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Ayurveda Psychology: Understanding the Three Gunas

Most of us pay close attention the quality of food and drink we choose for ourselves on a daily basis, why then do we drop the ball when it comes to choosing quality impressions?

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The Three Gunas of Ayurveda

Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas, are universal energies that are ever present and in flux. The Gunas are a key concept of Ayurveda and must be understood before Ayurveda Psychology begins to unfold.

"Sattva” is the quality of goodness, truth, clarity, and love. It brings joy, health and healing. When we feel calm, clear, and peaceful, Sattva is the dominant energy. Nature is an abundant source of Sattva Guna. Selfless service, art, spirituality, pure foods, herbs, and water are also sources of Sattva.

“Rajas” is the quality of passion, distraction, and turbulence. It seeks power and stimulation. Rajas is instant pleasure that quickly diminishes into pain and disharmony, and is the predominant energy in society today. Rajas Guna is predominant in substances that cause excitement like sex-based entertainment, coffee, alcohol, and amphetamines.

“Tamas” is the quality of darkness, inertia, and stagnation; it is the lethargy that follows Rajas. When we feel stagnant, depressed, and can’t get out of a rut, Tamas is the dominant energy. Tamas Guna is predominant in greasy, fast food, violent entertainment, factory-farmed meat, and substance abuse/addiction.

Now, let’s put them into context. Picture yourself meditating by a trickling stream under a clear blue sky with the sounds of birds chirping. You are wearing organic light colored linen clothing and you feel perfectly at ease. This is a pretty good visual of Sattva Guna. Now visualize a group of people parking SUVS on the other side of the stream. They are yelling excitably and pull out case after case of beer and packages of fast food. They turn the stereo all the way up and with the bass pumping the once serene setting is filled with crude pop lyrics. Rajas Guna has taken over the scene. After several hours the partiers pass out from excessive intake of alcohol and the greasy fried foodstuff, they lay face down in the grass. When they awake they feel very heavy and move slowly. This is Tamas.

Feeding Your Senses

Now that you have a pretty good idea of what Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas are, here are two questions to consider:

1. Which Guna do you want to feed your senses?
2. How can you feed your senses more high quality Sattva Guna, and less low quality Tamas and Rajas Guna to promote higher consciousness?

The main source of Rajas and Tamas Guna today are sex- and violence-based media and entertainment. Much like junk food—full of salt, sugar and ingredients we’ve never heard of—clogs physical digestion and promotes intestinal stagnation, mainstream media clogs intellectual digestion and promotes spiritual stagnation. One super simple way to decrease our intake of Rajas and Tamas Guna then is to remove violence- and sex-based media and entertainment from our lives.

Begin today to cut back on—even cut out!!—all sex- and violence-based entertainment and replace it with wholesome activities such as creating art, playing music, taking fresh air and exercise, gathering with friends and family, playing with pets, moon gazing, gardening, meditation, yoga, and so on.

These are only a few examples of ways you can feed your senses high quality Sattva Guna and stay on track with spiritual progress. We can only be as good as what we feed our senses. The science is easy: What goes in must come out. Take the challenge.


Shar VedaShar Veda is an Ayurveda Lifestyle Counselor & Health Educator, Yoga Therapist, and herbalist living in Ashland, Oregon. She works with at risk teen-aged girls and offers compassionate health and lifestyle counseling anywhere in the world via Skype and or the good old-fashioned telephone. Shar has had the great gift of studying with leading teachers in Ayurveda, Yoga, and herbalism for nearly 20 years. However, it was her adopted grandma, Doe (English-American and Blackfoot Native), who instilled within her profound appreciation for the supreme power of loving touch, healing arts, and world family. Visit her website for a video, full bio, and photos or find her on Facebook!