Guna is a Sanskrit word which translates as “quality, peculiarity, attribute, or tendency.” In yoga and Ayurveda, a guna is a tattva or element of reality that can affect our psychological, emotional and energetic states. The three gunas are described as being constantly influx and interacting with one another, in a playful state referred to as maya or illusion. The patterns of the interplay of the gunas can define the essential qualities of someone or something, and these patterns can highly influence the path and progress of life. For yoga practitioners, awareness of the gunas provides a GPS to allow us to make choices to be more balanced, peaceful and harmonious both on and off our mat. Cultivating the ability to identify and understand the nature of the gunas brings us closer to seeing the universal truth of oneness.

In the philosophy of Yoga, all matter in the universe arises from the fundamental substrate called Prakriti. From this ethereal Prakriti the three primary gunas (qualities of energy) emerge creating the essential aspects of all nature—energy, matter, and consciousness. Hence, all functions of body, mind & world are dependent on the interplay of the 3 Gunas. The cosmic nature has 3 fold characteristics in its nature; in this sense every action, thought, & event is created due to the interaction of the 3 gunas. One Guna alone does not influence the personality. There is always a combined influence of 3 gunas.

Prakriti has 3 properties: 

Sattva or Vibration (Prakash),#ReadMore

Rajas or Activity #ReadMore

Tamas or Stability #ReadMore


Sattva is a state of harmony, balance, joy, and intelligence.


Rajas is a state of energy, action, change, and movement


Tamas is a state of darkness, inertia, inactivity, and materiality.

Working With the Gunas

The mind’s psychological qualities are highly unstable and can quickly fluctuate between the different gunas. The predominant guna of the mind acts as a lens that affects our perceptions and perspective of the world around us. Thus, if the mind is in rajas it will experience world events as chaotic, confusing and demanding and it will then have a strong tendency to continue to react to events in a rajasic way. Therefore, for yogis to make progress along the path we must practice self-observation and discernment to witness and not react to the activities of the gunas. We must also have the inner-strength and willpower to consciously shift our thoughts and actions away from tamas and rajas towards sattvic balance and purpose.

To reduce tamas avoid tamasic foods, oversleeping, overeating, inactivity, passivity and fearful situations. Tamasic foods include heavy meats and foods that are spoiled, chemically treated, processed or refined. 

To reduce rajas avoid rajasic foods, over-exercising, overwork, loud music, excessive thinking and consuming excessive material goods. Rajasic foods include fried foods, spicy foods, and stimulants. 

To increase sattva reduce both rajas and tamas, eat sattvic foods and enjoy activities and environments that produce joy and positive thoughts. Sattvic foods include whole grains and legumes and fresh fruits and vegetables that grow above the ground. All of the yogic practices were developed to create sattva in the mind and body. Thus, practicing yoga and leading a yogic lifestyle strongly cultivates sattva.

All gunas create attachment and thus bind one’s self to the ego. “When one rises above the three gunas that originate in the body; one is freed from birth, old age, disease, and death; and attains enlightenment” (Bhagavad Gita 14.20). While the yogi’s goal is to cultivate sattva, his or her ultimate goal is to transcend their misidentification of the self with the gunas and to be unattached to both the good and the bad, the positive and negative qualities of all life.

Further Reading

Sattva Guna

Tamas Gunas

Rajas Guna

Further Reading

What is Yoga?

History of Yoga

Misconceptions about Yoga

Fundamentals Of Yoga

9 Principles Of Yoga

Yoga Basics

Panch Mahabhutas



Astanga Yoga

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