Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Sattva: Optimizing Our Light
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Penetrating Light/Tetsuko, 2011
YOGA PHILOSOPHY, drawing from the Bhagavad-Gita [Ch. XIV], describes the three qualities of nature—the gunas—that one aspires to engage to bring life into balance. In human life, these qualities reference mental states. The tamas reference qualities such as inertia, heaviness, indifference, lethargy; the rajas reference motion, frenetic activity, heat, aspirations toward gain, intensity, and stimulation; and sattva [sometimes transliterated as “sattwa”] is associated with terms such as light, illumination, purity, clarity, freshness, peace, and joy.
When natural life seems to be missing something, a strong aspect of that which is missing is a sense of balance between these dimensions. In the fast pace of modern life, we may tend to stimulate ourselves until we sink into lethargy to recover. Squeezing time for yoga, our yoga practice may be dominated by a need to “work out” with the limited time available, and come to reflect this modern cycle. The consequence of this practice is a life that teeter-totters between high activity and lethargy, rarely engaging clarity and peace. And rarely engaging in clarity and peace, more subtle dimensions of life such as eloquence and grace may go largely unexpressed.
Seemingly the quality to be after, exclusive emphasis upon sattva can isolate a person from everyday life, and possibly be motivated by a desire to escape rather than engage life. It can also be disorienting and “spacey.” But when grounded in both action and rest, strong efforts to engage sattva may bring awareness rather than disorientation, insight, and kindness.
Restorative yoga and yin yoga provides a relaxing desensitization from the distractive draw of high paced action. The practices provide rest while offering “intensity” from both longer duration of poses and intentional efforts to deepen relaxation. In this ground of “active relaxation,” there is time for sattva. In this quiet intensity, there is a unique opportunity for deepened awareness of dimensions of life for which there never seems to be enough time.
By regular returns to restorative and yin practice, as self-regulation of body reactivity comes into body memory, the capacity to extend sattva into everyday life might be increased to balance the teeter-totter between inertia and intensity. In everyday life, this might offer an improved capacity to make clear practical decisions as well as very realistic, strong moments of touching a sense of light, wherein grounded experiences such as a flower or a smile or the fall of a leaf or of rain or of snow again become meaningful, full of grace, and inseparable.