Guna Dosha and Elements

Just how do the doshas connect with gunas and elements? We asked yoga teacher and Ayurvedic practitioner Robyn Lynch to give us her insight.

These three factors are often brought together when we are trying to understand the nature of being and the nature of balance.

I have found with Ayurveda that the more you know, the more doorways open to different levels of understanding and certainly these three, four if you include Prakruti, are part of this expansive thinking.

Sattva, Rajas and Tamas Quote

Sattva, rajas and tamas are the three gunas that create nature or Prakruti. The three are intertwined, constantly in a state of flux and flow, creating, transforming and completing or destroying. For equilibrium, the three gunas need to be balanced. There needs to be creation, action and completion. There also needs to be not too much or too little of any of these or imbalances occur.

Gunas create our nature and affect the balance of the elements within us and therein our Doshic balance. When I was studying Ayurveda, we learnt about the gunas prima

rily as affecting our mind state.

It is this mind state that then affects the choices we make and that affects our doshic balance or imbalance.

So for example when we spend too much time watching movies, drinking hot chocolate and eating cake, these are all tamasic attributes. Through these tamasic choices, the level of tamas rises within us and we increase the earth and water elements. These earth and water elements constitute Kapha so then we see t

he Kapha quality of heaviness, cloudiness and denseness being increased in our body and mind.

When we are looking to get out of this tamasic state, we need to bring in transformation – the rajasic guna characteristic. This will help to “fire us up” to make choices that are more beneficial for us. These choices, which could be more activity, foods with heating and digesting herbs, even boot camp, could take us out of the tamasic state and create transformation.

If we maintained this rajasic state, we would burn out, however it is necessary to draw us out of the tamasic state. Too much rajas, heated and spicy food, too much activity, too much competition will increase the elements of heat and water in our cons

titution. This is our Pitta element and we might find we become inflamed,

physically with a rash or reflux or emotionally with anger or judgments.

Then once we are out of the tamasic state and have moved into rajas, then weneed to cool that down a little and maintain a sattvic way of being, where we feel balanced. Although sattva is often the one that we are seeking, we still need some rajas and some tamas to keep us on an even keel.

The other two elements, ether and air make up the doshic quality of Vata. Vata is light and responsible for movement within the body as well as the nervous system and enthusiasm. When there is too much of these elements, Vata becomes aggravated and our mind lacks stability, we can become fearful and anxious, our body’s movements can be too fast or too slow or go in the wrong direction, we can feel unstable, physically cold and ungrounded. In this case, we may need to bring in some heavier foods, some slower activities, such as rest – which actually has a tamasic quality.

Imbalance in the three gunas may cause imbalance in the five elements and the three doshic humours, which creates poor health. When we understand the interplay of these three aspects, the elements, the gunas and the doshas , we are better able to obtain and maintain equilibrium and through that create harmony, develop longevity and good health.

Check out Robyn’s website:

Robyn Lynch has been a long time lecturer on the IYTA Yoga Teacher Training course and is a member of IYTA.

Healthy Hips and Shoulders with Karen Nicoll

Most people have tight shoulders or hips – and yet nearly all asanas involve one or both of these joints. Karen Nicoll explains why these areas of the body can be problematic – and how yoga can help.

karen nicoll portrait picture
Karen Nicoll – Yoga Teacher

It’s not surprising many of us complain of tight shoulders and hips when you look at our lifestyle patterns – hours spent sitting in chairs or driving and poor postural habits, such as hunching shoulders or exaggerated spinal curves. This means when we do sit down on our yoga mat our postural and movement habits could exacerbate joint problems. But done correctly well executed and appropriate asanas support the joints. Karen Nicoll has been teaching yoga for 35 years and runs workshops and regular yoga classes.

