The Gunas

Prakriti presents itself in objects and living beings. Within prakriti there are three different qualities, known as the gunas, which are seen in many combinations. The three qualities are sattva, rajas, and tamas.

Characteristics of sattva: goodness, truth, clarity, harmony, purity, balance, joy, intelligence
Characteristics of tamas: darkness, steadiness, heaviness, rest, laziness, ignorance, inertia, procrastination
Characteristics of rajas: passion, action, confusion, aggression, assertion, change, movement, cravings

Sattva helps with determining which guna we need to cultivate in order to improve well-being in the moment. At bedtime we wish to experience more tamas; darkness and rest are essential qualities needed for sleep and recovering the body, which will allow for more sattva during the day. When we are feeling overly tamas during the day, rajas with regards to habits can help us to experience more sattva.

In nature we observe an interplay of the three gunas as well; soil is dark and heavy(tamas), a seed is active and grows(rajas), plants purify the air and flowers bring joy(sattva).

Being overly attached to any guna can be misguided. For example, in modern agriculture, farms use herbicides to eliminate weeds; this results in monocrops, purity, in a way, because the field grows only one crop. This is an example of too much tamas with a bit of sattva. We have ignorantly assumed that using a poisonous chemical on a farm can create purity.

Another example is the overattachment to sattva in modern medicine; the overuse of antibacterial soaps and antibiotics to purify creates an environment free of bacteria. We have ignorantly assumed that our bodies should be scrubbed free of all bacteria. By doing this we lose the benefits of friendly bacteria in promoting a healthy immune system.

Another word used in translations of the word guna is strand. The gunas are like three strands that are woven together into the fabric of our world. They give objects and people texture, colour, and substance; and they give living beings emotions and thoughts. As yogis, we are seeking to incorporate more of the Sattva strands into our lives. We cannot do this without weaving in some tamas and rajas strands as well. Sattva helps us to experience Purusha, our True Self, and Bliss, thereby reducing suffering.   

Edited by Leona B. Hunt, BA, proofreader

www.leonahuntproofreading.com

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Purusha and Prakriti

In our practice of Yoga we start to have an awareness that we are not separate from anything. According to Yoga, the illusion of separateness is where all of our suffering comes from. In Samkhya and many other Eastern philosophies, there are two basic elements that make up the world. At the most basic level, there is Purusha, which may be known as the Spirit, the Self, the Witness, the Source, or whatever you know it to be. The other most basic element is Prakriti, which is nature, or the physical part of our world. When these two elements join it is called jiva, a living being.

“Panjab Hills, Bilaspur. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, ca. 1740.”  Public Domain

With jiva, other things come about. There is buddhi, known to be the intellect, and there is ahamkara, which is the ego. Ahamkara is the cause of our feeling of separateness; it is the “I,” and when we think on this level, we find ourselves alone. We think that we are different than others because we have these sentences that come about in our minds. Here are some sentences I had from my day at work yesterday: “Only I care about what happens here.” “Why can’t I be respected here at work?” Soon after, I made an effort to bring something from my buddhi: “We all want the same thing; we may not all know what it is, but deep at our core we want to remember that we are the same and that we are not separate.”

Prakriti is the container for Purusha. Purusha is your True Self. Becoming acquainted with your True Self is blissful. The Source, or your True Self, never changes; it is always the same, and it is always there inside of you, and inside every creature you know.

“They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego cage of ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘mine’” Quote taken from Bhagavad Gita.

Edited by Leona B. Hunt, BA, proofreader

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Karma and Karma-Yoga

Karma is a Sanskrit word for action, or work. The law of karma is a cycle of cause and effect. With every action there are consequences. These consequences can be rewards for actions that are selfless and punishments for actions that are selfish.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains to Arjuna that ending the cycle of karma by practicing Yoga is how we become liberated. The law of karma binds us to this world because every action causes a reaction; we continue coming back through reincarnation to experience the consequences of our past deeds. This liberation is when, instead of reincarnation, we join with Krishna, the Source, Bliss, also known as ananda.

