The Three Gunas by Meghan Maris

In the yogic cosmology, the universe came into being through an explosive expansion similar to the modern theory of the Big Bang. Primordial nature, or prakriti, was resting in perfect harmony. Through the “bang,” prakriti differentiated itself into three basic qualities of energy known as sattva, rajas, and tamas.

Rajas is the active, stimulating, or positive force that initiates change. Tamas is the dull, obstructive, or negative force that sustains previous activity. Sattva is the balancing force, harmonizing rajas and tamas. When prakriti fractured, sattva generated the mind, rajas the life-force, and tamas gave rise to the elements that make up the physical body. These qualities are present in everything that we see, even the so-called inanimate objects. All three forces are needed in normal activity, but they have spiritual repercussions as well.

The gunas have a veiling power over the mind, covering the reality of Absolute Consciousness. Tamas keeps us in darkness, concealing the unity of life. Rajas keeps the mind scattered, drawn to the stimulation of the external world.

The gunas also relate to the different levels of consciousness within us. Tamas represents the unconscious mind. In this state there is no awareness of the unity of life. Rajas is the mind that is motivated by egocentricity, oscillating between worries, frustrations, and false perceptions. A sattvic mind is one that is undisturbed, clear, and harmonious. This is often referred to as the higher mind. Although negative thoughts arise, the higher mind is unperturbed, removing the need to react to the negative tendencies.

There are two important laws that apply to the gunas: the law of alternation and the law of continuity. Because of alternation, the gunas are in constant interplay with one another. Rarely do we see pure sattva, pure rajas, or pure tamas. Whatever guna may be dominant at the time is usually intertwined with the other two, each affecting the others in a variety of ways.

Although it is initially difficult for tamas to become rajas, or rajas to become sattva, once they make that transition the predominant quality will continue for a period of time. This is the law of continuity. These two laws are always in play. For instance, the night belongs to tamas, the day to sattva, and the transitional times of sunrise and sunset to rajas. The phases of time alternate but they hold their position for a period of time.

Sattva

Sattva embodies the qualities of love, light, and clarity. Sattva is responsible for spiritual endeavors to evolve our consciousness. It bestows the dharmic virtues of honesty, self-control, and humility. Yoga encourages the development of sattva, eventually transcending this quality all together. However, it must first be cultivated before it can be transcended. Yoga practices such as asana, pranayama, and meditation develop sattva. Other ways to cultivate sattva include ethical living, self-control, maintaining a vegetarian diet, living a pure lifestyle, seeking the company of like-minded people, selflessness, and devotion.

Rajas

Rajas embodies the qualities of agitation, passion, and activity. It gives rise to the emotional fluctuations of love and hate, attraction and repulsion, fear and desire. The higher force of rajas is the impetus for spiritual pursuits and holistic healing, creating peace and harmony. The lower form of rajas leads to self-centered thoughts and actions, breeding exhaustion or suffering. The higher form of rajas is necessary for it is the transformative power necessary to embark on the path of spirituality.

Tamas

Tamas embodies the qualities of darkness, dullness, and inertia. It is the pull of the lower force or mind which keeps us stuck in ignorance and attachment. Tamas creates heaviness, emotional clinging, and stagnation. The higher form of tamas is the power that helps us resist impulses that draw us off the path.

IMG_0452.JPG

September Challenge Reflection: A letter from Robert Baker

 Robert Baker in India scouting locations for his upcoming documentary The Expat.

Robert Baker in India scouting locations for his upcoming documentary The Expat.

Yoga Bhoga!

I moved to Portland around 4 months ago. I went to a studio in The Pearl for the first month. It was good and sweaty, but I felt that it lacked a level of sophistication and spirit in the teaching that I had had in the past and was hungry for again. The movement at this other studio was more about moving from asana to asana than it was about the asana. The thing about yoga is that asana is the point. I think of it like this. Yoga is the doorway to all of life’s best stuff. Asana (and breath) are kind of like the key in that they unlock the door. The challenge, I suppose, is that we have to go through the door regularly in order to partake of the goodies within. I made my first yoga discovery several years ago while going through the hardest experience of my life. I felt broken and so very alone at the time. The first thing a teacher said which touched me was, “breathe through the pain.” My mind caught the odd sentence and immediately my higher self sent the message to my suffering self that this idea was just as applicable to my heart as it was to my sore muscles. I thought it strange that “exercise” could create a spiritual experience, but as I have quieted my breathing and my mind chatter, I have realized that in some miraculous, mysterious way yoga is healing me on every plane...physical, mental, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

Honestly, it was a pleasure to go to 41 classes in September. There were times when I was sore, but for me the stakes are too high to allow fatigue to hinder my progress on the path. The stakes are peace, happiness (I’m not talking the silly brand we are told to want, but real contentment) and I hope ultimately liberation. Liberation is a huge topic. It’s gradual and beautiful like a sunrise that takes a few decades. It’s fine with me because I think I can see it happening.

I hope everyone at Yoga Bhoga realizes what gifted teachers are here. They know their craft and they love it effortlessly.

I made a decision after the first yoga class I went to during that brutal time, that yoga will always be in my life. The path is too rich and littered with too many gems to ever leave it. So, thank you Meghan and Krista and Kimi and Anne and Amanda and Sara and all other Bhoga teachers for enriching my life and creating a beautiful place to grow.

