Guna is the Sanskrit word meaning attribute or quality.
The ancient texts of ayurveda give us the twenty gunas or ten pairs of opposites listed below. Theoretically, everything in the universe can be described in terms of these qualities. 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.
Heres a simple example: if a person has high pitta and is prone to classic pitta symptoms like heartburn or repeated infections, we would conclude he/she has too much of the hot guna circulating in the body. In order to treat hot, we would employ the cold 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. The Twenty Gunas Heavy - Light Cold - Hot Static - Mobile Soft - Hard Oily - Dry Transparent - Opaque Dull - Sharp Smooth - Rough Gross - Subtle Dense Liquid
(For a little Ayurvedic Institute flavor, heres a YouTube link to Dr. Lad singing the 20 gunas in Sanskrit! Chanting the ancient texts is the easiest way to learn them. Dr. Lad frequently chants the sutras when he teaches various concepts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhCImQDCj8U)
Taking the gunas a step further, heres how they apply to the doshas and how they show up in our bodies and minds:
The Gunas of Vata Dry dry skin, hair, nails, lips; dry colon; hoarse voice Light underweight, small body frame, light sleep Cold cold hands and feet, poor circulation, stiff muscles Rough rough skin, cracking joints Subtle fear, anxiety, insecurity, fine tremors, addictions Mobile fast walking and talking, restlessness, mood swings Clear understands and forgets information immediately, open mind, void/loneliness
Tastes associated with vata: bitter, pungent and astringent Colors associated with vata: black, dark brown
The Gunas of Pitta Hot strong appetite, high body temperature Sharp sharp memory and intellect, irritability Light sense of sight, light body frame Oily oily skin, oily feces Liquid excess urine and sweat, liquid stools Spreading rash, acne, inflammation
Tastes associated with pitta: pungent, sour and salty Color associated with pitta: red, yellow
The Gunas of Kapha Heavy heavy bones and muscles, large body frame, tendency to be overweight Slow slow walking and talking, slow digestion Cool cold, clammy skin; repeated cold, cough, congestion Oily well-lubricated skin and joints Smooth smooth skin, calm nature Dense thick skin, nails and hair; thick layer of fat, plump organs Soft compassion, kindness Static attraction to sedentary lifestyle, stagnation Cloudy often foggy and slow in the morning
Tastes associated with kapha: sweet, salty and sour Colors associated with kapha: blue, white