Tamas is one of the three gunas—the main energetic constituents of the cosmos. The gunas are in a constant flux and they affect everything around us—energy, matter, and consciousness. Tamas is the energy of darkness, inertia, inactivity, and materiality. When in excess, tamas creates ignorance, delusion, and suffering. Fortunately, tamas guna can be reduced and balanced through some simple changes to your yoga practice, meditation, diet, and lifestyle.
Usually, one of the three gunas predominates, but to lead a happy, healthy, prosperous and productive life, we need a balance of all three gunas. The specific amount of each of the three gunas a person needs is based on environment, type of work performed, physical constitution and spiritual goals. For example, a higher amount of tamasic energy would be helpful for people who perform heavy physical labor, yogis needing a more grounded practice or people who live in colder climates.
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Having too much tamas can lead to laziness, apathy, insensitivity, depression, and feelings of darkness, grief, helplessness or loneliness. It can be very challenging to move away from tamas as it creates a very heavy, binding and stuck feeling. This guna also veils our true nature and strengthens the ego making it difficult to transcend towards the higher state of sattva guna.
Yoga practitioners have a wide range of tools to reduce and balance tamas—but don’t try to do everything at once! To begin to shift tamas, make one or two daily changes and take note of their effects after a few days. Notice which ideas you have the strongest reaction or resistance towards. These will most likely have the strongest effect on shifting you away from tamas guna. Experiment and adjust your approach to reducing and balancing tamas as necessary.
Asana adjustments to reduce tamas
Establishing a daily asana practice will be very effective at reducing tamas, but you’ll need to hold the poses for less time and practice more vinyasa and sun salutation type sequences. Practicing backbends and balancing poses will be energizing and invigorating. Minimize forward bends and shorten your shavasana for the greatest effect at reducing tamas guna.
Add pranayama for power and balance
Clear out the stagnant energy of tamas by adding several minutes of invigorating and energizing pranayama to your practice. To balance mild amounts of tamas, practice nadi sodhana, for moderate amounts practice kapalabhati and for high amounts of tamas, practice (with caution) bhastrika pranayama.
Link your meditation with movement
The stillness of seated meditation can increase tamas. Minimize your meditation time or practice a more active or movement based meditation. Experiment with walking meditation, dynamic meditation and chanting/kirtan to help balance tamas guna.
Lifestyle tweaks for tamas
Avoid over-sleeping and instead, increase your overall physical and mental activity. Try to wake up earlier in the day, get out of the house, seek out adventure and put yourself in stimulating environments. Avoid watching TV, inactivity, passivity and fearful situations. Seek out dry and brightly lit environments and surround yourself with good people and community.
Change your diet to decrease tamas
Adjusting your diet will have the most powerful effect on balancing tamas guna. Refrain from overeating and try to consume a light diet with as many fresh vegetables as possible. Avoid all foods that make you feel heavy such as red meat, simple carbohydrates, fats, and root vegetables. Avoid foods that are difficult to digest, fermented, preserved, spoiled, chemically treated, over-processed or refined. Minimize drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and other stimulants.
As you move away from tamas it is important not to move too far towards a state of rajas guna. As you feel the effects of tamas become minimized, shift your focus towards cultivating the energy of sattva guna. While it may take a tremendous amount of will-power to move away from the heavy, dark and stagnant power of tamas guna, you will be rewarded with a more happy, healthy, prosperous and productive life.