruptions in Your Guṇas
As energetic attributes of the manifested universe, the three Guṇas are subject to become disrupted, fall out of balance, change, and eventually return to a balanced state. Take a moment to consider that if they don't return to balance that means Sattva, Rajas & Tamas remain disrupted and unbalanced.
Practice exercise for exploring how the Guṇas show up in your own being:
Take a moment to re-read the description above of the Guṇas' natural attributes and using your imagination reflect on what it might feel like to be in a unbalanced state of each of the three Guṇas. Was it harder or easier to imagine yourself in each one of the Guna states? What type of sensations, emotions, thoughts or memories showed up as you reflected on the unbalanced state of each Guna?
This disrupted & unbalanced state of the Guṇas is a space that you may know all too well--I'm certainly no exception. However, speaking from my own experience, I've been able to use this knowledge of the three Guṇas to uncover deeper levels self-wisdom & self-healing. Through my own self-study & self-care practices of yoga & Ayurveda I've been able to witness in real time how disruptions affect the qualities of my personal behaviors, beliefs & patterns, and make the appropriate choices to respond the effect of the disruption instead of react. With a certain level of awareness, knowledge and dedication everybody has the ability to do the same, including you.
Sattva, Rajas & Tamas in the Mind
"The gunas indicate the mental traits respectively of clarity, distraction and dullness," says Ayurvedic doctors David Frawley & Suhas Kshirsagar in their book The Art and Science of Vedic Counseling. "They show the sensitivity of the mind, its capacity to perceive truth and act according to it."
Just like you have & need all three dośas, you also have & need all three Guṇas. Learning to balance and elevate the Sattvic qualities the three Guṇas within & all around you is one of the tricks to becoming aware of your highest potentials, staying motivated in pursuing life-affirming activities and being firmly established in your whole body with loving-kindness. Uplifting Sattva Guṇa leads to healthy & positive physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. Living and behaving Rajasic will inevitably lead to a Tamasic "burn-out" state-of-being. According to doctors Frawley & Kshirsagar:
"Our culture today is very rajasic--highly distracted, disturbed, hyperactive and over stimulated. Some rajasic traits within us may be owing to outer circumstances rather than being indicative of our own inner disposition. Yet excess rajas leads to tamas, just as excess activity leads to exhaustion. After our excessive activity, we often fall into states of low energy, inertia and depression. For this reason, tamas often prevails at the end of our hectic lives."
So, what can you do to start lifting yourself out of the stagnant burn-out of Tamas and releasing yourself from the relentless yearnings of Rajas? Keep reading to learn more about the emotional-mental traits the three Gunas influence. Take your time to reflect on the qualities each Guṇa brings out in a person and how the qualities of the Guṇas interact with each other. Consider what qualities are showing up in your mind-body when your are in everyday situations. Keep in mind that, just like how your unique dośa constitution can be influenced by the dośas predominating in the external environmental or the foods you eat, the internal balance of your Guṇas can be influenced by the Guṇas predominating the external environment--even foods carry the attributes of Sattva, Rajas & Tamas.
All the Guṇas flow into a balanced & elevated state as Sattva becomes the predominant attribute in your life. The key to elevating Sattva is remembering that what you are doing is making a positive change to recalibrate your life for longevity, not for a short-term goal. Make only one big-effort change at a time, or up to three small-effort or medium-effort changes in a similar timeframe.
One last thing to consider is your unique dośa constitution will have an impression on how the Gunas manifest emotional & mental qualities; this means that a Sattvic Vata person will express Sattva Guṇa a little different than a Sattvic Pitta or Sattvic Kapha person. This holds true also for the Rajasic Vata/ Pitta/ Kapha person or the Tamasic Vata/ Pitta/ Kapha person. Everyone will express their individual diverse uniqueness. The more we celebrate our natural diversities as enriching the beauty of Divine Oneness, the closer we can all become to elevating consciousness by elevating Sattva.
