Today I’d like to talk about how yoga teaches us how to aim for balance and calm, and how it helps us find balance and take a whole body approach through practice.
Yoga philosophy tells us that there are three Gunas — three qualities of nature, of our vital energy force. The three Gunas are Tamas, Rajas and Sattwa.
Tamas is the first quality of nature and the mind, and stands for inertia, laziness, and procrastination.
Rajas is the second quality and stands for dynamism, movement and motivation.
Sattwa, the third quality of nature, is the quality of nature and mind which is steady, pure and harmonious.
Everything in nature has these qualities and while we are always striving to achieve Sattwa, it is necessary for us as human beings to recognise that we need to move between the three states as we go about our daily lives. We also need to ask ourselves whether we tend to spend too much time in one place.
The practise of treating the whole body, understanding that we are all different and that there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all, is called Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is translated as "knowledge of life" and is concerned with living life based on you as an individual. A description given in an early Ayurvedic text written in about 100BCE notes, "It is called Ayurveda because it tells us which substances, qualities and actions are life-enhancing, and which are not.” From its ancient origins in India, Ayurveda has now spread all over the world. Its teaching uses a blend of herbal medicine massage, nutrition, spiritual insight, practical experience, scientific analysis and artistic creativity to guide us to a balanced and fulfilled lifestyle. Fundamentally, Ayurveda is a focus on the uniqueness of each individual.
Understanding our own constitution and the way in which we are drawn to the three Gunas is the key to living a healthy, balanced life. In Ayurveda there are three types of constitution. A healthy person is someone whose mind, body and spirit are integrated as a whole.
The three constitutional types, or Doshas, are Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Vata — dry, cold, light, mobile, subtle, rough, irregular. It is the principle of communication and movement.
Vata is responsible for all movement in the body and comprises mainly of the qualities of space and wind. When Vata is dominant we can feel cold, perhaps with low body weight. Vata is busy, responsible for regulating all electrical impulses in the body and mind. Without Vata, the other doshas are inert; they go wherever the wind (Vata) takes them. When in balance, Vata brings comfortable movement, regular breathing, a healthy appetite, positivity, a calm mind and creativity.
Pitta — hot, sharp, penetrating, slightly oily, greasy, fat, irritable. It is the principle of passion and metabolism.
This dosha is made up of the qualities of the qualities of fire and water. Pitta exists in the body as water or oil in the body, protecting the body from fire. If Pitta is high, you will feel hot, have oily skin or feel very hungry. Because of its hot nature, Pitta's primary function is transformation. When in balance, you experience a healthy appetite, intelligence, courage, flexibility and feel full of vitality. Pitta people are dynamic and colourful — they get things done!
Kapha — cold, wet, heavy, stable, solid, unctuous, slow. It is the principle of love and structure.
The Kapha dosha is a combination of the earth and water elements. Kapha takes charge of the storage of the energy Vata has brought in and that Pitta has managed. When in balance, it gives strength, solidity, protection and endurance. Kapha people are full of love and compassion, they are loyal and devout. They are your best friend, very solid and give great hugs!
Now that you know all about your Gunas and Dhosas, how do you see yourself? Do you tend towards Vata? Calm and creative? Pitta? A go-getter? Or Kapha? A loving, supportive best friend? Do you recognise the changes in your energy levels and your constitutional type?
Whatever you tend towards, don’t forget that nothing is set in stone. Diet and yoga practice can complement the kind of person we are and help us to achieve balance in life.