Knot of Destiny Design – Source: G. Griffin Lewis The Practical Book of Oriental Rugs (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1913) 116

Karma-Yoga is the practice of action without attachment to the results. When you are attached, you are always looking for rewards. Detachment allows you to be in the moment, instead of thinking of what comes later. Being in the moment is being with the Source.

In Karma-Yoga, the type of work we do is known as our dharma, or our duty. Our dharma changes depending on our environment and circumstances. For example, throughout the day I may find myself doing my job as an electrician, where I use tools to do electrical work, but at home I may find myself preparing a meal; all the tasks I do can be done in a state of bliss when I stop thinking of the outcome and stay concentrated on my task. By transcending the motivations of the ego, our work becomes a flow and takes us into a state of meditation.

Egyptian Water Lily – Source: Everybody’s Cyclopedia (New York, NY: Syndicate Publishing Company, 1912)

“When you move amidst the world of sense, free from attachment and aversion alike, there comes the peace in which all sorrows end, and you live in the wisdom of the Self”(Bhagavad Gita)

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Sauca

Sometimes I need to forget and move on. It might help me right now to wash away some negative thoughts and feelings. This is sauca, which is the first of the niyamas found in the Yoga-sutras. Sauca is the cleanliness and purity of your body, your environment, and your mind. Sauca is also the purity of your words and actions.

I keep my body clean in the following ways:

  • brushing my teeth and flossing
  • dry-brushing to remove dead skin
  • taking a shower or a bath every day
  • washing my hands after touching something dirty
  • cutting my fingernails
  • brushing my hair every day
  • eating a diet that is mostly unprocessed foods and high in green vegetables
  • drinking pure water and herbal tea

Tension can be a form of clutter in the body. I use the following to clear away this type of clutter:

  • asana (yoga postures)
  • yoga tune up balls, or a tennis balls for self-massage
  • pranayama
  • yoga nidra
  • massage
  • osteopathy

In her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, you can learn how to keep your home tidy. A tip from the book is to spend a moment with the objects in your home; with each object, ask yourself if it sparks joy. Anything that is not useful or sparking joy may be something that you will benefit from parting with. As a result, you may notice you are shopping less. Why would you continue shopping for things? Many things are just clutter; clutter does not truly spark joy.

Recently I had a confrontation with a co-worker. I became angry with him and said some things that I now regret saying. I know that in order to improve my behaviour in the future, I need to first forgive myself and him. I need to stop reliving the memory of my emotional outburst. I need to remember my mission at work. I want to be someone who has values, someone who works hard, but I also want to be someone who does not cause others pain.

Image found on Flickr – Tar Sands Blockade

We also practice sauca by considering the care of the planet earth, by choosing ways to live that do not damage lands and waters. Sometimes we may need to become more active politically to help stop the damage that is being done by our governments and industry.

Sauca is practicing hygiene with our bodies. Sauca is the clarification of our minds and words. Sauca is the care of our home and the natural world. Living with purity at the core of our lives can be very restorative and energizing. It can help us feel like each new day is a fresh start.

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Samkhya

Samkhya is one of the six orthodox schools of Hinduism; it is the school that is most closely related to Yoga, which is also one of the six. According to Samkhya, there are three ways to come to pramana, proof, or knowledge that will take you out of suffering. The three ways are pratyaksa or perception, anumana or inference, and sabda, which is the word and testimony of a reliable source.

Pratyaksa relates to the senses and also sensation. My body feels less pain, achiness and tension when I do asanas, the physical postures of yoga. Adho mukha svanasana (downward dog) is an asana where I can relieve tension in different areas of my body. What I notice is there is a stretch that happens in my heels and calves and some loosening in my shoulders and neck.

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Photo by Ches Oakley

Anumana is logical reasoning; it sometimes takes more time. Going for a walk can help me to think about things I might need to reason through.

Sabda is one to be careful with. I am looking for a reliable source. Learning about a subject from more than one source helps me to find truth.

