Finding Balance – Three Gunas

The Three Gunas, defined as the three fundamental qualities or attitudes of the manifest energy. In yoga and Ayurveda, a guna is a tattva or element of reality that can affect our psychological, emotional and energetic states.

  1. Sattvic: Life, purity, strength, health joy, cheerfulness
  2. Rajasic: Over-stimulated, passion, boisterous, restlessness
  3. Tamasic: Dull, inertia, lazy

So what does this mean for us? This is my understanding –  to make progress along the yogic path, we must practice self-observation and discernment to witness and not react to the activities of the gunas.  We must increase our inner-strength and willpower to mindfully shift our thoughts and actions away from tamas and rajas towards sattvic balance and purpose. With yoga, we often try to reach the state of balance and equilibrium and the three Gunas allow us to understand ourselves and our state a little better to achieve that equilibrium. In the case that perhaps one is feeling sluggish and tired during the day, a rajastic asana practice could help bring one out of the tamasic state. Yoga practices could include power yoga, flow yoga or even kapalabhati pranayama to stimulate the rajas and ignite the passion in us.

To reduce tamas, avoid tamasic foods such as meats, chemically treated, processed or refined, oversleeping, overeating, inactivity, passivity and fearful situations. To reduce rajas, avoid rajastic food such as spicy, fried food and stimulants, over exercising and over working. To increase sattva, decrease rajas and tamas, increase sattvic food in take such as whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and immerse oneself in positive thoughts and activities that bring joy.

“When one rises above the three gunas that originate in the body; one is freed from birth, old age, disease, and death; and attains enlightenment” – Bhagavad Gita

I N V E R S I O N S

Inversions – the kind of asanas that takes you out of your comfort zone, a test of balance and courage and that satisfaction when you’ve found the sweet sweet spot to stay, hold, and breathe with ease in the pose.

Having done gymnastics for a while in primary school, going upside down was a rather familiar feeling. However, when I begun doing inversions in yoga again, I suppose the challenge was for my arms to hold up more weight than I had as a primary school kid. Inversions seems to take up more energy than it did as a child, and perhaps the fear of falling increased in leaps and bounds as an adult.

Ever since I attempted a headstand in one of my hatha classes, I fell back in love with inversions. I wasn’t great at it at the start – with every headstand, my neck and shoulders would hurt, blood rushing to my head was such a foreign feeling and I was discouraged at how weak my upper body strength was. But, I loved the challenge, and over time, I loved how the pose places me out of my comfort zone to see the world from a different perspective (literally!) and how aware I became of the area of muscles I should be activating to stay in the pose or even come into it.

With time, practise, falling, getting back up again, falling again and coming back to it, I got better. I managed to stay in my headstand and found peace in that pose – like as if the world has slowly faded and I am there, chilling, upside down. Pincha was always a challenge, but I was encouraged to continue trying at it when I saw how I was improving, little by little, week by week.

If you have yet had the opportunity to attempt an inversion, I encourage you to take the leap of faith and try to get into one (of course with some supervision and help at the start), and begin to be okay with the uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Who knows… maybe one day, you’ll begin to love it.

The greatest take away I got from inversions has been a life lesson. Similar to when you’re in an inversion, “life is a balance of holding on and letting go.”

Back to Basics

Asanas in a yoga practice seem to be what many focus on – getting that insta-perfect shot or pushing your body to strive for that perfect pose. When I began yoga, like many others, I thought it was only about the poses, and maybe a little bit of meditation. I would strive to attain a perfect split, go for hot yoga to enable my body to do more and get into poses with ease. During my yoga journey, i have been fortunate to yet meet with any serious yoga injuries, but I have heard of people who pushed themselves beyond their limits to attain a pose and in return, sustain some form of damage.

Besides learning that there is more to yoga than the Asanas, I have learnt the importance of going back to basics to train the mind and body to prepare for more challenging poses is necessary during one’s asana practice. Yoga is not all about the inversions such as headstands, handstands and pincha, but also the basic poses like virabhadrasana, udhva mukha svanasana, ardo mukhua svanasana and even paschimottanasana – I mentioned basic, and not easy, because if done with intention and correctly, you would know these fundamental poses are not easy.

