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THE GUNAS—The essence of push & pull
We’ve all experienced the essence of push and pull in one way or another. Its presence is evident all around and within us. We all experience the rise and fall, the movement of our thoughts in our minds (the vritti). These forces are present during our various emotions, when we’re making decisions, during conflict, when we are challenging ourselves physically and emotionally. Push and pull is undeniable in nature and the environment all around us… You get it. It’s really everywhere. We also experience it in our yoga practice. In the Yoga Sutras, these forces are explained as the Gunas.
To be more specific, Alan Finger, in Tantra of the Yoga Sutras, explains Yoga Sutra 1.16 (Tat param purusa khyater gunavaitrsnyam) in the following way:
“The three gunas are rajas, tamas, and sattva. They are considered to be the primary sources of nature that are responsible for all of the change and movement that we experience in life.”
Finger, Alan. Tantra of the Yoga Sutras, Shambhala Publications, 2018. (pg. 26)
What’s incredible is that we will see how this also applies to our physical yoga practice. Matt breaks down the biomechanics of Eka Pada Bakasana II and shows us how the essence of push and pull exists in both the mind and the body.
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RAJAS, TAMAS, & SATTVA
Finger explains how rajas is a more outward, vigorous force, while tamas is a more inward, softer, more restful force. While these 2 energies sit at opposite ends from one another, it’s sattva that sits in the middle and/or is considered the balance between the two. Alan Finger explains that sattva is where we find stillness.
Being that these forces are ever present and that the circumstances of our lives are constantly shifting, it’s easy to find ourselves leaning more towards one side of the spectrum than the other. It’s our awareness that helps us to recognize when we have gone “too far” over to one side. Now, it’s super important to understand that if we adopt the more contemporary interpretation of the three gunas, then we understand that all of these forces are necessary and very human parts of life. It’s not “bad” to experience one or the other, but it’s your awareness and deeper connection, or knowing of yourself, that helps you experience these states of being without any attachment.
When in a more rajasic state, we are in a place of taking action; we are “handling our business,” so to speak. There is no struggle to get out of bed, we might engage in a regular asana practice, we eagerly run through tasks at home and/or at work, etc. On the other side, in a more tamasic state, we surrender to rest, and we tend to go more inward. In this state, we allow ourselves time to replenish and renew.
If we adopt this more contemporary point of view, there seems to be a comfort and safety present. There is no need to reject what already exists within and around us. Noticing, without judgment, these forces of nature may help us move and flow more freely between each state when necessary. This may be viewed as actually being in a more sattvic state because we are actually experiencing flow, a steady mind, and therefore stillness and balance.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO YOUR PHYSICAL YOGA PRACTICE?
Matt teaches a class in the Heart Module in his 300 Hr. Teacher Training called “Push & Pull: Rajas and Tamas. Crow/Half Crow Half Titibhasana” (Eka Bakasana II). There he says, “Sattva is how we feel when the push and pull of rajas and tamas come into a state of equanimity. This leads quite nicely into how we can understand the push and pull in our asana practice as well. In this sense, it’s the actions and activations we take in our bodies.”
Before we explore this, it’s also essential to understand that even though the gunas are natural forces of nature, we can still find ourselves spending too much time on one end of the spectrum. In this class, Matt explains that when we are way out of balance, a more rajasic state can produce feelings of anger, impatience, even anxiety. If we’re spending too much time in a tamasic state, this is where we may not be attending to necessary tasks and there is loss of energy and lack of motivation.
Just like our yoga practice, these emotions, actions, or lack of actions are not who we are; they are actually opportunities. They are messages telling us something. They’re sending us messages that something needs to shift. This can be recognized as the development of our discernment. Now this is key, this is actually the juicy part! This collision of philosophy and physical practice is where we really unleash both our emotional and physical potential.
In today’s video, Matt demonstrates the required push and pull in Eka Pada Bakasana II (Half Crow / Half Titibhasana). We witness the importance of what Matt says: “harnessing the activity of the mind (rajas) to move toward sattva.” This is done with focus and intention. There can only be well-placed effort, continuous well-placed effort, in order to achieve this.
WATCH THE VIDEO: EKA PADA BAKASANA II
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