This week we look into tamas guna and how it can be applied to your teaching and personal practice.
Tamas is the last of the three gunas in our discussion over the past weeks on the PK blog.
Tamas guna is commonly described as the quality of dullness or inactivity, apathy, inertia or lethargy. Tamas guna could show up differently for each of us, but may be characterized by a physical, emotional and psychic slowing or heaviness to a varying degree. Maybe for whatever reason, you feel the need to lie face down on the floor. Maybe the body or thinking is just a bit slower than you usually experience. Of the three gunas, this one goes against the grain of the super-productive, western thinking. It’s not the peaceful balance of saatva, nor the high, frenetic energy of rajas.
Tamas, like the other gunas, is an energetic quality, not a life sentence. It can shift and move. What can be counterproductive when witnessing tamas in ourselves is the formation of any self-judgement. We may go into story and try to push tamas away rather than allowing the “felt sense” of being slow and heavy. (The Felt sense is a concept that describes internal bodily awareness that arises from increased awareness.) We may create a cyclical or unproductive thinking pattern, where instead of allowing ourselves to truly feel the weight and inertia of tamas, we may be self critical or get stuck in comparison to others.
Often in practice and in teaching, it is beneficial to consider allowing the felt sense of tamas, if present, through our bodies, mind and heart rather than become rigid against it.
Instead of pushing away the heaviness, dullness or inertia, maybe give yourself 5 minutes to sit with the feeling, practice yoga nidra or lie down on the grass. Feel it, listen to it with non-judging awareness and respond rather than react.
How you respond can be very personal. In a yoga practice, pranayama is an invaluable tool to move energy: kapalabhati, bhastrika and breath of joy for example may invigorate the mind and body and nadi shodhana may be more beneficial to assist with balance. Consider and practice asana that raises or balances energy in your body through longer holds, inversion, rhythm or continual flow. Invite movement of body, thought and emotion in a way that would be the most beneficial to you in that circumstance with the intention of balance rather than changing self. Through curious self inquiry and experience, notice what shifts or balances the energy for you.
As always in our teaching, personal practice is essential.
Take the time to explore the gunas, how they show up for you and what practices affect them and how. Resist the urge to have a one-size-fits-all sequence in your teaching, like saying “this class will get your sacral chakra spinning properly” or “this pranayama will release all heavy thoughts and energy”.
We offer students the space to experience, not prescriptions.
Respect the differences in your students and the potential for energy to appear differently for each of them. Give students permission to explore their energetic qualities and invite them to respond in a way that is beneficial either on or off the mat.