The final guna, tamas, is a real shit, though necessary in appropriate amounts and contexts. The three gunas (sattva, rajas, and tamas) are those subtle energy fields of the mind that we have been discussing. The gunas are in a constant interaction and flux with both our outer and inner environments. Awareness of the gunas can help us take control of our mind/body states and operate intentionally. Being conscious of our fluctuating states allows us to act, rather than react.
The Sanskrit translation of tamas (or tamo guna) is darkness, illusion, and ignorance. Gulp.
What Good are you, Tamas?
Tamo guna forms matter and is the static (inert) energy of objects. The meat and potatoes. It brings about stability and allows for relaxation. Tamas energy is what helps us get to sleep so that we can rest and recharge our bodies and minds. This energy gives us our groundedness, helping us to balance our root chakra.
When Tamas Gets Nasty
If the mind has too much tamas energy, watch out. We get stupid. We get mad. We make a bad choice. Suffering follows. Happens to us all.
Tamas brings out our “dark side”.
Excess tamas can lead to anger and destructiveness. We don’t see the world as it is, but rather as we perceive it to be (and tamas percieves the world by looking at the bad rather than the good).
Rampant tamas can lead to a chain reaction of horror. It is how seemingly senseless acts of violence occur. We lose control of our minds. While a few tamasic thoughts won’t lead to violence, they might cause us to get really mad at minor inconveniences, leading to all sorts of out-of-sorts-ness.
With too much tamas on board, we don’t care about ourselves or about anybody else. We perform actions sloppily. We overindulge in food, sedentary activities, alcohol and drugs, and, paradoxically, sex. I guess there’s enough energy for that. But according to Ayurveda, too much sex is not good for the body. With tamas it becomes a compulsive act (think porn addiction).
Tamas: The Quickest Route to Lazy Town
The energy of tamas can also lead to dullness and confusion. Our minds become clouded. We might sleep our lives away or watch TV all day. Now, sometimes we need extra sleep, or a lazy day re-watching some chef show. Luxury needed. It’s just that an overly tamasic mind can get lazy, depressed, and unmotivated. Procrastination reigns.
Tamas is also heaviness. This energy of denseness makes us unable to express ourselves. We don’t understand ourselves either. We can’t tell what is good or bad for us. Poor judgement calls ensue, and we are easily manipulated. Inertia, corruption, and dullness are the flavors of the day.
Tamas Gone Wild:
laziness, apathy, depression, helplessness, loneliness, anger, grief, insensitivity, heaviness, lack of intelligence, prone to addiction, submissive, dull, hateful, dishonest, lethargic, judgemental, destructive
Freely expressing our anger can stir up and increase tamas. Not to say that we should repress our anger, but immediately lashing out without thought for the other person will increase that tamas energy.
Tamas is used in the entertainment industry to create drama and excitement. Watching all of the drama puts the mind under the tamasic influence. It’s not healthy for our minds to sit around tamasic all the time though. We become used to that state and it becomes a habit. Our thoughts follow suite.
When we notice this energy of tamasic thinking, there is much we can do to halt the process before we road rage out or retreat to bed.
Tamas is two sides of a coin: destruction on the one hand, inertia on the other. Sattva’s goodness fights the destruction, and our rajas energy of action fights the inertia. The three work in concert. Taking time for sattvic activities allows these three rascal forces to balance themselves.
How to Decrease Tamas
- Yoga to Decrease Tamas: decrease hold times (of poses), increase vinyasa and sun salutation sequences, practice back bends (bow pose, bridge, camel) and balancing poses. Minimize forward bends and shorten savasana
- Avoid over-sleeping; wake up early or have a set schedule
- Get out of the house, seek stimulating activities
- Avoid sitting for long periods
- Decrease screen time
- Try a form of active meditation or dynamic meditation
- Daily task meditation (aka, mindfully doing chores; “Grow the Lettuce” per Tich Nhat Hahn)
- Chanting = magic; try kundalini chants, here is a great anti-tamas Mantra
- Get out in nature, fresh air heals every malady
- Play a sport
- Use breathing techniques (pranayama), such as nadi sodhana (alternate nostril), or kapalabhati (skull shining breath)
- Hang out in dry, brightly lit places
- Get involved in community; hang out with positive, dynamic people
Diet Tweaks Work Especially Well to Decrease Tamas
- Go with a light diet that includes as many vegetables as possible
- Limit red meat, eggs, simple carbohydrates
- Avoid foods that are hard to digest
- Avoid old, stale, fermented, preserved, processed, chemically treated or spoiled food
- Don’t overeat
- Minimize alcohol, drugs, caffeine and other stimulants
- Overripe fruit
- Peanuts (noooooooo)
- Red meat, poultry, fish
- Fried foods
- Burned food
- Barbecued food
- Canned food, processed food, precooked meals
- Reheated food, leftovers
Excess tamas will block us from our higher consciousness and not allow us to see the unity of life. Our true nature gets buried under the tamas gunk. This makes it difficult to grow spiritually and to feel happy.
And So Ends the Gunas…
As we move away from tamas, be careful not to and go over-board; we can propel ourselves too far to the rajas side. Gradually work out of whichever excess state has moved in. Do a few of the suggestions at a time and go slow. Balance is key here, and everywhere.
Sadhguru (yogi, mystic, visionary) has this to say: “Approaching every aspect of life in a celebratory way is most important.” This way, he says, we can avoid taking life so seriously while also being absolutely involved. Like a game
Thanks for Reading the Gunas Series. Next we will move on to something we all want to do every day…
Ashish. August 19, 2020. Tamas Guna (State of Inmertia): Identify it’s Dominance & Get Rid of It
Ek Ong Kaar Khalsa (2020). The Gunas: How the Tamas Guna Can Hijak the Mind.
ayusante.com (2020). Effect of the Tamas Guna on the Mind!
Burgin, Timothy (2017). A Yogi’s Practical Guide to Balancing Tamas Guna
(Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center, 2018. Practical Ayurveda. Penguin Random House, New York.