As we continue to strive for improved mental wellbeing, yogic philosophy offers us a fascinating way of surveying our lives for health and stability. The yogis talked about three qualities, or gunas, that compose everything and everyone in nature. These gunas are present in our thoughts, emotions, actions, and even the food we eat. The three gunas are known as tamas, rajas, and sattva. The math is simple: a balance or imbalance of any or all of these gunas in your life results in the balance or imbalance of your health. As you move through the brief descriptions below, take stock of how each of these elements relates to your current mental state and overall quality of life.
Tamas: inertia and darkness. This is a state of inactivity that can be exacerbated by the heaviness of oversleeping, overeating, being afraid, or adopting a passive state in our relationships. It is the guna that becomes imbalanced when we do not exercise our bodies, effectively process grief or resentment, or express our creativity in the world. It is very often the guna that becomes inflamed when our lives are hampered by a chronic or debilitating illness. The fatigue we experience when there is dis-ease in the body is an imbalance of tamas.
Tamasic foods include heavy meats or products that are over-processed, spoiled, or refined. Experiencing fogginess, sluggishness, exhaustion, and negative thoughts are the indicators of a tamasic mind.
Rajas: energy, action, movement. When you think of rajas, think about excess. It is all too much: too much work, too much exercise, bright lights, loud music, striving for perfectionism - all rajasic by nature. Those spicy or fried foods, as well as that soda, chocolate, and sugar, all lead to the overstimulation of the mind. Just watch how your mind responds after a hard day at work – it can’t stop. Or after that first sip of coffee – the thoughts just spin out of control. Rajasic imbalances are common in what we call “type A” personalities and they can be soothed with calming environments, the removal of stimulants from the diet, and a surrender of all things in excess.
Sattva: harmony and joy. This is the one… the state of balance that many aim for. But balance can also be elusive. I don’t know anyone who lives their entire life in balance. Balance is an aspiration and a journey toward feeling whole. What brings balance? Fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes; nourishing exercise, such as yoga; grounding activities like journaling, meditation, and deep breathing; making art; cultivating positive thoughts; all of these heal the imbalances associated with tamas and rajas and return us to a sattvic state.
The yogis didn’t say that sattva was the goal. They actually wrote that transcending the gunas altogether, moving beyond identification with ego, is what gets us our spiritual liberation. But that is a discussion for later on, many lifetimes from now. For today, let’s strive for things like harmony, joy, and peace of mind.
Billy Rosa is a Registered Nurse, Integrative Nurse Coach Visiting Faculty, University of Rwanda