In a Virabhadrasana B, for example, what may seem like a  simple squat with arms parallel to the ground, is actually a powerful stretch to the groins, legs and chest, when correctly executed. Moreover, it helps to train up one’s stamina, thighs and glutes. I’ve found myself breaking into much sweat when staying in this pose for 5 long breaths, and definitely feeling those muscles working hard. What stands out for me even more about these simple poses really work some muscle you otherwise would not necessarily work out such as your inner thighs! Asanas have a way of stretching and strengthening at the same time, and i’ve found it a great way to gain fitness at my own pace.

It is the basic poses that serve as a foundation for different inversion poses. It is through practising the dolphin pose and holding it there for a while, which will build the back muscles you need to come into a headstand with little protest. It is through paschimottanasana that allows your body to be flexible enough to walk your legs in close to your body before raising up into a Pincha.

With that, I often remind myself: to perfect the simpler postures before mastering the challenging ones; to accept my body as it is and the shape my body forms with every pose, which will be different from the person next to me; “Do not stop trying just because perfection eludes you” – B.K.S Iyengar

A Yoga Journey

Every person’s yoga journey is different and unique, and I thought I’d share a snippet of my personal yoga journey – Perhaps it will be an encouragement to some of you.

My journey begun some time in late 2013 and this came about when I met with an injury from a sport that I invested much time in – running. It was a relatively cool afternoon and I thought I had warmed up well enough – doing all the usual stretches and preparation before my race. Little did I know, this race would be one of my last few 400m hurdles competitions I’d have the chance to take part in. The gun went off, the runners and I charged ahead from the starting line. 10 hurdles to go. As I crossed the fourth last hurdle (250m mark),  I felt a strange tightness in my right glutes and my right leg felt weak as it reached the ground. I had pulled my glutes after crossing the seventh hurdle and could failed to complete that race. The road to recovery was long and painful, but looking back, the loss of a sport I invested 7 years of my life, led me to find a love for another.

Starting yoga was not that easy for me. With every pose, even a warrior 2 pose, I could feel my glutes give way. Despite the challenge, I told myself to stick with it, and to show up on my mat once a week. I did so for 10 weeks, then 20 weeks, and what started as a uneasy and unfamiliar route to recovery, soon became a habit.

Like most things in life, it was not all fine and dandy and I soon got out of the habit of showing up on the mat. I moved to overseas for my studies soon after and found it even harder to commit my time to yoga whilst focussing on my studies and co-curricular activities at school. To make matters worst, perhaps lady-luck was not on my side, and I broke my wrist whilst on a ski trip with some friends. That most definitely threw me off my already not-so-regular routine of practice. Yoga was was placed on hold for yet another six months while I worked towards gaining my strength back in my hand to do even just the regular things, like holding a mug or washing dishes. However, strangely enough, this incident of not having something for an extended period of time led me to miss it even more. I vividly remember my first yoga practice since breaking my wrist. My arm shook in a plank, and for a moment, I was very sure my wrist was going to snap again. It was frustrating to know even the simplest poses felt the most challenging back then.

But it was for this yoga teacher I had the opportunity to meet, Sue, whose words of kindness and reaffirmation helped me open my mind to be patient with myself and my limitations of my body. Looking back, it was through Sue’s classes that I learnt a lot more about yoga, advanced on with my practice, and made this a habit, showing up week after week. When I moved back to Singapore, I was sure of continuing yoga and finding a studio that would help me deepen my practice, because  if it were not for yoga, I do not think I would have gained back the mobility and strength in my wrist I have today.

After months of trying different studios, I found Tirisula Yoga, and I decided to stick with it. I took the leap of faith and challenged myself to do the YTT200, and here I am today, 467 days since I joined the studio, thrilled to start a new chapter as my teacher training course at Tirisula comes to a close.

Every person’s yoga journey is different and unique. Some will fall in love with it instantly, others may take a while longer. But like most things in life, you’ll never know till you try, or stay with it long enough to fully experience it.