“If you get tired, learn to rest and not to quit.” -Banksy
Sometimes we feel uncomfortable if we aren’t striving to achieve some kind of goal. From a young age, we are taught to continuously plan, work hard, and fill our calendars with obligations that keep us busy and distracted. We are conditioned to believe we must be the best at what we do and keep our energy up at all times. We aim for perfection and want to be part of anything interesting that is happening. This reality is all too common nowadays.
We subconsciously believe we must become someone or something until we can afford to take a break. In Yoga philosophy, the word that describes this quality of energy is Rajas [Ruhj-uhs].
Rajas represents energy in the form of movement, force, and overcoming inertia. It is necessary to get projects of any kind started, and it motivates us to take action in the direction of our goals. Without it, we would cease to get anything done, let alone exist. In the extreme, Rajas energy manifests as overworking, aggression, competition, impatience, and restlessness.
Rajas and Its Consequences
Constantly exerting energy has its price overtime. If we don’t learn when to pause, we run the risk of experiencing burnout.
Burnout is best described as a period of depression, lethargy, or exhaustion brought on by doing too many activities that are draining in the long-run.
It can occur if we keep pushing to make something happen, until eventually we no longer have energy and end up quitting, instead of taking a break. In another example, we may try to be everything to everyone at all times until we break down and lose interest in people or relationships altogether.
In Yoga philosophy, the Sanskrit word Tamas [Tuhm-uhs] describes an attribute of physicality, heaviness, or inertia, opposite of Rajas. It allows us to ground our energy and live in our physical bodies, but taken to extremes may manifest as depression, sluggishness, procrastination, and addiction. Tamas is the quality that gives form to all existence. This encourages relaxation, sleep, and enjoyment of the physical body.
Tamas and Rajas, A Balancing Act
These modalities, Tamas and Rajas, both serve a purpose and are present in all living beings at all times. Problems arise when we swing back and forth from one extreme to the other, without a center. For example, we may work 12-hour shifts for 4 straight days, relying upon stimulants and caffeine to power-through, only to crash as soon as the workweek is over. We then oversleep, overeat, watch too much television, or indulge in drugs or alcohol to forget things we don’t want to think about. We reach for whatever feels good at the moment; we’ve “earned it” after all.
Over time, this leads to the dullness of the mind and feeling “stuck” in life. We feel as if we cannot accomplish personal goals, so we give up easily and settle for less than we deserve. This is the negative expression of Tamas. This is burnout.
Pause, Sattva, and Self-Awareness
We can quickly burn out if we don’t learn when and how to pause. Pausing enables us to reclaim our center. In Sanskrit, Sattva [Suht-vuh] is used to describe a state of harmony, balance, joy, and intelligence. This quality most resembles clarity of mind, the ability to discern the true nature of all things. This is the third and final modality, the central point between Rajas and Tamas.
It is present in our minds and bodies always, but we must consciously harness it.
Sattva is self-awareness. It is associated with mental calmness, equilibrium, understanding, and respect for all beings. This quality is the final goal of Yoga practice and manifests as living in accordance with one’s spiritual nature & highest good. Other attributes include wellness, freedom, balance, love, friendliness, gratitude, fearlessness, and selflessness.
We use Rajas to get things started, and Tamas to bring things to completion. Sattva allows us to know what action to take, as well as discern when to stop. Without it, we would either burn ourselves to the ground or let fear get the best of us. Anytime we are stressed and choose to pause instead of giving up, we are honoring the wisdom of Sattva in our beings. We can cultivate more of this quality by developing and practicing mindfulness.
May our actions be smarter than our habits.
Powerful Practices To Increase Sattva:
1. Reading is enlightening and illuminating. I find reading to be simultaneously relaxing and stimulating. Books that discuss spiritual or philosophical principles are especially Sattvic, but any sort of reading & gathering reliable information is encouraged. Looking at art is educational and elevates consciousness as well.
2. Gratitude is practiced differently by various people. Whether it is writing in a gratitude journal, saying prayers of thanks to a higher power, or just feeling genuine appreciation every time you eat a meal or see a loved one, gratitude has many benefits.
3. Yoga is first and foremost an inward practice. There is no “right” way to do Yoga, except to do it for yourself. The idea is to prepare the restless mind for meditation by training it to observe the breath and body. Lying on your back in Corpse Pose counts as Yoga. Whenever I am stressed, I practice yoga to give myself a kind pause from daily life. I always feel better afterwards.
4. Meditation seems hard to most people, but it doesn’t have to be. Sitting still for a while may be uncomfortable, but devoting even 5 minutes a day to meditation has its benefits. It has been scientifically proven that meditation gives our minds a chance to reset, improving the ability to focus on tasks later on. To meditate, set a timer for 5 minutes, and just allow yourself to observe your breath and any thoughts that arise. When painful thoughts come, acknowledge them without holding on. Let them go and continue observing your breath and body.
If you are interested in building a meditation practice and would like some guidance, check out The Love Yourself Foundation’s meditation series, A Moment of Mindfulness on our Instagram page here. Whether you are a beginner or seasoned practitioner, we are here to help at all stages of your journey.
5. Service is anything done without the expectation of something in return. It may be enjoyable, even if it does not directly benefit us. We may not gain anything tangible in the moment, but we experience greater satisfaction in the long run. Service connects us to something bigger than ourselves. Like Yoga and Meditation, it doesn’t have to be performed a certain way. It gives us an opportunity to pause from our ego-driven goals to help someone or something else.
6. Journaling is a truly healing practice. Honest, heartfelt journaling sheds so much light on deeply held emotions and habitual thoughts. Take a pen and bare your soul. Kelly Bennett offers excellent tips for gratitude journaling in this post.
7. Spending time in Nature is grounding and nurturing. Mother Nature provides us all with the unconditional love and energy that we need to recharge our batteries from time to time.
Anything that allows you to pause and be fully present is Sattvic in nature. This could include spending time with a loved one, participating in a beloved hobby, or even savoring a home-cooked meal. It is not what we do, but how we do things that affect our well-being in the long run.
When you do something, are you able to focus completely on the task at hand, or do you try to do multiple things at once? Are you generally disinterested in what is going on around you, or can you be mindful and attentive?
Next time you feel off physically or mentally, allow yourself to pause. Ask yourself whether you are doing something strictly with the end result in mind, or because it is personally meaningful. Seek out activities that encourage you to be fully present in mind, body, and soul.
About the Author
Renee Williamson is a Blog Writer for The Love Yourself Foundation. She is a New Orleans native who currently resides in Austin, TX and works in Green Construction. She has a degree in Psychology and has studied and taught Yoga for the past 2 years. Renee enjoys traveling, hiking, dancing, cooking, reading, watching movies, and going to live performances of any kind. She believes nature is medicine and that respect for Mother Earth fosters self-respect and love for all beings.