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Yoga Theory- The Gunas

The Three States of Existence in Yoga Theory- The Three Gunas

-Written by Rev Dr MG

If you’ve been to a yoga studio, I am sure you have seen the lotus symbol.

The lotus is very significant in yoga.

The lotus symbolizes the states of life.

The mud, the growth and the flowering.

The Yogi’s believe all existence is in three states.

Each type of existence is interdependent on the other for survival.

They call these states the three Gunas.

The weather is a great representation of these three states.

Rain makes us feel lazy and unmotivated and we may reach for tamasic foods. Sunshine makes us feel energized and we may reach for Rajasic foods.

When we reach sattva, we eat more balanced foods.

We have to rise above these forces and understand

how we are deeply affected by these three states of existence.

These three states of all existence in yoga theory are as follows.

Tamas - Inertia, dullness & heaviness. the earth, the mud. In our psychology this shows itself as laziness, doubt, depression & sadness.

Stagnation, swelling, sickness and being overweight as well as being depressed.

Being unable to reach higher ground, and to keep slipping back down in to the familiar, the safety, the comfortable of being stuck and stagnant. This to me is also victim consciousness. The inability to rise up out of the mud, into the unknown. Reaching against gravity, in the darkness.

Reaching higher into the unknown.

To overcome this state one must focus on the goal. To not let the heaviness to knock you down. To push through doubt, judgement, other opinions, and low self worth. This is why yoga has a goal or being more spiritual, like the lotus.

If you do not have this goal or you are attached to other goals, you will keep slipping back into the mud.

Think how people start a diet, they start exercising, they start good habits and they fall back down, over and over again.

They let the weight of tamas pull them back down into the safety net of the earth. But one will not find flowering there.

When one is trapped in Tamas, one is attracted to tamasic foods. This is oily, dense and heavy foods. This is foods that grow underground like potato’s. This is is starches, this is cheese and dairy as well as ice cream. This is muffins, cakes, cookies, pasta and pizza. There is an attraction to more tamasic foods when one is stuck in the mud of the tamasic state of life. One gets stuck in the cycle of thinking, feeling and eating in a tamasic nature. They cannot see the light and they believe it will never happen to them. They believe that they are to old, to sick, to overweight, and to far gone to rise up. They cannot see the light. They believe they are too stuck in the mud to ever reach the top. They continue to seek simple joys in sleeping more, eating more, drinking more and doing less. They feel deeply stuck and are unaware that the light even exists.

Rajas- Growth, life, movement, Activity and perseverance.

Rising up against the comfort of the mud. Going upward against gravity. Rising out of victim consciousness. Pushing past the comfort of instant gratification from sleep, food, laziness and doubt. Mentally pushing through heaviness, darkness, fear, and external forces. Finding awareness that there is a goal, and it gets easier over time.

Rajas is  the choice to act, to do, to use great effort.

Hatha yoga is “Raja Yoga” as it’s the yoga of extreme effort.

There is intensity, there is pushing into the unknown.

Rajas means being ok with not knowing where one is going but to keep striving upwards against the darkness, towards the light.

This state needs what yoga calls Tapas.

Rajas is an extreme desire for something better.

Rajas is created by dedicated focus on the goal.

In yoga this goal is spiritual enlightenment. The desire to become lighter.

The desire to become healthier and to take control of ones mind, ones body, and ones actions. Rajas urges one to resist the urge to blame others for ones own conditioned state. Remember that the mud is the start of all life. It is a part of all existence. The mud is the earth from which we rise from, and it is what takes us back into when we are done on this plane of existence. We must put the effort into the growth, or we will never reach the light and the heaviness of the earth will continue to pull us back down. Only causing depression, sadness, sickness and suffering. Nobody wants that. But in the mud one doesn’t even know that there is a way out. That way is up. A spiritual burning is necessary to keep striving towards this goal.

This is called Tapas. We need to fight the forces that bring us down.

To me this includes a lightness of breath, of heart, of thinking and of eating. Once one begins this process of growth, it becomes a habit. Like a muscle this habit gets stronger each and every attempt. You create new pathways in the brain. You can update your operating system. Neurons that fire together, wire together. Over time with this intense effort, it gets easier. You shift the neural net of your brain and you start to feel better. You begin to notice results as you creat a new habit. You begin to see the light. Rajas means focused energy on your goal and not letting anything bring you down. You rise from the mud. With Rajas,

Tapas is required. There must be a yearning or a deep heat of desire to melt the stagnant energy of tamas.

This is called a Holy Fire.

Rajasic foods are upward greens, sprouts, fruits and vegetables that grow above ground.

This includes heat generating foods.

Ginger, turmeric, chilis & hot spices.

This includes foods with less denseness.

Foods with more water content. Foods that metabolize quickly. Foods that make you feel lighter. Foods that are easily digested. And foods that feed your body more then your mind.

This is foods that don’t cause instant gratification with a numbing sensation to the body and the emotions. This is foods that feed your mind, your body and your spirit. Foods that your body needs for this journey upwards towards the light. Foods that make you feel energized and light. Foods that help you feel more Rajasic. Foods that give you energy and ones that don’t rob your energy.

Sattva - Purity, Bliss, calmness, attainment of spiritual merit.

Enlightenment is this state. Being light. In the heart, in the mind, in the body and in the diet as well.

Sattavic foods are once again foods that are light and nourishing for your body. I’m this state there is less externals action needed, so there is less food needed. There is also a letting go of the Rajasic foods like chilis, garlic, ginger and those heat producing foods. In this state they are no longer needed. One has already attained peace and balance.

The lotus flower blooms so beautifully. It is so amazing how the lotus flower no longer even touches the water. It sits above the water from which it came from. It rises above with fragrance and beauty.

In yoga the lotus flower perfectly represents these three Gunas. The lotus first begins in the dense, dark, thick mud. This is Tamas. Then there is the growth of the stem out of the mud, against gravity, upwards towards the surface of the murky water. This takes lots of effort. Rising up takes much more effort then staying in the mud. This is Rajas. After much effort, the stem finally reaches the surface of the lake and has attained. Its spiritual pursuit is over. The stem has reached the surface and it blossoms as a lotus flower. This is Sattva.

Understanding these three states may allow one to understand the relationship of all things that exist in the universe. These Gunas deeply affect our psychological nature. A good example is how we feel on a rainy day. We want to stay in bed and just pull the covers over our head. The Tamasic nature of the weather outside has a profound effect on how we feel in our physical and mental body. These principles directly relate to the food we eat. If we eat dense, packaged or canned foods, it is Tamasic. Root vegetables such as potatoes and starches will make us feel tamasic. Foods that are Rajasic and will help to motivate us are fresh, organic and preferable just picked or sprouted. Spices such as ginger and chili’s help motivate our rajasic nature. Ginger tea is highly valued among yogis due to this rajasic effect. While I was practicing yoga in India, there were local woman who cooked “sattvic” meals for the students of the yoga shala in Mysore, India. There was no use of garlic, ginger or chili’s.

It was simple, neutral flavored, fresh, green and clean food. The greens were finely chopped and steamed with spices such as turmeric, cumin and flavored with fresh coconut.

I hope you learned an amazing yoga principle about

the Gunas and can bring this yoga principle into your life.




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