“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” -Nelson Mandela
Let’s keep these gunas going! Ayurveda tells us that the three gunas (sattva, rajas, and tamas) are subtle energy fields of the mind. These energy fields are in a continuous reactive state with the world around them. The mind’s gunas are also affected by our thoughts. In fact, the gunas are involved in pretty much everything we think, do, and feel. They affect our behavior, attitude, actions, and attachments. These invisible energy fields have an enormous influence on how we see the world, and how we move through it.
The gunas can, and should be, balanced with sattvic activities such as yoga and meditation. We know that sattva is “the good one”; all joy and peace and tranquility. Shouldn’t that be all that we want? Isn’t that the only energy worth cultivating?
Or, do we also want to be movers and shakers? Do we want to get things done; to move forward in life? How can we reach goals and find excitement? Can we live our passion?
Rajas is the energy of movement. All activity is influenced by rajas. This energy helps us expand as human beings. It is where our passion comes from. We need rajas to enact change in our lives. This dynamic energy is our ambition, our determination.
Rajas is the fun one, the fast car, the risk-taker.
energy, movement, activity, ambition, action, change, passion, excitement, attraction, longing, attachment
Buuttt…Rajas Can Become the Tasmanian Devil
The energy of rajas is wonderful as an impetus for change and growth. But it can also tip over into a vortex of crazy.
If rajas is allowed to go overboard, we can become hyperactive and restless. Agitated. We get tense and unable to rest. A rajasic mind can start to think that happiness comes from external sources and we can become materialistic. We begin to want change just for the sake of change; we are sure we will not be satisfied unless we either “stir the pot” or keep getting new “stuff”.
Elevated rajas energy in our minds will not allow us to be satisfied with anything, and off we spin. We want more and more and become bored with people and with our acquisitions. This makes maintaining relationships tough. We hold grudges and have a hard time keeping loyal and sustained friendships.
“Too much rajas can lead to unquenchable desire, distortion, stress, exhaustion, anger and emotional upset” (Burgin, 2017).
A rajasic mind is very impulsive, and we may do or say things that we regret. A lack of self-control can set in. We can become stubborn and unable to see other points of view. Our minds can get wild with excess passions, attachments, and obsessions. Fanaticism, anyone? Out-of-control rajas energy makes it hard to be able to move into a sattvic state of mind and feel any peace.
Is Your Rajas Rampant?
Characteristics of excess rajas: aggressive, vain, jealous, manipulative, judgmental, restless, unreliable, anxious, indecisive, compulsive, materialistic, greedy, dependent, fearful, agitated, violent, competitive, egotistical, angry, selfish, impulsive, stubborn, fanatical
What Causes Excess Rajas?
How do we get into the state of too much rajas? It can happen when we over-think, or when we talk too much. Over-exercising and over-exerting ourselves aggravates rajas, too. And when we expose ourselves to violent content on the news, in movies, or even just reading, we can ramp up our rajas. I find that when I watch a disturbing movie or show before bed, I spend the night agitated and restless, with disturbing dreams. I wake up tired and anxious.
We work on our bodies with diet and exercise. Our minds are influenced by the information we get, be it from friends and family, or from the news or teachers. Information seeps in from our culture. We can be aware of the “diet” that we feed our minds, and become more discerning about what we consume.
Ways to Decrease Rajas
- Practice restorative yoga poses and Yin yoga
- Hold yoga poses longer, minimize vinyasa and sun salutation sequences
- Practice breathing techniques, especially ocean breath
- Meditation – mantra meditation is especially great for over-thinking and metta meditation is good for anger
- Be in nature, find places for contemplation, take mindful walks
- Talk less, listen more, practice mindful communication
- Listen to calming music or enjoy silence
- Examine beautiful works of art
- Use positive affirmations
- Hang out in cool, dimly lit places and avoid over-exposure to wind
- Eat mindfully, feel gratitude for the food, no eating on the go
- Avoid over-exercising, over-working or over-consuming
- Volunteer or practice a simple act of kindness
Food Choices to Decrease Rajas
- Bitter, salty and sour tastes are rajasic, so emphasize sweet, pungent and astringent tastes
- Avoid greasy, fried foods and super salty convenience food
- Avoid snacks that are really processed with lots of additives
- Avoid unripe fruit
- Avoid spicy food and highly pungent spices (chili flakes, mustard)
- Minimize fish and eggs
- Minimize onions, garlic and radishes
- Minimize hard cheeses
- Eat dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, arugula, collards, romaine lettuce)
- If angry, eat cooling foods such as cucumber, watermelon, mint and seaweed
- Avoid caffeine, chocolate, and sugar (nooooooo…)
Rajas Requires Balance
This morning, I was having stressful thoughts about work. As I began my meditation, I noticed anxiety coming over me. The anxiety was physically felt; it washed over my body. I chose to notice it, relax into it, and wait for it to pass. It did pass, but came up the same way several more times. It felt scary. Riding it through and not ignoring it seemed to allow it to disperse.
When I was done meditating, I thought about how perhaps the thoughts about work had created the anxiety in my body. I also thought that perhaps my body/mind had some anxiety (excess rajas), and I had to create thoughts to go with it. Those thoughts then further aggravated rajas in my mind. Vicious circle.
After meditating, I felt how my consciousness had expanded. I felt deeply rested and peaceful. I chose not to turn my thoughts back to work; to uselessly fret. The meditation brought me to a more sattvic place.
Thinking about rajas today, I was reminded of a poem that I love by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (below). Rajas catapults us forward in life, but can also wreak some pretty serious havoc.
There was a little girl
There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
Burgin, Timothy, 2017. Reducing Rajas Guna: A Yogi’s How-To Guide
Sovik, Rolf, 2021. The Gunas: Natures Three Fundamental Forces
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, 2018. Practical Ayurveda. Penguin Random House, New York.