Much love, Robert

Asana for Meditation

While concentration and meditation can be found in a variety of seated positions, lotus pose was held in particular high regard by the ancient yogis. Our goal is to find a comfortable and steady seat as suggested by Sri Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. This requires several forces within the body to balance. From the pulls of the spiraling hips to the shoulders as they press upon the breath, our physical practice can enhance our opportunity to sit in easier balance and quiet the mind. Here are a few movement suggestions that can release and activate the body to maintain a seat for longer meditation practices.

 Image 1. Piriformis, obturator internus, and ligament of the hip joint.

Image 1. Piriformis, obturator internus, and ligament of the hip joint.

1) Finding the sit bones - The position of the hips in a half lotus seat is an exceptional request that requires a significant amount of external rotation at the hip joint. Tight muscles like the piriformis (image 1) can grip which pulls the pelvis into a posterior pelvic tilt (tucking into a slouch posture). By sitting on a bolster, zafu (meditation pillow), or multiple blankets when doing this, the demand on hip flexibility is reduced which helps the pelvis organize more neutrally. Once you get to a height where you have total play of the pelvis (you can tuck the tail, stick the tail out, and tilt into each sit bones freely) you have found a comfortable and sustainable seat. If it seems like you wouldn’t find play in the pelvis unless you were sitting in a chair, then sit in a chair! You and many others feel the same. If your yoga classes doesn’t offer a chair then try thunderbolt pose, sitting on the shins with the legs together or with the pelvis on a block (no rotation at all). A posture that deeply opens the hip and the piriformis is Pigeon pose or a simply figure 4 (isolating the front leg of Pigeon pose).

 Image 2. Multifius of the transversospinalis group.

Image 2. Multifius of the transversospinalis group.

2) Finding the spine - As we sit for longer periods of time the muscles of the spine fatigue and your body falls into a head forward upper chest collapsed posture. We essentially hang on our connective tissue as gravity weighs on us. The key muscle group to help us stay erect is the multifidus (image 2) which runs up and down the vertebral column snuggling the spinous processes (your stegosaurus bones). The muscle fibers span 2-4 vertebrae from origin to insertion and run the entire length of the spine from the cervical to the sacrum. When the right and left sides co-contract it offers stability and decomposes the vertebral bodies, literally making you taller. To strengthen this muscles group in your meditation, place a block between the pelvis and the wall (establishing distance from the wall) then move the block to your behind your head. Gently press the head into the block and imagine you could “slide” the block up the wall. Be sensitive to the tendency to extend the spine. To create opposition, as the block slides up visualize your tailbone rooting downward and your low back elongating. A posture that helps activate multifidis is locust especially when emphasizing length rather than deep back bending.

IMG_6071.JPG

3) Lift your shoulders - Before you sit, take your shoulders through full range of motion. In giant circles lift you shoulder blades to your ears, back to squeeze the spine, down onto the ribs, and then forward into a rounded position. Continue this circle many times over, hydrating and mobilizing all the muscles and connective tissue that connect the arms to the ribs. Once you have created some warmth and mobility, allow the shoulder blades to rest passively on the ribs as if they were floating on top of a cloud… DO NOT PUSH THEM DOWN. As we draw our mind to our breath we want the lungs in their entirety to be free to inhale and exhale. A posture that will help open your shoulders is gomukasana (cow-face pose) that emphasizes the shoulder blades mobilizing.

All of these notes can be used as a mindful external focus. Begin your meditation on the seat and its comfort, then move the mind to your spine and its length, then allow your breath to be the main point of focus. Using the container, our body, as a guide for our seat. Once you have explored your seat with mindfulness place your awareness on the rise and fall of your breath.

Anatomical images created by 3D4Medical Ltd. (2019). Complete Anatomy (Version 4.0.1 (7770) Mac application software.

Loveless-Lennartz. (2018). Asana for meditation [Blog post]. Retrieved from www.yogabhoga.com/blog/asana-for-meditation

Alignment as Relationships

Nothing exists in isolation. Muscle fibers are held together with fascia.  Fascia moves around and through muscles, becoming tendon, attaching to bone, surrounding bone and organs, outlining a web of connections and spaces in the body. To lift an arm, the core has to first stabilize.  If the arm lifts high enough, then it will start to lift the ribs as well. All movements are relational.


Read More

December News from Yoga Bhoga

Namaste Yogi,  

The holiday season has begun and Yoga Bhoga has a variety of workshops in theme with the season starting this weekend!

Yoga views food as medicine to nourish and sustain the physical body. If we lack discrimination about how and what we eat, our dietary choices can take a tremendous toll on our digestive system and leave the body undernourished. Come learn from one of our masterful teachers, Emily Light, on how to stoke your digestive fire and promote healthy elimination. Yoga for Digestion will provide you with insights which will move you through the holiday season and into the New Year nourished and vitalized!

Yoga Bhoga is pleased to welcome guest teacher Rachel Stern for a special workshop, Yoga of the Hanukah Story. Rachel brings tremendous care and joy to her classes. She is known for the delight that she brings to her story telling. This workshop will be inclusive to all faiths and belief systems, but Rachel will be conveying religious themes to honor the Jewish holiday of Hanukah.  

Namaste,

Yoga Bhoga