Sattva bestows harmonious qualities of awakened consciousness, clear perception, emotional intelligence, mental clarity & positive discernment. Because of this, Sattvic energetic attributes have propensity to guide you toward your highest inner nature by elevating your emotional & mental capacities toward a capacity for self-awareness, self-love & self-acceptance. Too much Sattva guṇa is possible and can lead to aloofness, delusion & disassociation, but for most people we can all benefit from increasing our Sattvic qualities as much as possible. Unfortunately, Sattvic qualities can easily be disregarded as mere idealism thus unattainable or unrealistic unless your a renunciate and live a monastic life. Some of the pushback I've directly heard from folks is cultivating Sattvic lifestyle practices takes too much effort or the person is too busy. In my personal experience, I think it's true that elevating Sattva does require dedicated self-effort, especially if you're naturally inclined to more Rajasic and/or Tamasic qualities. However, the more you practice elevating Sattva in your everyday life, the easier & more effortless it becomes, and the more you desire the Sattvic qualities of life because you have firsthand experience of how it has elevated your family life, work life, social life and inner life. There are three levels of Sattva Guṇa: "Sattvic Sattva," "Rajasic Sattva" and "Tamasic Sattva." What do you think would be a personality trait, an activity, a lifestyle or a state-of-being that embodies each of these three levels? What type of foods do you think carry Sattvic attributes?
Rajas empowers positive mental qualities of leadership, passion, strength & Will when in a balanced Sattvic state. However, when out of balance Rajas can also develop an agitated mental state that is easily distracted, overly competitive or actively aggressive. Too much Rajas leads you to live in the Ego and seek out external fulfillments first with little inner reflection. The attributes of Rajas are often herald in our society, which makes it challenging to consider how Rajasic qualities that are praised such as ambition, assertiveness, bravery, creativity, determination, drive, confidence, enterprise or motivation could become detrimental. One thing to consider is too much Rajas can fuel a desire for the selfish acquisition of power, money, property & people as the ultimate life goals, thus enable controlling, greedy, manipulative and prideful behavior or even violence. If you're familiar with the personality traits that psychologists call the "Dark Triad" of narcissism, Machiavellianism, & psychopathy, these are all excessively Rajasic in nature. Just like there are three levels of Sattva Guṇa, there are also three levels of Rajas Guṇa: "Sattvic Rajas," "Rajasic Rajas" and "Tamasic Rajas." I brought up the "Dark Triad" personality traits already, but what else do you think would be a personality trait, an activity, a lifestyle or a state-of-being that embodies each of these three levels of Rajas? What type of foods do you think carry Rajasic attributes?
When Tamas is in a positive Sattvic state, it is the capacity to eat & rest well, invite ease & relaxation as a form of wellness and be grounded in your whole body. Yet, when Tamas is imbalanced it shows up in the mind as dulled perception, ignorance and fearfulness. Negative thoughts & emotions, declined mental focus, diminished personal discipline and deep attachments to the external world are manifestations of too much Tamas. Because of the dark & inert state-of-being this Guṇa holds, it leads you to resist any positive change, feel helpless to initiate any positive change and be preoccupied in your baseline survival needs of food, sleep & sex. Since too much Tamas dulls your awareness of & connection to your own personal inner agency, it can pull you down to an unhappy & dysfunctional life path. A Tamasic lifestyle is polluted with addiction (alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, etc.), deviant behavior, dishonest behavior, disturbed thought-loops, hoarding, self-blaming, self-hatred, self-shaming and self-victimizing. Just like there are three levels of Sattva & Rajas Guṇas, there are also three levels of Tamas Guṇa: "Sattvic Tamas," "Rajasic Tamas" and "Tamasic Tamas." I discussed what Tamasic Tamas can show up as, but what else do you think would be a personality trait, an activity, a lifestyle or a state-of-being that embodies each of these three levels of Tamas? What type of foods do you think carry Tamasic attributes?