One of the words you may have heard in a Yoga class or in something you’ve read about Yoga or Ayurveda is ‘sattva’ or ‘sattvic’.
In vedic philosophy sattva is a sanskrit term that means purity, harmony and balance. To truly explain the meaning of sattva, let’s go back to the beginning of time in yogic philosophy…
Origin of the Universe
In the beginning of time there was a vast nothingness or void known in sanskrit as shunyakasha. This nothingness was like an empty page – full of potential, waiting to be filled with words or pictures.
It is said that from this potential-filled void, arose the desire for creation. From this, the sound Aum manifested as the first vibration of consciousness.
And then this vibration divided into two opposing but complimentary forces: Purusha and Prakriti.
Purusha & Prakriti
Purusha is the original consciousness or unchanging divine self. Also allocated as the masculine quality and represented by the god Shiva.
Prakriti is the primordial nature, divine energy. Considered to be the feminine quality and represented by the goddess Shakti.
Prakriti is the force of creation that manifests everything in the universe using the five tattvas (elementary principles) as the building blocks of creation. The five tattvas are ether, air, fire, water and earth.
But it takes the three gunas (essential qualities) to create form from the tattvas. Without the gunas, the tattvas would just drift about the universe in random formlessness. But when they combine, they become the basis for all of manifestation… Including the human body!
The Three Gunas
The gunas are essentially the aspects or qualities of form.
Tamas Guna – Inertia, laziness, sloth, ignorance
Rajas Guna – Passion, anger, restlessness, anxiety, untamed emotions
Sattva Guna – Equilibrium, balance, harmony, gentleness, purity, clarity
These gunas or qualities are therefore used as adjectives to describe the nature of something.
For example, when you are feeling lazy and low on energy. Perhaps you are slouching on the couch watching TV and eating junk food. You would be said to be tamasic.
If you were feeling anxious, stressed, over-active or distracted you would be rajasic. Similarly a hot, spicy meal is also described as rajasic.
A serene, beautiful place such as a waterfall, surrounded by ferns and birdsong is a sattvic place. When you are feeling content, quiet and happy you are sattvic. A meal of fresh vegetables or fruit is sattvic.
Key Features: Light, upward moving, pure, transparent, inspiring, warm.
Mind: Clear, content, inspired, concentrated, accepting.
Emotions: Devotion, peace, humility, contentment, cheerfulness, love.
Energy: Light, joyful, simple.
Body: Energetic, light, composed.
Attached to: Knowledge and happiness.
Works: Without desire for reward, faith in duty, happy.
Environment: Clean, fresh, quiet, peaceful, harmonious, cooperative, green.
Food: Light, fresh, easily digested, calming.
Sattva in Daily Life
Very few people are purely sattvic all the time. We oscillate between these three gunas. We may have one that predominates. For example some people are naturally high energy, passionate, flamboyant types who need to calm their rajas guna and come back to sattva, balance. Others may be more tamasic. Slow, reserved, requiring a lot of sleep. These people need to lighten and enliven themselves and come back towards sattva.
So we are always aiming to come back to balance and harmony – the sattvic quality.
It is extremely beneficial to be aware of the gunas in your day-to-day life. In what you eat, the company you keep, the environments you spend time in, the work you do and the thoughts that fill your mind.
Attending a yoga class or having a regular sadhana (home yoga practice) helps immensely to retain a calm, harmonious quality of life. As does a healthy diet, a clean, happy home, positive thoughts and inspiring company.