GUNAS: AYURVEDA'S RULE OF OPPOSITES
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we feel blindsided and trapped. As if in a box with the lid closed tight--left to sit with our frustrations bouncing off the walls right back at us. Along this path we practice the ability to identify places of dukkha (unsatisfaction/suffering) and furthermore how can we find comfort within these places of discomfort and often constriction. How one responds to challenges varies greatly on the perception of the struggles one faces. Within these possible responses, I draw attention to the twenty gunas (descriptive qualities) referenced in both Āyurveda as well as yoga. Essentially being a list of ten qualities and their correlating opposite natures, it includes:
heavy | light
dull | sharp
cold | hot
oily | dry
smooth | rough
dense | liguid
static (stable) | mobile
gross | subtle
hard | soft
cloudy | clear
Much of modern writing on Āyurveda’s beautiful system speaks to the qualities found in our food and how one can make better choices to select such foods that which are supportive. So how do these gunas stretch beyond the kitchen and relate to handling and responding to the moments when the shit hits the fan? Looking at life through an Āyurvedic lens encourages us to draw from these gunas to identify the specific qualities endowed into all aspects of life. From the qualities of the mental state of the waking mind when rising in the morning to the physical body’s first movements of the day. This set of gunas is one of the most powerful tools to creating wiser decisions as well as more supportive responses when feeling trapped and without choices.
The practice of yoga strengthens one’s ability to become less reactive or to at least lengthen the span of time from the unraveling or jolting event to the response. Just as one can imagine the innumerable combination of gunas a situation can possess, equally there are countless possibilities of response. The next time you find yourself feeling in a place of discomfort or struggle, take a moment to step back, observe and identify what you perceive the qualities of the situation and its effect on you. From this place begin to evaluate what qualities feel appropriate to your intuitive observer to bring about a stronger harmony within yourself. This article intentionally avoided using ‘instinctive’ because sometimes instinct can be rooted in patterns of behavior or responses that although not supportive, have become part of us over repetition.
When you’ve gathered the information, correlate your response and own it. Responding with softness and liquidity (flexibility) holds just as much value as answering with sharpness and strength. Have the intention first and foremost to create harmony and deeper balance to the place you find yourself in whether you’re continuing to remain in it or move away from it. If the situation involves other people, act from a place that acknowledges and holds reverence for their individual harmonies, recognizing they may not align or be supported by the qualities you’re bringing to the table. Take the time to skillfully form your response and when you’re ready, don’t be afraid to serve it.
Here are a few of our recommendations for introductory reading on Ayurveda. Feel free to click on a book to be directed to Amazon to read reviews and purchase.