‘Guna’ is a Sanskrit word that means ‘quality’, ‘peculiarity’, ‘attribute’, or ‘property’. The Guna Inquiry is an investigation of both our beliefs about ourselves and the world including how these beliefs are stored in the body as sensory experience. This facilitated meditative process helps us to loosen thoughts, feelings and sensations unveiling greater peace, clarity, balance and wisdom. Guna work reveals our essential beingness which is always present amidst the coming and going of experience. It helps us honour the play of life’s qualities, learn from them and use them mindfully, while dissolving the belief that we are limited by them.
There are three gunas, each with different characteristics, which shape our self-identity and perception of life. Whatever you’re struggling with right now, your experience is a blend of the ‘gunas’ moving through you:
Sattva (harmony, virtue) – Rajas (energy, passion) – Tamas (restraint, passivity).
If the expressions of Rajas and Tamas are not allowed into the light of awareness and integrated, they distort and obscure our natural being (Sattva). Bringing these qualities into awareness unravels the knots of contraction they create and releases Sattvic energy. Through making space for and befriending that which we’d rather fight, numb or avoid, we discover the wisdom of our true Self.
“Did you ever wonder why you are either (1) tired, fuzzy-minded, lazy, depressed and confused, (2) stressed, frustrated, disturbed, scattered, restless and unfocused or (3) happy for no reason, blissful, still, focused, dynamic and creative? The answer: the gunas created these states.”
– James Swartz
The gunas, which underpin the philosophy of mind in yoga and Ayurvedic Psychology, are a way of understanding the blend of qualities that create our sense of self. One of the gunas tends to dominate at any given time and their proportions fluctuate: their interplay is the dynamics of personality. Inquiring into the gunas will help you develop a fresh understanding and awareness of your mind, body and environment.
In Ayurveda, ‘Bhuta Vidya’ is the area of this ‘Science of Life’ that attends to mental health. ‘Bhuta’ means ‘that which has been’ or ‘has become’. Indeed, our psychology is everything that we have become. The word points to all the different ways that we’ve interacted with our environment and created a sense of self and how our perception of reality has been shaped.
“The gunas are continually interacting and competing with each other, one guna becoming prominent for a while and overpowering the others, only to be eventually dominated by the increase of one of the other gunas.”
– Edwin Bryant
In Nisarga Yoga, we see how we function, we watch our motives and the results of our behaviour. ‘Nisarga Yoga’ means natural union with our True Self, and this is the purpose of Nisargadatta Maharaj’s teaching (the founder of Nisarga Yoga). This kind of yoga isn’t a physical practice and doesn’t involve the asanas. Instead, it is a blend of mindful self-inquiry and meditation.
Guided by Guna Inquiry Facilitator Nic Higham, this nondual self-inquiry helps us connect with and cultivate the sattva guna to balance our energies. Sattva is given space to reconcile and neutralise tamas and rajas and reshape our personality in alignment with our true Self. The word ‘nonduality’ simply points to the reality that, although life seems to be separated into parts, it is in fact, One. We are that wholeness, the freedom and love we seek.
According to Nisargadatta Maharaj, Nisarga Yoga means a life lived thoughtfully, in full awareness, living in spontaneous awareness, consciousness of effortless living, being fully interested in one’s life. “The main thing is to be free of negative emotions… Once the mind is free of them, the rest will come easily. Just as cloth kept in soap water will become clean, so will the mind get purified in the stream of pure feeling… All that matters is mindfulness, total awareness of oneself or rather, of one’s mind.”
Nisargadatta advised that if we are to reach the deeper layers of suffering we must go to its roots and uncover their “vast underground network”, where fear and desire are interwoven and the gunas are in conflict and obstruct and suppress each other.
Self-inquiry is not psychological analysis or problem solving, because life isn’t a problem to be solved; it’s an ever-fresh interaction we immerse ourselves in and stay in receptively and wakefully. In this way, we ask “Who am I?” with a different outlook from that of psychology. Intellectual answers are not the target. In other words, we’re not speculating or dreaming up explanations (not to say that this doesn’t have its place); inquiry, in contrast, is direct observation and complete openness.
“Who am I?” means “What is the nature of my consciousness in the universal sense?”, “What is it to exist?”, and “What is at the heart of existence?” These questions start from the position that Life is a single happening and take us closer toward that which is free of any implied duality. In earnestly examining our experience, our focus widens, which allows us to stay receptive and awake to truth.
