Ayurveda - Balancing the Gunas

The Gunas are a major aspect of Ayurveda and Yoga. They are the three qualities of nature that all things are made up of - energy, matter and consciousness.

They are in everything that we see, hear and touch. They are in our food, in our bodies and in our mind.

Just like the doshas these three qualities are evident in each and everyone of us but the proportional balance will differ due to our thoughts, feeling and actions. As we live our lives we are constantly increasing and decreasing these qualities within us and if we want to find harmony, balance and health we need to be mindful of which we feed ourselves with the most.

Let's have a look at each one individually.


Tamas is mass, it is heavy and dull. It is the quality that holds us back or keeps us down.

Like all things in nature it has a purpose and without the mass of our body, our muscles and bones we would not be able to stand. Without the Earth we would have nowhere to live.

Most of us live a very tamasic life, we sit for hours, drive everywhere and do little exercise. This is not good and does not help us in any way.

So we need to work towards reducing our tamasic way of living as much as we can.


Rajas is action and transformation. It is what we need to move and change.

It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning and keeps the planets circling the Sun. The energy of rajas is very positive, but we must remember that although fire is helpful in many ways if it not controlled it can be destructive.

We need to watch that we do not have too much rajas in our lives. If our life is too rajasic then we can suffer stress and anxiety and even burnout.


Sattva is clarity, light and and illumination. It is a state of peacefulness and serenity.

Sattva is what we want most of in our lives. It is the goal of mediators, yogis and most people on a spiritual path. It is harmony and bliss.

Sattva is achieved by reducing both tamas and rajas and following a sattvic diet and lifestyle.

As BKS Iyengar said in his book ‘Light on Life” -

“The interplay of these three forces are of crucial importance in your yoga practice. You have to learn to identify and observe them in order to be able to adjust their proportion and as you penetrate inward, bring the beauty of sattva to the surface.”

Finding Balance

So how do we adjust the proportions? How can we change the balance?

Well you can start with your diet.

We have all heard the expression “you are what you eat” well it is very very true!

What happens when we eat a big bowl of pasta in a rich creamy sauce? We feel heavy and go into a food coma! This is because it is heavy and as like increases like we too become heavy.

How about a chili? It’s hot and spicy, so when we eat it we become hot too.

The ancient rishis of India studied food and determined the qualities of the gunas in what we eat and categorized them accordingly. They looked at the food in relation to its taste both during and after eating (a very big part of Ayurvedic nutrition), its prana (life forcce) , the elements and its preparation.

Tamasic foods and drinks

• Meat

• Poultry

• Fish

• Eggs

• Onions

• Garlic

• Fermented foods

• Over ripe fruit

• Left over food

• Alcohol

• Tobacco and other intoxicants

• Foods that are over-processed, no longer fresh and difficult to digest are tamasic.

When we eat too much of these kinds of foods we become heavy, slow and dull.

Rajasic foods and drinks

• Hot/spicy food and drink

• Bitter tastes

• Sour foods

• Dry food eg. crackers

• Salty food and salt

• Coffee

• Meat

• Fish

• Eggs

• Chocolate

• Eating in a hurry

Sattvic foods and drinks

• Food that is light soothing and easy to digest

• Sprouted whole grains

• Fresh fruit

• Vegetables

• Pure fruit juices, not concentrates

• Nut and seed milk and cheese

• Legumes

• Nuts

• Seeds

• Sprouted seeds

• Honey

• Herb teas

* Sattvic foods are those that don’t aggravate the stomach at all. If you eat something and you struggle with your digestion afterwards then you should consider eliminating that food from your diet for a few weeks. After a few weeks, reintroduce it and notice how easily you digest it and how you feel afterwards. If all is good then keep eating it, but if you notice any adverse effects you should consider eliminating it from your diet.

We are all different and different foods affect people in different ways so always pay attention to your body and how it is reacting and go with what your body is telling you. It knows best.

Sattvic Lifestyle

It's no just food that we digest. We also digest everything that we see and hear as well.

The world is full of images and sounds that we take in with our eyes, ears and thoughts every second of every day. These images and words enter your consciousness and affect is even when we don't realize it.

Negative images and sounds are what I call junk food for the soul.

Just as I don’t want to eat a big mac because I know it is no good for my physical body, I don’t want to watch or see violence because I am aware of how it effects my mind and emotions. It makes going to the video store a real challenge!

TV is big mind and spirit polluter and at the start of the year I stopped watching it.

Apart from the programs, TV is filled with all those commercials! That subtle brainwashing that we need certain things, or need to be a certain way to make us happy, part of the norm or to show our success creates anxiety and dis-ease within us.

I feel so much better since I turned it all off. I feel more at peace and less agitated not having to digest such negative images and thoughts.

How can I meditate and find peace if I am surrounded with the very opposite?

When you remove these things from your life you create space for more positive things .

Simple ways to have a more sattvic life

  • Turn off the TV

  • Put on some lovely music

  • Light some incense

  • Read some uplifting and inspiring and positive books

  • Talk to your children, partner or friend

  • Sing

  • Dance

  • Draw

  • Do something that makes you happy and leads you to a good place

  • Give without wanting anything in return

  • Stop thinking so much and pushing your self

  • Join a yoga class

  • If your in a bit of a rut or have lost motivation then work on your will power

  • Set a goal and stick to it.

  • Get off the couch and out into the world

Live life as it was intended,

full of positive energy,

positive thoughts and positive words.

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