Gunas – the Qualities of Nature

My apologies for being long overdue with this post… life has been busy. Now that I am in Roatan for a the week, there is a little more space and so i am happy to sit down and share some great information about Ayurveda with you.

It came to me as I was walking around West End Roatan… how Roatan has different qualities than Kingston Ontario Canada right now – it’s warm and moist, versus the cold and dry we left behind. I was noticing the effects of these environmental changes on my body-mind, and i smiled on the inside at the brilliance of the Ayurvedic approach. 

In Ayurveda everything in the world of form (prakriti) is described by its qualities, known as gunas in sanskrit. The gunas exist in 10 pairs of opposites, with each pair describing a spectrum or a range. Here is the list of qualities, and the spectrum they are found on: 




Building, nourishing, promoting

Reducing, lightening



Heavy (Guru)

Light (Laghu)



Slow or Dull (Manda)

Sharp or Penetrating (Tikshna)



Cold (Hima or Shita)

Hot (Ushna)



Oily or Unctuous (Snigdha or Sneha)

Dry (Ruksha)



Smooth (Shlakshna)

Rough (Khara)



Dense or Thick or Solid (Sandra)

Liquid (Drava)



Soft (Mridu)

Hard (Kathina)



Stable or Steady (Sthirah)

Mobile or Unstable (Chala)



Gross or Big or Obvious (Sthula)

Subtle (Sukshma)



Cloudy or Slimy or Sticky (Picchila)

Clear (Vishada)




Fleshy smelling (Vishram)




Spreading (Sara)

 The last two are what I call “bonus gunas” because they are specific qualities that aren’t discussed in terms of opposites, which makes them unique. We’ll talk more about those in a later post 😉

The really neat thing about these gunas, is that as you learn the pairs of opposites, it gives you something to work with in terms of finding balance. 

In ayurveda there are two important guiding principles. The first is 

Like increases Like 

and the second is 

Opposites Balance

Knowing these principles and the pairs of opposites gives you a simple way to begin harmonizing and balancing your body-mind and life! 

For example, on the spectrum of temperature if I notice that I am too cold, then I need to apply the opposite of heat in order to balance – maybe it’s by putting on a sweater or by drinking some hot tea. It’s very simple, yet very effective.

The part of this that has taken me a while is figuring out the qualities of foods in particular. Food is a pillar of the ayurvedic system. They recognize the importance of food for health, and advocate eating appropriately for one’s personal constitution, which is based on the qualities found in you (your constitution) and the qualities found in the food.

For example, in my body corn, rye and millet are very drying, and so I cannot eat them in excess (or at all) without adding oil (in the form of oil, ghee or nut butters – which are oily in nature) in order not to aggravate the level of dryness in my body.

Noticing the effects of our environment (food, media, cleaning products) in order to determine the qualities is something that can take time, and yet is a very worth while exploration!

There are lots of books on Ayurveda that can point you in the direction of this information and help guide your inquiries, however it doesn’t matter what the books say, it matters what you notice in your body-mind as truth for you. My favorite example is triphala tea. So many of the Ayurveda books I have expound the benefits of Triphala tea as the best tea for digestion and elimination. My elimination was good, however I thought I’d try triphala tea – since there was so much hype, I just had to get in on that. Everytime I drank it, I was unable to eliminate (read “was unable to poop”) the next day. As soon as I would forget to take it, I could eliminate fine. Moral of the story: Triphala works great for those without excessive dryness as an eliminatory aid. I happen to have excessive dryness, and so triphala aggravated that for me. Lesson learned!

Enjoy your gunas 🙂 




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