Yoga Energetics for Athletes - The Gunas

The Sunrise and Sunset of the Gunas 

The gunas - Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva - are mental/spiritual constitutions. They are intertwined forces of the mind that continue to move. Once a state is entered into, it usually lasts for a period of time, depending on the heaviness of the guna. Our goal is to continue to reduce Tamas and Rajas until our mind achieves a state of Sattva.

Each person has one guna that predominates in their personality, but there is usually one guna that prevails in their everyday life at a given time. The ultimate goal of yoga is to achieve a purely Sattvic state. For most of us, we will move from guna to guna as we grow spiritually and mentally. It is useful for our purposes to understand the Gunas so that we know how to support our self in our yoga practice in order to enhance our athletic performance. First let's understand the gunas and later we will explore how they incorporate into our three sequences. Having a framework for describing which state you might be in, can assist you in deciding which practice is best for you at that moment. 

Helpful hint: Sometimes we are drawn to practices that enhance our dominant guna instead of to ones that will help balance us out. 

The Gunas:

Tamas is the base constitution that is heaviest in density and hence is the most difficult to transition out of. It is considered sluggish, negative energy that is unreceptive to growth. It enjoys being where it is and does not want to move - also known as intertia. This might manifest itself in feeling physically unable to go do a workout, mentally negative and emotional during a game, or it might prevent you from learning from a situation and trying something new based off of a new understanding. However, it is important to understand the importance of this state as well. Being the destructive force that it is, it has the ability to honor emotions and negativity that arise. It also is a very steady and consistent force that brings loyalty. In addition it allows us to feel embodiment - if we are too in our head or too energetic - Tamas helps you slow down and get grounded. 

Rajas is an active, stimulating and positive force. It is the life force that brings us vitality and the ability to keep moving from one thing to the next. If the daytime were sattva and the night were tamas, the rajas is the sunset and the sunrise - the energy that allows the transition between the two states to happen. What's important to know about Rajas is that it provides us with the desire to achieve. It is very goal-focused energy and has the ability to stimulate the enthusiasm of a group and spark action in a person and in a team to go the extra mile for the win. The downside of rajas is that it can sometimes create action for action's sake. Have you ever found yourself running back and forth on the court or on the field, eager to do enhance the game, and despite all of the effort you are putting in you find that you really aren't getting anything done. Often, if we become over rajasic we may need the steadiness of tamas or the clarity of sattva to help direct the energy of rajas. It's also important to tune in to whether you have a rajasic personality. There are times where we are prone to wanting to do the most vigorous workout possible, but in the goal of staying balanced it would be better to calm the mind instead. Enjoy the process and give yourself permission to slow down. Honor that what we are doing is going to lead us somewhere and we don't have to always be looking it straight in the eye. 

Sattva is a balancing and harmonizing force that develops the ability to be in tune with your own divine nature. As mentioned before, it represents the light of the day.  As divinity and truth arise, those who develop sattvic qualities must take care to use them with knowledge, skill and detachment. In sports, sattva is a type of knowledge that most athletes can understand well. It is that moment that with no thought or effort required you perform a move that even surprises you. You are so in tune with your inner and outer world that things are happening with a type of divine intelligence. This divine intelligence need not raise the idea of god in your head, more importantly it's a knowledge source that you are tapping into that provides you with the effortless decision-making abilities that are the result of a clear mind. In sports terms this might be considered "the zone" or the result of years of physical conditioning and thus automatic responses. If you wish to develop this state you will choose the sattvic practice provided in this book.


     Yoga & Ayurveda: Self-healing and Self-Realization, David Frawley

     Sri Yoga Teacher Training 2013, Lecture and Manual

Read the Entire Series:


The Candle: Ojas, Tejas, Prana

The Sunrise and the Sunset of  the Gunas

Sequence 1: Balancing

Sequence 2: Ease in Effort

Sequence 3: Awareness


Sari Stankowski

Sari Gelzer is a yoga teacher and online media consultant based in San Francisco, CA.