What is Rajas?

Rajas is an Ayurvedic emotional state, or guna, that is characterized by distraction and overstimulation. Rajasic energy can help us motivate, but it can also send us down a difficult path. Learn more about the philosophy and science of balancing rajas.

In This Article

Qualities of Rajas

Is your mind going a mile a minute? Are you full of mental distractions constantly thinking about the past or the future? Do you depend on outside stimulation for your happiness—movies, gaming, shopping, drinking, smoking, or eating?

These qualities of the mind are called rajas in Ayurveda. A rajasic mind is never at rest, it is always distracted, looking forward to the next activity, reward, or accomplishment. While rajas can be disguised as being passionate, people with rajasic minds really just long for peace of mind and a deeper, more sustainable experience of contentment.

What are the Gunas?

Rajas is one of the three gunas. The gunas (sattva, rajas, and tamas) are the primal forces in nature that govern growth, evolution, and spirituality Keeping the three gunas in balance allows life to flow on a positive evolutionary track. More subtle than the three doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha), the three gunas are the mental doshas that govern the mind, moods, feelings and emotions.

In Ayurveda, the amount of sattva, rajas, and tamas one has helps determine their psychological mind set or emotional body type.

Take our Emotional Body Type Quiz here

Sattva is the highest vibrational force. It is content, and effortlessly gives itself to others. Rajas is the driver of material expression in the natural world. Tamas is a grounding force that slows and delays.

For example, you could say that the root of a flower is tamasic, the stem and leaves rajasic, and the flower sattvic.  Each of these are key to the balance of the plant and the evolution of the species. If the roots, leaves, or stem became too big, they could rob nutrients from the flower and injure the plant. In nature and in us it is all about balance.

See also The Science of Sattva

Rajas—The Reward Hog

Growing up, a child employs rajasic behavior as a means of survival. Commanding love, appreciation, and approval from parents ensures the watchful eye of mom and dad that keeps us out of harm’s way. Within two short years the innocence of and infant is replaced by a fascination with toys, sweets, screens, and of course the emotional reward of approval for doing cool, funny, and precocious activities.

The brain uses the rajasic pleasure-promoting chemical dopamine to reward us for such behaviors. Historically, often through religion, we were taught that the pleasure experienced from the addictive and rajasic nature of the material world was not real and could never sustain happiness. Many of us were taught that happiness comes from within! Culturally though, that thinking seems to have failed.  The stimulation, pleasure, and reward chemistry we derive from today’s highly stimulating world has become overwhelming. Technology alone has provided us with a world of rajasic stimulation that we carry 24/7 and cannot live without.

From the Ayurvedic perspective, we aim to become aware of the brain’s tendency to slip into addictive rajastic behavior, and we make an effort to engage in replacement sattvic behaviors. This all starts with regular practice of self-awareness exercises like yoga, pranayama, and meditation to guide our attention inward and help us become aware of the fleeting nature of happiness based on reward chemistry.

While rajastic behavior is motivating, it also creates turbulence. In the long-run, it encourages behavior that fragments the mind from spirit, and true happiness. It can lead to mental, physical, and emotional pain and suffering. A rajasic mind is a passionate mind, one that drives success and accomplishments. While it may win many battles on the road to success, it can also lose the war in terms long-term peace and contentment.

The Science of Rajas

Rajasic behavior breeds overstimulation of the reward chemical dopamine. The more you stimulate a dopamine reward response, the more aggressive the stimulation needs to be to get the same reward. This drives us to continue seeking more extreme behaviors in sports, shopping, gaining wealth, eating, and most dangerously gaining power.

Instead, replacing rajas with sattva stimulates the release of oxytocin, which is the longevity hormone. The more we train the mind to gain pleasure from giving rather than getting, the more oxytocin we produce.

See also Oxytocin: The More You Give, The More You Get

A rajasic mind can turn to over-achieving in order to feel satisfied. Today there is a growing number of over achievers that have a condition called high-functioning depression. With this condition, the work gets done, but the joy and happiness one hoped to gain from the achievements is absent.

Researchers have also studied the genetic impact of giving in a sattvic (or eudaimonistic, with no expectations) manor and giving rajasically, or hedonistically—expecting something in return. One study found that hedonistic giving had a negative effect on participant’s genetic code, while eudaimonic giving elicited a positive change epigenetically.

See also Do You Give to Get? (Hedonistic vs. Eudaimonic Giving)

In a recent study published in the journal Nature, researchers found a correlation between how active (or rajastic) someone’s brain is with lifespan. While counter intuitive, the idea that less brain activity is linked to a longer life is not foreign to Ayurveda. Quieting the mind and becoming sattvic is linked to a healthier microbiome, stronger immunity, greater production of the longevity hormone oxytocin, and a much happier and content life.

An overstimulated rajasic mind increases the risk of burnout, which has been  linked to feelings of irritability, cynicism, exhaustion, and ultimately becoming withdrawn, detached. And ineffective.

See also Adaptogenic Herbal Blend for Burnout: Ashwagandha, Eleuthero, Rhodiola, Ginger + Shilajit 

In a study published in the Alternative Therapies Journal, the effects of reducing rajas (stress) and creating sattva through meditation calmed the mind and increased intelligence.

Thirty-four male subjects meditated directly after a stressful event and then showed significant improvement in a standard cognitive flexibility test. Handling stress with less distractions is by definition a rajas-reducing skill.

After one month of regular meditation, the same male subjects were again given a battery of tests. The cognitive flexibility test described above showed further improvement, and a standard memory test showed significant positive changes as well, compared to the tests they took prior to starting meditation. The researchers concluded that meditation increased cognitive function and IQ, in both the short- and long-term.

The impact of a consistently rajasic mind is an over stimulation of the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system. Research has shown that over stimulation of this response is linked to a host of health concerns.  

What to Do About a Rajasic Brain?

Step 1: Take or Emotional Body Type Quiz and identify in which areas of life you have become overly rajasic in.

Step 2: Employ meditation practices. Don’t know how? Learn here.

Step 3: Practice pranayama techniques like Ujjayi Pranayama.

Step 4: Practice slow yoga.

Step 5: Get deep sleep. Learn how here

Step 6: Build ojas, or vital life force.

Step 7: Look for ways each day to help, serve or care for others with no expectation to receive anything in return.