Introduction to the 20 Ayurvedic Gunas

Have you noticed that on a cold and windy day a cup of warm soup nourishes you? Think of a hot summer day when a non-spicy meal feels good in your belly. Why do sun salutations feel energizing from late winter to early spring? Ayurveda identifies twenty qualities ( Ayurvedic gunas) that can be used to describe every substance or experience.

These qualities are organized into the ten pairs of opposites. There are gunas associated with each element, dosha, symptom, food, yoga pose, mood, etc. They are extremely important because the foundation of ayurvedic treatment is to identify the out-of-balance guna and apply its opposite.

What is guna?

The gunas are the specific qualities of all things that are made of matter—including us. The word Guna means “quality.” Within our bodies, the environment, our minds, food and drink, and anything else in existence, we notice different qualities that work together to create the action of a substance. These are the 20 gunas in 10 pairs of opposite qualities that are used to describe different substances:

Heavy – Light
Slow – Sharp
Cold – Hot
Oily – Dry
Smooth – Rough
Dense – Liquid

Soft – Hard
Static – Mobile
Gross – Subtle
Cloudy – Clear

Guru – Laghu
Manda – Tikshna
Hima\Sheeta – Ushna
Snigdha\Sneha – Ruksha

Slakshna – khara
Sandra – Drava
Mridu – Kathina
Chala – Sthira
Sthula – Sukshma
Pichchila -Vishada

Breaking down Ayurvedic gunas

The gunas are an incredible tool for the assessment of all things energetic, as well as emotional patterns, mental habits, and physical symptoms. They are also related to the qualities of our foods, plants, herbs, minerals, vitamins, and biochemistry.

Let’s say milk. Milk is pichchila, snigdha, drava, and guru. This means milk is cloudy (not clear), unctuous, liquid, and heavy. In accordance to doshas, it will be harder to digest as it is Guru (heavy), will help peristaltic motion as it is snigdha (oily), and so on. Milk has “cooling” quality, so its action reduces burning quality of Pitta.

Why Ayurvedic gunas matter!

The gunas are essential to understanding the Ayurvedic principle that like increases like and that opposites balance. When any one of the doshas is aggravated, we can generally return to balance by reducing the influence of that dosha’s qualities, while favoring opposite qualities.

Here’s a simple example: if a person has high pitta and is prone to classic pitta imbalances like heartburn or acid reflux, we will conclude he/she has too much of the “hot” ushna guna circulating in the body. In order to treat “hot”, we would employ the “cold” sheeta guna and give foods, herbs, yoga poses, breath and/or lifestyle habits to cool the excess heat. Things like aloe vera, amalaki, mint tea, coconut, grapes, shitali pranayama and trikonasana.

Final thoughts:

The Ayurvedic gunas allow us to track our emotional and physical symptoms and the specific ways they affect us by witnessing whether they are sharp, soft, dry, wet, mobile, oily, dense, light, and so on. They are ways of seeing what has come into fruition in our beings so that we can understand ourselves and our needs more completely.

Want to learn about Ayurvedic gunas and the most prominent ones impacting your dosha type? Contact me

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained ayurvedic coach, contact me here.