Five essentials for healthy hip and shoulder joints:

1: Strong muscles to support the joints: Muscles need to be strengthened. With awareness and appropriate alignment, the deeper postural muscles around the joints are strengthened – this supports the joints. When the postural muscles are weak there is extra load on the joints contributing to joint problems. It has been proposed that muscles start to lose their strength after about 48 hours of not being activated. With our lifestyles and habitual postural patterns there are many muscles that aren’t regularly strengthened. Suitable yoga asanas build strength in the weak underused muscles and deeper postural muscles.

2: Appropriate mobility: Ideally joints will have an appropriate range of movement – too much or too little mobility may contribute to joint problems. Ligaments give the joint stability and if overstretched contribute to joint instability and injury. Importantly, overstretching may result in hypermobility, instability and strains. Yoga asanas support the full range of movement of joints.

3: Body alignment: Apt alignment reduces uneven load on the joints and prevents unnecessary wear and tear on the joints.

4: Movement: Moving the joints ensures that the synovial fluid swishes around the joint nourishing the cartilage at the ends of the bones. Yoga movements improve circulation to and inside the joints.

5: S-t-r-e-t-c-h: Healthy muscles are strong and also have the ability to lengthen. Yoga is a terrific way to strengthen and lengthen muscles – when stretching it is the muscle belly that needs to lengthen. To do this, ideally feel the stretch in the muscle fibres – avoid pulling on the tendons and also avoid overstretching the ligaments.

Avoid Shoulder Imbalances

The main shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint) is a ball and socket joint. It is where the humerus (upper arm) meets the scapula (shoulderblade).

Being a shallow joint, the shoulder joint has the ability to perform a wide range of movement enabling us to reach into myriad positions. Interestingly, in our daily movements we often don’t give the shoulder joint a healthy range of movement. Plus, much emotional tension is held in the shoulders. Yoga asanas and movements support freedom in the shoulder area (eg Gomukhasana), although over stretching may destabilise this joint.

The internal and external muscle rotators of the shoulder joint are part of the rotator cuff ie: muscles and tendons that help to keep the humerus in its socket.

Many of our daily shoulder movements involve an internal rotation of the shoulder joint eg computer work, driving and even eating. With these constant movements, the pectoral muscles shorten and the external rotators weaken creating an imbalance in the shoulder area. The shoulder joint then becomes more vulnerable to problems and injuries.

Fortunately there are some yoga movements that utilise and strengthen the external rotator muscles (infraspinatous and teres minor muscles).

Save your Shoulders SOS #1:

Stand in Tadasana with the arms by your side and palms facing your body.

Turn the arms and the palms to face forward.

This is the action of the top arm in Gomukhasana – the external rotators are working and shortening.

To experience internal rotation of the shoulders:

Stand in Tadasana with palms facing the body.

Spiral the arms inward so the palms face behind you.

This is the action of the back arm in Gomukhasana – the external rotators are lengthening.

• Most people need to strengthen the external rotator muscles.

SOS #2: Little Cobra to strengthen the shoulder external rotators.

Lie on your tummy with hands under the shoulders.

Have the elbows off the floor and close to the trunk.

Karen Nicoll Small Cobra Pose
Karen Nicoll Small Cobra Pose

Focus on gently dropping shoulders away from the ears and keeping the elbows in by your sides.

Start to lift the chest and head a little way as you come into a wee backbend (with a comfortable back and neck).

You may notice the elbows moving away from your sides – if so the internal rotators are taking over!

To strengthen the external rotators keep the elbows close to your trunk.

And remember to drop the shoulders away from the ears.

Perhaps come up a little higher – though usually you don’t need to come up very far to strengthen the external rotators.

Either hold up for up to 10 breaths or come up and down 10 times.

Notice how this also opens the chest and heart.

Practice every 2-3 days to maintain strength and to support the rotator cuff.

This movement is usually ok for people with a rotator cuff injury but do not do it if it causes pain.

For more ways to explore asanas to stretch, strengthen and relax with yoga, Karen’s yoga classes are available.

Keep an eye out for our workshops and events throughout each calendar year to learn more about these beautiful yoga movements to keep your body strong and healthy.