Whole Life Magazine

February/March 2013

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Page 19 of 43

Gunas, Kleshas and Bumpy morninGs yoga&spirit Connecting with the Sattvic Self S By Joann Stevelos ome days it feels as if we're living in the intertidal zone, where waters rise and fall again and again, wreaking havoc on frayed, sensitive nerves. Other days it's as if a tsunami has numbed every last synapse in our bodies, leaving us dull, waterlogged, bloated. Tuning in to the dynamic and changing energy inside us is easier if we understand the gunas. In Vedic Yoga philosophy, gunas is the interplay of three energies ever-present in the world: rajas, tamas and sattva. As we feel our way through life, we develop a relationship with the imbalance of the gunas when we succumb to what are known in Buddhism and Hinduism as the ive kleshas: ignorance, pride, attachment, aversion and fear of death. Kleshas are basic tensions that we perceive as obstacles in our lives. Gunas are our number one defense against the kleshas; their potential is ininite as we skillfully use our energy to center ourselves. If you think of gunas as a spectrum of light, at one end of the spectrum is tamas. Tamas is darkness, dullness, depression; heavy and inert. Tamas also has positive aspects, including stability and reliability. At the other end of the spectrum is sattva. Sattva is all things good, calm and centered; it is essentially our spiritual essence. Raja is the force behind tamas and sattva. It is energetic, frantic, raw and passionate. Raja is a positive force too, helping us to overcome inertia. It may sound like raja and tamas are bad and sattva is good; however, this is not the case. It is the balance of the gunas that is important, as each has both positive and negative aspects. Sometimes we cannot put words to our feelings, but we can learn to recognize the energy that is fueling them. Our feelings can be dificult to discern as we try to connect the present with the past, but we can cultivate rhythms that put us in closer touch with the present, and alleviate a common fear that the past will repeat itself. The more we nurture our awareness by being present and identifying the energy in and around us, the closer we come to reaching our sattvic, best selves. In our daily life, gunas can help us understand exactly what causes us to react aggressively toward, say, a tailgater, or to succumb to depression after watching too much television. In the case of the tailgater, conjuring some tamas energy by breathing slowly and deeply can balance the raja energy and bring us to a sattvic state. Information overload from television or violent movies can dull the senses. Our instinct may be to call on raja to get us moving and forget about all the violence. Instead, in this case we may want to decrease the tamas energy by protecting ourselves from witnessing more violence, or by participating in a life-afirming action, such as hugging someone we love or reading a poem. With intention, attention and discipline, understanding the gunas will inform us as to how to become our sattvic self. When we can identify raja and tamas energies, they become our friends as we seek their help in balancing them. On days when we wake up agitated, not in our own skin, with raja energy simmering inside, we can call upon tamas to dull some of the energy, and depress the frenzy by preparing a healthy breakfast and taking a short, brisk walk. Inversely, if we wake depressed, heavy with tamas energy, we can call upon raja to help us ind our center, our sattva. Perhaps instead of succumbing to tamas, 20 Yoga.indd 20 the darkness, we lift ourselves up by listening to cool music or having crazy wild sex. When the mind is clear we want to gently afirm clarity and enjoyment. By cultivating a balance of the three gunas we stay grounded to the earth with tamas, passionate about what it is that moves us with raja, and thus closer to our center—our sattvic self. —JoAnn Stevelos is a lifetime student of yoga and a runner who likes to practice after a long run in the evening, when her muscles are warmed and receptive. exploring the Gunas the Path of Yoga by Georg Feuerstein (Shambhala) the inner tradition of Yoga by Michael Stone (Shambhala) Vedic religion and Philosophy by Swami Prabhavananda (Vedanta Press) www.vedanet.com, "Vedic Yoga and the Three Gunas" wholelifetimesmagazine.com 1/25/13 5:55 PM

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