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Harmony Amid the Extremes: Understanding the 20 Gunas Ayurveda

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

In the wake of the massive systemic shifts that occurred this year, I’ve been reflecting on the relationship between opposition and balance. As leaders in our own regard, I know that balance can be hard to come by these days. However, I wonder if we can examine opposition and see it as an opportunity for balance rather than a barrier to overcome.

Today I want to focus on Ayurveda as one of my core practices to maintain internal equilibrium. In the Vedic texts we learn about the three doshas also known as the Ayurveda body types; Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These energetic states exist in unique combinations within all of us.

When getting to know the Ayurveda body types and how they impact our health, I’ve found it imperative to investigate the 20 Gunas Ayurveda. As with the doshas, the gunas (or qualities) occur in nature and exist within all of us. They are made up of 10 opposing pairs.

Understanding the 20 Gunas Ayurveda

Get to Know the 10 Opposing Pairs of 20 Gunas Ayurveda

When in harmony, the 20 Gunas Ayurveda create balance. In excess, they begin to generate dis-ease in the body. By getting to know the 10 opposing pairs of gunas, you will gain an understanding of which qualities affect you most and how to bring your body and mind back to a state of equilibrium.

Guru and Laghu: Heavy and Light

Knowing when to embrace heaviness or lightness can help us achieve balance in a variety of situations. The earth and water driven guru, for example, represents nourishment and staying grounded. If you already have the Kapha body type, try not to eat an excess of heavy foods like dairy and meat. Grounded energy quickly translates to exhaustion or sluggishness in excess.

Air rules the quick and alert laghu quality. If you have a lot of Vata or Pitta attributes, consider eating hearty foods. When your physical body or thoughts lack weight you may notice a lighter nature that can create anxiousness within.

Manda and Tikşņa: Dull and Sharp

When you think of manda and tikşņa, think more in terms of movement. Quick moving air and ether rule the Vata dosha and the tikşņa guna. While an excellent quality for productivity, tikşņa in excess causes stress and anxiety. Eating a lot of acidic foods when embracing tikşņa can contribute to stomach issues like ulcers and acid reflux.

The earthy, grounded manda quality encourages you to take it slow. Rich and fatty foods induce this quality. While slowing down fosters the calm and peace we need sometimes, try not to get too caught up in the feeling. Slowness can quickly transform into a lack of motivation.

Sīta and Uşņa: Cold and Hot

I associate sīta and uşņa with gratitude. When the temperature rises, you feel grateful for a cold breeze. When you’re freezing, you languish in the feeling of a warm cup of coffee. Uşņa rules the Pitta dosha with its heat. Someone with a Pitta constitution may consider moderating the amount of spicy foods they consume. Too much heat causes irritability.

Sīta, also known as Hima, represents cold substances. Driven by the Vata dosha, people of this Ayurveda body type may have less tolerance for cold climates. Warming foods and environments will balance out the cold for the Vata dosha.

Understanding the 20 Gunas Ayurveda

Snighda and Rūkşa: Oily and Dry

The unctuous, oily quality of snighda brings about relaxation while the dry quality of rūkşa sparks flames. These two need each other for balance. Snigdha, the oily property of matter, tends to increase Kapha and Pitta. Rūkşa will increase Vata and decrease Kapha and Pitta.

If you are feeling a sense of loneliness and aggravation, you may be experiencing an excess of rūkşa. Try connecting back to the fluidity and ease of snighda.

Ślakşņa and Khara: Smooth and Rough

Much like the earth itself, we are made of both smooth and rough qualities. In many ways, these two need each other to survive. Ślakşņa’s smooth quality promotes ease and flexibility while Khara’s rough texture acts as protection against danger.

Khara increases Vata and decreases Pitta and Kapha. If your Ayurveda body type reflects more Pitta or Kapha, you might consider eating raw vegetables as they possess khara qualities. Conversely, if your constitution reflects Vata, eating foods with smoother properties like avocados will help you feel your healthiest.

Sāndra and Drava: Solid and Liquid

Sāndra and drava are all about knowing when to confront a situation with hard muscle and when to flow through with liquid ease. The water and earth driven sāndra represents density and strength while the fire and water driven drava constitutes liquidity.

If you possess a lot of earthy Kapha qualities, take a moment to drink extra water and stretch. These simple actions will bring you that drava that you may be missing. For the Vata and Pitta Ayurveda body types, the grounded energy of sāndra promotes focus. Dense foods like meat and cheese help activate that quality.

Mrda and Kațhina: Soft and Hard

When you move through your life with both the softness of love and the rigidity of strength or boundaries, you will achieve your goals in a balanced, healthy manner. You can use your intuition to know when to access mrda, the soft quality, and kațhina, the hard quality. Some doshas may be more prone to one or the other, so it is important to examine your Ayurvedic body type.

Mrda calms Vata with its softness and delicacy while increasing Kapha. Kațhina’s rougher edges can build tension and anger. It is important to know when to rest your sense of strength.

Sthira and Cala: Static and Mobile

When your life revolves around constant motion, you quickly burn out. If your comfort zone remains safe and still in one place, you may miss exciting opportunities. Sthira (static energy) and Cala (energy in motion) fluctuate as we age. Both contribute to our sense of well being and happiness.

The stable sthira supports Kapha’s grounded, earthy energy while placating the cala qualities of Pitta and Vata. Activities like meditating or stretching will induce sthira. Cala gets your heart rate going. It activates Pitta and Vata energy. If you want to increase your inner cala, go for a jog or take an online Zumba class.

Understanding the 20 Gunas Ayurveda
Rawpixel Ltd, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sthūla and Sūkşma: Big/Gross and Subtle

The sthūla and sūkşma gunas remind me of different kinds of fine art. A subtle, floral Matisse painting has a gentle quality while the loud, colorful qualities of pop art make a bold statement.

Sthūla qualities are often associated with a kind of spaciness or airiness. Drugs and herbs tend to induce this quality. Conversely, sūkşma tends to be compared to blockages or heavy foods. A Pitta or Kapha could stand to embrace some extra sthūla relaxation while a Vata may need some grounding in the sūkşma guna.

Picchila and Viśadā: Cloudy and Clear

Sometimes we need a strong sense of clarity to see the answers we seek. Sometimes we need to embrace a sense of cloudiness and know that not every situation has a clear cut solution. Picchila and viśadā tell us that some things are simple and some are not. Knowing the difference will elicit great peace of mind.

Picchila promotes cloudiness. If you are a direct Kapha or Pitta, you may need to get comfortable with not having all the answers at your fingertips. If you are an airy Vata, you may need some clarity. The viśadā will help you access your internal compass.

Final Thoughts: Embrace Duality

As you get to know your Ayurvedic body types and the gunas that have the most powerful effects on your health, I invite you to embrace duality. Sometimes opposition elicits doubts or fears. Ayurveda teaches us that duality exists in every part of our being. The sooner we embrace opposition, the sooner we learn what we need to achieve a sense of balance.

If you’re interested in learning more about the doshas, check out our recent blog post, The Three Ayurvedic Doshas: Are You Vata, Pitta or Kapha? During challenging times, it can feel hard to stay accountable to our goals and dreams, but don't give up. The world is counting on you and you owe it to yourself to thrive. Click this link to jump on my calendar and schedule your free 20 minute mini-breakthrough session!

Understanding the 20 Gunas Ayurveda


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