Every aspect of yoga, both physical and spiritual, centers on energy. Hatha yoga focuses on creating a free flow of life-force (prana) in the body, while yoga philosophy teaches that we are one and the same as the cosmic energy that enlivens us. Unfortunately just knowing this intellectually doesn’t necessarily translate to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our individual life circumstances. However, the deeper we delve into yoga, the deeper we discover its well of wisdom. This includes an explanation of three basic vibrational levels of energy that we can observe, experience, and utilize in our everyday lives.
The Music of the Gunas
According to Samkhya, the ancient Indian cosmology on which yoga is based, the astral (energetic) and physical (material) worlds, including our bodies, spring from essential electricities (tattwas). The three gunas are fundamental characteristics of these roots of creation. The gunas can be thought of as three vibrations or tones that can be played on the same string:
Tamas is the low note; negative qualities such as laziness, sluggishness, and lack of knowledge or understanding are said to be tamasic. Low expectations and lack of self-esteem are products of tamas.
Rajas is an ever-restless, energizing note – think of the frenetic pace and changes of “Flight of the Bumblebee”! Rajas spurs our worldly ambitions and passions by fueling the perpetually turning wheel of desire.
Sattva is the high note, synonymous with light both physically and intellectually. Sattva is manifest in the healthy foods and activities that result in a body in harmony. On a mental and emotional level, sattva is experienced as positivity, receptivity to higher knowledge and taking joy in circumstances, self and others.
What Tune Will You Dance To?
Once you are aware of these three basic energetic states, it can be an interesting game or exercise to observe and identify their presence in your daily life. Sleeping too much? Tamas is at work. Starting to slip into workaholic mode? Ah, rajas is pushing you. Have you had an epiphany lately, that “aha moment” when something slips into place and your understanding expands? Yes, that is the essence of sattva. As with many aspects of yoga, there is a useful, practical application: you can begin using your awareness of the three basic energies to arrange your life more harmoniously and increase your general level of enjoyment. Wake up, eat well, balance work with leisure and meditation – compose a melody of the gunas that maximizes your positive experience of life!
The Gunas and “The Red Shoes”
As lovely as dancing to the tunes of material life may be, especially when we are filled with the light of sattva, there comes a time when we long for a different sort of satisfaction. The constant play of the gunas can keep us enslaved to the dance of life, like the girl in the fairy tale whose greed proves to be her undoing. She dons the object of her desire, beautiful red dancing shoes, but once they are on her feet, the beautiful shoes dance away with her and she is forced to dance on and on. So it is when we become so enchanted by the melody that we forget that we are just the instrument. But, again drawing from the deep well of yoga wisdom, we find the antidote to entrapment: our ultimate goal, moksha, liberation from the endless variations of the gunas, allowing the soul to rest in oneness with its source.