What Binds Us

As a lover of Yoga and/or Ayurveda, you probably have heard of gunas. The principles of gunas are one of the primary themes of Yoga Science and Ayurvedic Medicine. Through the understanding of these principles, these sciences teach us how to keep our body and mind healthy to fulfill the four goals of life: dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kama (desire), and moksha (liberation).  

The gunas are sometimes described as energies, sometimes as qualities or forces. These qualities are the main powers of Cosmic Intelligence that determine out spiritual growth. They are the subtlest components of creation and underlie our behavior, thinking, health, and diet. Gunas is a Sanskrit word that means “what binds”. Therefore, when we do not understand these forces of Nature we are kept in bondage with the external world.

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The three gunas are called rajas, tamas and sattva. They represent a triangle of simultaneously opposing and complementary forces that govern both the physical universe and our personality and thought patterns in everyday life. All objects in the universe consist of different combinations of the three. The quality of our actions depends on the gunas, giving rise to our achievements or failures, joy or unhappiness, health or illness.

Rajas is the principle of activity, the force of passion that causes conflict. It has the quality of change and turbulence. It is motivated in its action, ever seeking a goal or an end that gives it power, causing us to seek happiness outside ourselves. It creates distortions and we lose track of our inner peace.

Tamas is the principle of materiality and has the quality of dullness, darkness, and inertia. It is heavy, veiling or obstructing, weakening our power of perception. It promotes insensitivity, sleep, and loss of awareness. It brings about ignorance and delusion in the mind, keeping us identified with the physical body and feeling isolated.

Sattva is the balance of rajas and tamas. It is the principle of clarity and peace, that allows us to see the truth. It is responsible for true health and healing. It provides happiness and contentment of a lasting nature. Sattvic living – living in harmony with Nature and our inner Self – creates harmony, balance, and stability. It is important to not be attached to sattva since even this can bind the mind. Rajas and tamas have their place in the cosmic harmony and pure sattva does not condemn them.

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For me, understanding these forces makes my life easier. All is reduced down to three qualities. Knowing them, I will recognize if I am growing in consciousness (sattva), expanding in ego (rajas), or simply stagnating in ignorance (tamas).

In my life-- the way I organize food in the fridge, my attention to a friend talking, the making of the bed, the folding of clothes, awareness to the breath…all of these actions are performed in ways to support sattva.  

What about you? How do the ways that you live your life sustain sattva, rajas or tamas?

Yoga & Ayurveda, the Sister Sciences

You may have heard of Ayurveda as someone who practices Yoga, but did you know it is actually the sister science of Yoga? It’s true; Yoga and Ayurveda are related healing disciplines of India. They have the same origin and goal. They both originate as part of the system of Vedic knowledge, and both aim to gain better health.

The principles of trigunas—the subtle components of creation which correspond to sattva (equilibrium), rajas (action), and tamas (inertia)—and the panchamahabuthas (the elements of earth, air, fire, water, ether) form the basis of Yoga and Ayurveda. Through the understanding of these principles, these sciences teach us how to keep our instruments, body and mind, healthy to fulfill the four goals of life: dharma (duty), artha (wealth), kama (desire), and moksha (liberation).

The ayurvedic texts such as Charaka Samhita mention Yoga as central to dinacharya, the ayurvedic daily routine. Yoga practices such as pranayama, meditation and asanas are ideal ayurvedic applications because of their power in improving digestion, removing stress and calming the mind. All the three doshas, or mind-body constitutions, are balanced by Yoga practices. For instance, asanas like forward bends cool Pitta dosha, while the heating effect of Ujjayi breath balances Vata, and the repetition of the mantra OM stimulates Kapha.

At the same time the knowledge of Ayurveda brings great support to Yoga practitioners. A daily routine like nasya (the ayurvedic application of special herbalized oil), for instance, lubricates the nasal passages preventing dryness from pranayama practices. With a foundation in ayurvedic knowledge, Hatha Yoga benefits can be felt more quickly and deeper. When going to Hatha Yoga classes on a regular basis, ama (digestive impurities) starts to be freed in the body. The dietary, lifestyle, and purification practices of Ayurveda support the practitioner in the detoxing process; otherwise all they are really doing is moving their muck around. This interrelationship of these ancient sciences explains why traditional Yoga schools also teach ayurvedic principles in conjunction with the Yoga practices.

Undoubtedly, both Yoga and Ayurveda have their own exclusive benefits, however they were designed to be practiced together, each supporting and enhancing the other. So, if you would like to expand the power of your study of Yoga, what about integrating some ayurvedic concepts into your daily practice?

Coming up soon is the workshop “Taking Ayurveda to the Mat”.  On June 8th, I will be in Yogaville where we will explore ways to take the concepts and practices of Ayurveda to the mat… Sign up here!