Yoga Purusa, Prakrti, & The Gunas

It can be interesting to learn about different systems of classifying the world and our human experience in it. I’d like to share with you a yogic foundation.

You might already be familiar with the yoga philosophy, or it might remind you of philosophy or religion you’ve studied in the past. Perhaps it will inspire some new thoughts and ideas as we wrap up 2020 and prepare for a positive 2021. 

I think it’s easiest to start with definitions of terms. For those of you reading each week, you know I’ve been diving into the philosophy recently. I aim to be entertaining as I write. I say this because a list of vocabulary words looks pretty dang boring, but I’m hoping in reality it’s not! You tell me. 

Following is A Totally Interesting List of Yoga Philosophy Words (in Sanskrit):

Purusa – this can be translated as the soul, or pure consciousness. Your purusa is considered to be your true self. It’s the part of you that’s conscious and eternal. It’s never born and never dies.  It sort or rides in different bodies through cycles of reincarnation, but the purusa itself never changes. In fact, it’s the only thing that doesn’t change. Anything that changes is considered prakrti

Prakrti – Nature. Literally everything that isn’t the purusa. If it can change, it’s prakrti. If you don’t believe in an eternal soul or consciousness, then all that’s left (in this system) is prakrti. Your body and your mind are part of prakrti. So here we start to see the duality in the yoga (Sankhya) philosophy. Prakrti is comprised of the three gunas

Gunas – Qualities of nature (aka qualities of prakrti). There are three – rajas, tamas, and sattva, which I will attempt to explain below. The gunas are like the three primary colors, from which all other colors are derived. Everything in nature, all of prakrti, is a some mixture of the three gunas.

The Gunas

SattvaSattva is luminous, discriminative, and intelligent. It’s what we’re aiming to maximize in a yoga practice. A sattvic person is the type of person that feels really great to be around – they’re grounding and calm; peaceful and considerate; present, attentive, and aware. Even if a person is as close to fully sattvic as possible, tamas and rajas must still be there. As long as we’re in prakriti, the three gunas are present, if to different degrees. 

TamasTamas is lethargic, unmotivated, and dull. I think of it as the unmoving inertia we all have experienced trying to overcome that seeming inability to get up and do the thing we know we should do, and even want to do but we juuuustttt feeeel sttuuuuckk. It’s the guna that most gets in the way of practice. 

RajasRajas is firey, active, and moving. The force behind creation and doing. Rajas is useful in motivation but too much of it and you’re burnt out. I think of rajas as a super Type A personality. Generally speaking, people have got a lot of rajas in adolescence and into young adulthood. 

Soo….question for you: Which guna do you identify with most?

Can you think of times in your life where you expressed more of a different guna? What makes you feel the most sattvic

Remember, everything in nature (so literally everything that isn’t pure consciousness) is a changing mix of the three gunas. Summertime is more rajasic, wintertime more tamasic. Just think of the lifecycle of plants throughout the seasons and observe the changing mix of the three gunas

The gunas can be an interesting way to evaluate your experience before, during, and after your yoga practice. 

Did you start practice feeling lazy, heavy and tamasic, then build some fire and rajasic energy during the practice, and finally wind up peaceful and sattvic during savasana

Have you ever started out antsy, restless and totally rajasic, then do a really powerful practice that burned you out, and wound up dragging your feet, tired and tamasic after class? 

Do you have a sense of your path to feeling most sattvic? Does it change depending on how you start off feeling? Do you know how to get there, to peace and calm? 

I’m hoping that trying out this idea of the world can bring you something new in terms of self-care and self-compassion. Sometimes a shift in perspective is all it takes to begin to unfold a different, positive path forward. 

An Invitation to Reflect

Spend some time in the coming weeks to reflect on your inner life during 2020.

Look back at the pictures you’ve taken on your phone, consider some of the main people you’ve interacted with.

Try not to judge yourself, just get a feel for what’s gone on for you personally this last year.

This is a good way to get grounded in the present before we  dive into the new year.

*Bonus* It goes with this week’s class theme, Remember What’s Behind You 👇⁠

Knowing where you’re coming from can bring more clarity and precision in moving forward. ⁠

Per usual we’re taking this literally and will be working things like your back leg & your backside body. ⁠

It’s a fun way to harness more of your strength as you move through your physical practice.⁠