Which finger and Why? a little more on the 3 gunas
Which finger? Where? And why? – The 3 Gunas
Why do you create a mudra with your hands at the beginning and the end of your yoga practice ? Have you ever wondered what the meaning is and why you're doing it? The most commonly used ones are chin mudra, with the thumb and first finger together uniting your inner and outer energy, or inner and outer consciousness, the three extended fingers represent the movements of the mind (gunas), all three of which are present all the time in different levels. Tamas, Rajas and Sattva. For yoga practitioners, awareness of the gunas tells us whether we are genuinely moving forward in life (sattva), running in place (rajas), or losing our way (tamas).
Atmanjali mudras is with our hands pressed together in a prayer position and can also be referred to as Anjali Mudra. Anjali itself means "offering," and in India this mudra is often accompanied by the word "namaste" (or "namaskar," depending on the region). As the consummate Indian greeting, like a sacred hello, namaste is often translated as "I bow to the light within you from the light within me." This salutation is at the essence of the yogic practice of seeing the Divine within all of creation. Hence, this gesture is offered equally to temple deities, teachers, family, friends, strangers, and before sacred rivers and trees.
Anjali mudra is used as a posture of composure, of returning to one's heart, whether you are greeting someone or saying goodbye, initiating or completing an action. As you bring your hands together at your centre, you are literally connecting the right and left hemispheres of your brain. This is the yogic process of unification, the yoking of our active and receptive natures. In the yogic view of the body, the energetic or spiritual heart is visualised as a lotus at the center of the chest. Anjali mudra nourishes this lotus heart with awareness, gently encouraging it to open as water and light do a flower.
So now you can choose which hand mudras you would prefer to start and finish your practice with ;)
If your curious about the Gunas, here is a little more about these fundamental forces of nature, The word guna literally means “strand” or “fiber” and implies that, like threads, the gunas are woven together to form the objective universe and each one has it’s own characteristics.
Here is a link to a questionnaire to help you determine which guna is most predominate in you at the moment:
Sattva is to act like a transparent pane of glass, allowing light—the light of conscious awareness—to reveal itself in the operations of the mind and in nature. Sattva is not enlightenment itself but it unveils what is true and real (sat). It shows itself as beauty, balance, and inspiration, and it promotes life, energy, health, and contentment. Cultivating sattva—by making choices in life that elevate awareness and foster unselfish joy—is a principal goal of yoga.
Rajas is the energy of change. It is distinguished by passion, desire, effort, and pain. Its activity may cause movement either toward sattva (increased spiritual understanding) or tamas (increased ignorance) therefore, it is most often characterized as unsteady, agitated, and unhappy—prompting change for change’s sake alone. If freshly picked tomatoes are sattvic, spicy tomato sauce is rajasic—good for a Friday night pizza, but perhaps not everyday. Rajas brings happiness by prompting the joining of the senses with their objects. It binds us to attachment, to the fruits of action, and to sensory pleasures of every kind.
Tamas conceals the presence of consciousness. It causes dullness and ignorance through its power to obscure. Its nature is heavy and dense. Tamas can supply a steadying influence in life—for example, bed rest can lead to healing. But tamas is primarily immobilizing: tamasic foods are lifeless, stale, or impure; tamasic entertainment is mindless and intoxicating. Each of us has experienced the binding power of tamas—the appeal of lethargy, procrastination, and sleep.
These three forces are constantly interacting with one another. It’s cool that they are even in the English language “innocent pleasure” (sattva-infused rajas) or “rabid addiction” (rajas-propelled tamas).
Feeling the Gunas at play
You can totally feel the essence of these three during class, think of when you are in a class doing janu shirshasana, head-to-knee pose, without a lot of mindfulness. As you fold halfheartedly toward your extended leg, your back rounds, your shoulders hunch, and your foot collapses to the side. Your head falls forward and your mind sinks off into daydream land, you could be taking a nap. This is tamas—a sense of lethargy and inattentiveness.
Compare this to another occasion when, determined not to be outdone by the person next to you, you find yourself making tenacious efforts in your pose. You struggle, painfully, to lengthen the back of your leg, but consequently round your shoulders as you strain to touch your toes. Meanwhile, preoccupied with the painful end of a romantic relationship, you fantasize about meeting the person three mats down. This is rajas—a generous serving of agitation, exertion, competitiveness, pain, and enticement.
Yet, on still another day, your pose unfolds differently. The class is smaller and you are in a calm mood. Your attention shifts inwardly from one element of the pose to another, and you find yourself working a challenging but safe edge. Longer, more stable holds in the posture yield a subtle awareness of breathing. And while much of what you are doing in the pose is invisible to those around you, your mind is pleased and relaxed by your inner efforts. This is sattva—clarity, mindfulness, and a spontaneous sense of contentment.
Not only is this a cool insight to your practice but you can also use these same principles of self-observation into daily life.
Also they exisit and fluctuate mostly outside of our conscious awareness you can start to notice when they appear, (the rajasic display at the checkout counter, the sattvic sounds of a Mozart sonata).
I invite you to observe your own sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic tendencies.
And begin to see how you could encourage more sattva, try and soften the rajasic urges and use tamas to your advantage cultivating rest and stability.
If this has wet your appetite to know more here are a few connections that can be found in the Bhagavad Gita on The Gunas in Life:
Where Krishna dramatically summarizes the scope of the gunas’ activities:
There is nothing on the earth, in heaven, or even among the gods, that is free from these prakriti-born gunas.
But if the gunas are so pervasive, how are we to work with them? Krishna’s advice is to sharpen our powers of self-observation and discernment. His recurring message is that with practice and the right resolve, we can learn to witness the activities of the gunas and employ them with a sense of balance and purpose.
To make this process more visible, Krishna contrasts the look and feel of the three gunas in a variety of contexts. For example, he notes that:
The food you eat may(17.8–10):
Taste good and promote health,
strength, and a pleasant mind (sattva)
Be oversalted, highly spiced, and
cause illness and depression (rajas)
Be stale, unwanted by others, and not
fit as an offering (tamas)
The gifts you offer to others may be(17.20–22):
Given at the right time, with nothing
expected in return (sattva)
Given reluctantly, or with the aim of
gaining a returned favor (rajas)
Given at an inappropriate time or
place, with disrespect or contempt (tamas)
The steadfastness with which you approach your spiritual path may(18.33–35):
Help you bring your mind, breath,
and senses into harmony (sattva)
Depend on your acquiring something
you want (rajas)
Preoccupy you with fears, grief, and
excessive sleep (tamas)
Your happiness may(18.37–39):
Arise from inner discrimination and
increase over time (sattva)
Be overly sensual; sweet in the beginning,
poisonous in the end (rajas)
Arise from sleep, lethargy, and negligence (tamas)
The gunas act as signposts—guides that indicate where you are and where you are inspired to be.
When the seer observes
no agents of action (no “doer”)
other than the gunas,
and knows the transcendent
beyond the gunas,
such a one attains My being.
The body-bearer, transcending
these three gunas
which create the body,
freed from the sorrows of birth,
old age, and death,
English translations of the Bhagavad Gita