‘Remember your beingness. The knowledge that “I Am” has come to you out of your satva guna; that is beingness. Satva, rajas, and tamas: three gunas are playing here in the manifestation. The quality of the satva, the essence, is to know that you are, and to provide you with that basis on which to act. Rajas is the motivating factor, it makes you move about, and tamas is inertia, consolidation… What is left after all the ambitions, all the desires, have been fulfilled, all the actions have been done in accordance with the natural disposition? What remains in the end is only one thing, “I Am.”’
– Nisargadatta Maharaj
Restraint, avoidance, aversion, rejection, defence, numbness, retreat, refusal, stuckness, shame, confusion, hurt, helplessness, apathy, ignorance, doubt, uncertainty, guilt, boredom, self-destruction, lethargy, laziness, disgust, heaviness, destruction, cruelty, depression, demotivation, negligence, indifference, fuzzy-minded, passivity, trauma
Desire, craving, anxiety, stress, anger, grasping, wanting, deserving, overwhelmed, frustration, jealously, worry, irritation, agitation, pressure, chaos, impulsiveness, competitiveness, passion, restlessness, excitement, energetic, stimulation, loss of self-control, aggression / violence, greed, lust, dominance
Happiness, joy, peace, wellness, freedom, compassion, equanimity, empathy, truth, focus, self-control, trust, calmness, friendliness, balance, love, acceptance, wisdom, harmony, clarity, spaciousness, receptivity, being, contentment, peace
“The Vedas deal with the three modes of material nature, O Arjun. Rise above the three modes to a state of pure spiritual consciousness. Freeing yourself from dualities, eternally fixed in truth, and without concern for material gain and safety, be situated in the self.”
– Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 45
If you’re familiar with meditation, or if you’ve ever observed your breath, you’ll know that breathing consists of an in-breath and out-breath, along with a pause in between. You can think of the gunas this way:
Rajas: breathing in / pulling in air
Sattva: the balancing point between the in-breath and the out-breath / holding the air
Tamas: breathing out / pushing out air
The gunas can be illustrated by comparison with the three states of matter in classical physics: solid, liquid, and gas.
Tamas is frozen energy, the resistance of inertia like a solid. Solids are characterised by structural rigidity and resistance to changes of shape or volume.
Rajas is like flowing liquid (think of a gushing river) made up of vibrating particles of matter. Unlike a solid, a liquid is able to flow and take the shape of a container.
Sattva can be compared to gas or steam that is very spacious and has no fixed shape and no fixed volume. A gas is able to flow and take the shape of a container.
“In general, where we suffer, there is a sense of contraction or freeze [tamas]. This freeze creates stress [rajas]. When the stress is ignored, the contracted energy becomes depressed [tamas]. Yet it’s still there, creating bottlenecks and restraints in the flow of vitality [sattva] through the body, psyche and mind.
But what has frozen? Where there was freedom, now there is contraction. What has contracted? Thus, Nonduality introduces the principle of our True Nature–the qualities of consciousness [sattvic qualities] that we share and recognize, such as love, peace, joy and freedom.
Our premise is that contractions are frozen forms of those qualities. For example, when we surround a contraction of hatred with unconditional love [sattva], a melting occurs which de-contracts the energy.”
“Nondual Therapy is a process which supports the release of energetic contractions [rajasic and tamasic stories] in the psyche back to the [sattvic] Source qualities out of which they were formed.”
“Therapy involves connection beyond the isolation of the Separate Self. It draws on the healing elixir of awareness, through the art of silence and listening. Conflicts are received, seen and shared, and this has an immediate healing effect.”
– Georgi Y Johnson
According to Ayurveda, the secret to health lies in the digestive system. The Ayurvedic word for digestion is the Sanskrit term for fire, agni. In an Ayurvedic Psychology sense, not only do you digest food, but you also digest emotions, senses, and experiences. If your agni is not burning bright, you feel stuck and depleted, both physically and mentally. Unprocessed emotions are just as harmful as unprocessed foods, adding heaviness and toxicity to the mind and body. (Source: Sahara Rose Ketabi)
“As a result of diet, lifestyle, environment, company, mental impressions, spiritual exercise and experience, etc., the predominance and relative order of the three Gunas may easily change, and for spiritual development it is always good to cultivate Sattva Guna over the other two… However, Sattva is not the aim of spirituality because the perfect state is Trigunatithi or free of the three Gunas.”
– Soham Hamsa