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The 20 Qualities (Gunas)

The gunas are the qualities contained in every substance, and there’s a total of 20 gunas in Ayurveda – you can think of them as 10 pairs of opposites. We use the gunas to balance our health with the Law of Opposites. This law states that similar qualities aggravate each other, and opposite qualities balance each other. The goal is to balance the elements in your body.

A basic premise of Ayurveda is healing through opposites. We’re constantly being affected by the qualities around us. Ayurveda is complex – it goes in-depth regarding how we are affected by everything we take in and experience from the environment – the qualities of the seasons, the time of day, what we eat, what we read or watch on TV, and so on.

Here’s an example… if it’s a cold, cloudy and rainy day, we may feel cold, sluggish and heavy. Looking at these gunas in the table down below, how would you balance that?


Opposite Guna


Opposite Guna

heavy (guru)

light (laghu)

dull (manda)

sharp (tikshna)

cold (sheeta)

hot (ushna)

oily (snigdha)

dry (ruksha)

smooth (slaksna)

rough (khara)

dense (sandra)

liquid (drava)

soft (mrudu)

hard (khatina)

stable (sthira)

mobile (chala)

cloudy (picchila)

clear (vishada)

gross (sthula)

subtle (sukshma)

Yes… to balance cold (sheet), you would add hot (ushna); To balance sluggish or stable (sthira), you would add mobile (chala); To balance heavy (guru), you would add light (laghu).

What does that look like? You may want to put on a sweater, build a fire, and sip hot tea. You’re looking for hot. You may eat warm foods that are light in nature, like rice and steamed veggies. You may choose to meditate or sit in prayer for clarity. You may incorporate more movement into your day with yoga or stretching to counter the heaviness.

So, like increases like, and opposite qualities bring balance. We treat too much heavy (guru) with light (laghu), and light with heavy. We treat too much cold (sheeta) with hot (ushna), and hot with cold. That goes for all of the qualities.

If this makes sense, you are ready to start a more focused awareness or "noting" practice. Pay attention to the qualities you feel from the outside world, and note how you intuitively balance that feeling. Like in the example above about the cold, cloudy, rainy day. Also, start turning your attention inward to how you feel inside - perhaps in regards to what you eat or your feelings resulting from interactions with others. See how you can balance that. I know that when I come from a team meeting about my son, I sometimes feel agitated, frustrated or overwhelmed. For me, I balance that with quiet and solitude - turning inward and releasing those emotions. I do this through 10 minutes of gentle yoga asana or perhaps a 25 minute guided Yoga Nidra. These practices remind me of my intention for the day, and help me feel refreshed for the rest of my day.

Please share any insights you have after practicing for a couple of days. Increasing awareness to how you feel, inside and out, is a big step in empowerment - it feels great to consciously make decisions that benefit your health and wellness!

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