With any difficulty that arises in your life, you can try the Samkhya way to peace. You might find answers by listening to your senses. You may find it helpful to journal or go for a walk, which would be ways to use logical reasoning. Reliable sources for help can sometimes be self-help books, friends, family, and complete strangers. There is no need to feel that you are alone and helpless. There is help for you. Be open.

Edited by Leona B. Hunt, BA, proofreader

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Breathing: Consciously and Unconsciously

When I became more interested in practicing yoga, I started focusing on my breathing too much. I had noticed that my breathing was quite shallow, so I would start controlling my breathing whenever I remembered to. I would start breathing more fully and deeply. But this was not necessary. And it only provoked stress. I later learned from reading Yoga Nidra for Relaxation and Stress Relief by Julie Lusk that there are two types of breathing. These two types are both great. The two types are conscious breathing and unconscious breathing. Unconscious breathing is when we breath as we normally do without thinking about it. It is taken care of for us the autonomic nervous system. Conscious breathing happens when you focus on your breathing and alter it.

Image Title: 1. Pooruck Pranaiyam [Puraka pranayama]. 2. Kumbuck [Kumbhaka]. 3. Raichuck [Recaka] Creator: Day & Son — Lithographer – Public Domain
Pranayama is one of the eight components of Yoga according to the Yoga-sutras. Pranayama is conscious breathing. There are many styles of pranayama. In some of the pranayama practices, the yogi will hold their breath after an inhale and/or after an exhale. The Sanskrit term for the hold after inhale is antah kumbhaka (A.K.). Bahya kumbhaka (B.K.) is a hold after exhale.

An example of this conscious breathing follows. The inhalation starts as a three-dimensional expansion of the chest. It is slow and smooth. Think of the three dimensions as you breathe. Think of expanding the top, the front, the sides, and the back of your ribs. As you continue, your inhale will expand the upper abdomen, and it may continue even further down. It should feel comfortable. Be honest with yourself; you may not need to breathe this deeply when you are just starting out. Just being aware and having a little control over your breathing may be a good place to start. The exhalation starts by contracting the lower belly. Exhale slowly and smoothly. Once again with your exhalation, don’t beat yourself up. Just let yourself exhale in a way that feels good to you at this time.

You can use this type of breathing to restore your energy instead of drinking a coffee. This is how:

1) Inhale again in three dimensions, slowly and smoothly.

2) Hold for as long as is comfortable—antah kumbahka (A.K.).

3) Exhale contracting the lower belly and moving up.

4) Do not hold, go back to step one, and repeat.

If you were to try this exercise the other way around using bahya kumbahka (B.K.), can you guess what effect it will have on you?

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Tapas

Tapas is another of the niyama from the Yoga-sutras. The root of the word tapas refers to heat that is used for transformation. The yogi uses tapas to “burn away past karma” which will result in liberation. The origin of the word refers to the motherly warmth and its necessity in the process of biological birth. For example, a hen sits on her eggs, providing warmth; hatching and birth would not result otherwise. Scholars use mother nature’s example in relation to the brewing of knowledge and spiritual rebirth.

Image by Pexels – (source pixabay)

Self-discipline is different for everyone. We all have different things that we avoid. Those things we avoid can sometimes offer us the best clues as to what transformation would be best for us.

Certainly with yoga, it helps to practice every day. That takes a lot of self-discipline. Enjoying life also takes self-discipline because you need to eat healthy foods, get enough rest, be creative, and spend time with the people you love (the list goes on).

Image by Stergo (source pixabay)

My new goal is to be more vulnerable by being more friendly than I have been in the past. For years I have avoided opening myself up to rejection. But isolation can be unhealthy. I may be shy and introverted, but I can still try to connect with people. My plan is to be gentle with myself. I may not be able to be vulnerable to rejection all the time; I will honour my feelings. I find the easiest way to be friendlier is to start with a smile.

Edited by Leona B. Hunt, BA, proofreader

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