Trikkonasana and the Gunas


amidst the craziness of the storm and all this weekend, i did manage to get a little relaxation in. i did a little yoga in my house today cause the trains are down and my studio is closed, but really all i wanted was a little trikonasana to open my hips. Then i got out my new book and read up on some background to the pose(thankyou Alanna Kaivalya). Trikonasana or triangle pose is one of my favorites. The three angles of a triangle make it one of the strongest and most stable shapes in nature. In triangle pose, there are three triangle shapes made with the body. One with our legs and the floor, a second one underneath the side of the body with the arm and the front leg, and the third connection the top hand and two feet. The triangle pose represents many sacred trinities in our world, such as the trinity of earth, space, and heavens or that of birth, life and death. Trikonasana also symbolises the three gunas, or qualities, that compose our bodies and minds.

Understanding the gunas enhances our comprehension of our yoga practice and allows us navigate the world around us better, as they affect everything in the universe. Tamas guna, which arises from Shiva, is the quality of inertia or unconsciousness. It causes indifference and can have a destructive energy. Rajas guna which comes from the Brahma, is the quality of passion and creativity, which provides the creative energy we need for manifesting things. Sattva guna, from Vishnu, is the quality of lightness and consciousness, which is necessary to sustain harmonious living and maintain our enlightened awareness. These gunas come together to create maya, the world of illusion that we experience through our senses.

The gunas color every aspect of our existence. When we are feeling slow and sluggish, and its hard to get out of bed, we are under the influence of the tamas guna. When we are very exited about something, to the point of distraction, we are under the influence of rajas guna. And when we are feeling our yoga buzz, we re under the influence of sattva guna. To help us understand the gunas, yoga philosophy compares them to animals. The sloth corresponds to tamas, because it moves so slowly that moss grows on its back. The bull is like the rajas guna because it paws at the ground and snorts. The cow resembles sattva guna because of its peaceful nature.

One of the aims of the yoga practice is to invite as much clarity(sattva) into our lives as possible, while avoiding ignorance(tamas) and agitation(rajas). Tamas and rajas are not inherently bad, though. We need some tamas to fall asleep, and we need some rajas to get us going. It is only when we have too much of either that they prevent from reaching a more noble and harmonious state of being.

The practice of yoga aims to reach the state of elevated consciousness called suddha sattva, or pure goodness, in which all dualites are united in absolute harmony. To reach this goal, a yogi must get beyond even sattva guna because it still binds the soul to material existence in a subtle way. Sattva remains connected to the ego and therefore perpetuates a false sense of self. For example, engaging in acts of charity is a sattvic activity, yet it usually reinforces the ego in a subtle way. While we might feel good about ourselves for having given some money to a good cause, in a suddha sattvic state of mind we give purely because of our gratitude for having received, with the full understanding that nothing really belongs to us in the first place. Only when we break through the veil of maya do we reside solely in our divine nature. So when performing trikonnasana, its helpful to meditate on the solid foundation that we need in order to live a sattvic life and leave the world of maya behind.