The Mahābhārata is the longest known epic poem, quite accurately described as “the longest poem ever written.” At about 1.8 million total words, the Mahābhārata is roughly 10 times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. As the sixth book of the Mahābhārata, the Bhagavad Gita makes up just a fraction of this, and I spent seven days toiling over its lessons during a recent yoga teacher training module (virtually, of course).
Here’s a quick history of the illustrious script from a 30,000-foot level: Bhagavad Gita translates to Song of God.
The storyline is a conversation between protagonist Arjuna and the god Krishna on a battlefield. Krishna represents The Divine, or God, and Arjuna, as a warrior, represents mankind.
Despite the generational gap between its date of composition (approximately 500-200 BCE) and now, the Bhagavad Gita is intertwined deeply with modern yoga. Perhaps it’s maintained its significance because the subject matter is still relevant today. A human experiencing a deep, existential crisis? Something I experience daily, to my chagrin.
Throughout the 18 chapters, the discussion canvases spiritual topics about our dharmic path (our purpose), how to live our best life, the nature and secrets of the universe — not exactly content for the easiest afternoon read but enlightening nonetheless.
Within the pages of the Bhagavad Gita is mention of the three gunas, or “modes of existence.” These are the three basic energetic qualities that exist in all things, including us. If you feel lost or confused reading this, welcome to my life. During this course I also learned that a human mind needs to hear, read or write information an average of eight times before fully comprehending the subject matter. Learning this fact made me feel better about an emotional meltdown in a previous Ayurvedic teacher training module (sorry, Amani, and thank you for your patience with me).
Sattva is one of the three gunas and represents the quality of balance — the middle ground between being overcharged and empty. If this sounds like the overarching goal of yoga, you are correct. The original intention of yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras (a collection of “rules” often viewed as the authentic yogic guide) was to enhance the quality of sattva — a calm yet alert state of mind.
Sattva should not be confused with enlightenment but unveils what is true while dispelling illusions. It manifests as beauty in the world, a healthy mind and body, and feelings of peace that reverberate through the soul. How lovely!
That was it. A moment of unfettered clarity, like the sun reclaiming its brilliance after days of drizzle and doom.
A sense of peace, in so many forms, is what we’re searching for. If sattva can be cultivated by making life choices that elevate awareness, encourage love, and foster a sense of contentment, why has this not been my teaching focus?
Why has it taken me so long to understand the message behind the concept? Lastly, I wonder, have I discovered my teaching dharma?
Upon completion of the course, I took my learnings to the yoga mat and crafted a meditation around the theory that sattva is a principal goal of yoga that we often forget or get distracted from. How easily our minds slip into planning mode, or perhaps even worse; rumination. The repetitious strand of thoughts that play like a song I can’t shake. (I’m rolling my eyes as I write this because the 4 a.m. thought cycle is a drama I know by heart).
With reverence to the times, tending to our own seeds of sattva (that perhaps lie dormant within each of us), couldn’t be more timely. While we navigate an unfamiliar world stained by the harsh realities of a pandemic paired with white supremacy, I like to remind myself that kindness is contagious and that sattva is associated with benevolence.
You know that feeling you get when you do something nice for someone? It actually has a name: moral elevation.
And studies show that after someone experiences this feeling, they in turn become more altruistic and helpful. Hence the phrase “kindness is contagious.”
But how can we take our sattvic practice off the mat and into the world?
Be intentional with your words and actions, and really put them into practice, (remember, like everything in yoga, it’s called practice for a reason), such as non-violence, being truthful and steadfast, being of service without reaping reward. All of these practices manifest the element of sattva — the wholesome quality of purity and peace.
Just consider for a moment the possibility of having so much love and compassion inside of you, so much that it simply cannot be contained, so much that it radiates from every cell and affects all those around you that they too manifest sattva in reciprocity. There belies the true power of a yoga practice. And it costs less than a pair of Lululemons.
This work by Queen City Nerve is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.