How to balance your gunas

In my last blog, we talked about the three different maha gunas (sattva, rajas, and tamas) and how to identify which guna might be predominant in you.

Knowing what your dominant guna is can be helpful because it gives you valuable insight into the type of personality you are and makes you more aware of the internal and external forces that drive you.

However, it’s important not to forget that the maha gunas are in a constant state of flow, so even when you know your dominant guna, that still doesn't mean you can ignore the others. It's best if you constantly stay mindful of keeping all three maha gunas in balance, which will have the bonus of making your dominant/primary guna as strong as it can be.

How the maha gunas work together

Probably the easiest way to think about your dominant guna is as a pair of lenses you’re always wearing that shows you the world in a certain way 24/7. For example, a sattvic person will always see the world in harmony and, when something goes wrong, they'll be much more likely to stay calm and have the clarity to find a solution. That doesn’t mean the problem won't affect them or throw them temporarily off-balance – sattvic people are still only people, after all – but they'll return to their harmonious, clear-thinking sattvic centre reasonably quickly. When that happens, they’ll be able to find the best way to use their sattva (clarity), rajas (forward-motion) and tamas (heaviness) to create a solution.

Similarly, a rajas person will mostly tend to be restless, and they’ll always be looking for something to do. They are people who 'can't sit still’ and need constant input and activity to hold their interest and attention. When there's work to be done, rajas is a fantastic mind-space to be in. But when there’s a problem, a rajas person will be prone to taking action before they think and might end up creating more chaos than they started with.But, if you’re a rajas person and you stay mindful that rajas is your dominant guna, you’ll be far more likely to remember that impulsiveness is your weakness and use tamas to slow yourself down and sattva to think more clearly.

Finally, a tamas person will most likely find that getting motivated is more challenging for them to do than it is for the rest of us. When there’s a problem, their tendency may be to delay taking action when actually tapping into their rajas and making themselves step outside their ‘tamas zone’ and do something positive would be the best thing to do. Having said that, the emotional states of lethargy and caution that most tamas-dominant people are predisposed to deal with can sometimes be an asset if something happens that requires keeping still and thinking carefully about… so long as the ‘thinking carefully’ doesn’t tip into procrastination.

See how easily the three maha gunas can work together when you understand what your predominant guna is?

Balancing the maha gunas

Let’s think about our doshas for a moment.

As you know, it’s vital to keep our vata, pitta and kapha doshas in balance to achieve optimum physical, mental and spiritual health.

The tamas and rajas gunas are the ‘mind equivalent’ of the vata and pitta doshas. Where vata is air, space and coolness, and pitta is fire, water and heat, tamas is stillness, and rajas is activity. And, just like an excess of pitta will imbalance the amount of heat in our body, an excess of tamas could imbalance us from stillness into anxiety and depression.

We, and the whole of the universe, need the positive/negative push/pull of rajas and tamas to function correctly. But sattva, being neither positive nor negative, simply exists. There is no good or bad sattva. Sattva just ‘is’.

In the same way that the many benefits of an Ayurvedic lifestyle (proper diet, exercise, rest, and mindfulness) will keep our doshas in balance, following an Ayurvedic lifestyle will keep our gunas in balance too. That means eating the right foods, undertaking a daily physical activity to get your body moving, strengthening your muscles, lifting your heart rate, staying hydrated, and enjoying good quality sleep.

It also means staying aware of when your maha gunas go out of balance and taking steps to reduce them (or, in the case of sattva, increase it) when they do.

Reducing rajas involves avoiding rajasic foods like fried foods, spicy foods, and stimulants such as coffee and alcohol. Don’t over-exercise, don’t over-work, don’t over-consume (that includes material goods as well), and don’t over-think.

Reducing tamas involves avoiding tamasic foods like heavy meats, stale foods, fermented foods, and underripe fruits and vegetables. Don’t over-sleep, don’t over-eat, don’t stay passive or inactive or deliberately avoid taking necessary action.

Increasing sattva, which should always be our focus, involves reducing the rajas and tamas and eating sattvic foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts. As a rule, sattvic foods are those that nourish our body and mind and are grown naturally (i.e. organically, without chemicals) and mindfully. They are foods that can be easily digested and provide us with strength and vitality.

You also boost sattva every time you take part in activities that bring you joy and happiness, align yourself with life’s rhythms, and get appropriate rest.

Pranayama breathing and meditation are great ways to cultivate sattva. Undertaking a daily yoga practice is also very sattva-positive. Choosing one day a week when you’ll either completely fast, reduce your usual food intake, or only eat foods that are high in sattva is the way a lot of Ayurvedic practitioners increase their sattva levels too. Also, try using brahmacharya to manage your energy so that your thoughts and actions are only directed towards where they are most needed, and you don’t waste your precious physical, mental and emotional reserves on activities or people that don’t deserve them.

I’ve written about pranayama, meditation and brahmacharya in previous blogs, so you should find all the information you need there. If you have any other questions or would like my help to identify your dominant guna or dosha, please don't hesitate to get in touch.  

Until next time, to your enduring health and happiness in Ayurveda.