sthira sukham asanam – finding that sweet spot
Sthira Sukham Asanam
Asana is steady and comfortable. Performed with willingness as well as acceptance. Firm as well as pleasant. Strong as well as relaxed. Maintained with effort as well as ease.
To those of you whom have heard of, read or even studied the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali, sthira sukham asanam, is probably one of the great guidelines to your practice. To those whom are brand new to the practice of yoga or have never heard of this ‘one-liner’, it might be a new concept.
The actual translation of Asana is seat, and in modern times it referes to the meditative seated position itself and to all the series of postures that prepare the body to take this seat. The word Sthira means firm. Stable. Unchanged. Stillness. Engagement. Active. The word Sukham means comfortable. Pleasurable. Acceptance. Relaxation. Soft. And it is the exact balance between these two that we are looking for in our practice.
It is the balance between Sthira and Sukham that gives rise to a state of equilibrium, rest, freedom and presence that we are looking for. As an example, take sitting down in a meditative position. It is the effort of the staight and stable spine, the activity in our nervous system, the activated abdominal muscles, the strong back we need to stay seated. But it is the relaxation in our hips, the relaxed and open shoulders and softness of our muscles that we need just as much to not exhaust our bodies to stay seated. This balance pertains to even the smallest cells in our bodies. It is the balance between the two that makes the sitting sensation feel effortless at times.
As our body is a true mirror of what goes on in our minds, the balance between Shtira and Sukham is really found here just as much. It is willingness to sit in our mind that we need to stay seated. The strength of heart to stay still in the position. The activity in our mind not to fall asleep. But we need relaxation to of mind to not get agitated and restless. We need acceptance of thoughts to let them pass by without influencing us. We need ease to actually enjoy the ride.
And this takes practice. As we try to find this balance during our practice we might discover that some of us have a natural tendency to lean towards either Shtira or Sukham. Some of us might be really inclined to work very hard and leave little space for enjoyment or even comfort. Some of us might never really come close to their actual limits, afraid to break a little sweat now and then.
Yoga practice really is a practice to life, as the word Asana can be translated into situation as well. As we learn how to balance effort and ease on the mat, really what we learn is how to encounter life, new situations, people, with strength as well as a relaxed frame of mind. We learn how to stay strong, focussed and attentive without tension and breaking our bodies or our minds. We learn how to stay steady and true to ourselves when we experience new things. But, we also learn how to relax, be open to new situations and ideas, to remain calm and relaxed in uncomfortable moments and to enjoy ourselves without slacking off and doing things half heartedly.
As mentioned before, this takes practice. A lot. And even more so: all situations are different. Some situations require more Shtira for the moment, others require more Sukham. Sometimes, the situation makes it very easy for you to balance both the effort and ease. Sometimes, the situation makes this seemingly very difficult; things feel uncomfortable, too fast or too slow, too hot or too cold. And it is then, when you start exploring that balance again. You might even need a lot of strength to be able to relax.
So, no matter what we encounter in life, we can practice to create the balance between sthira and sukham inside ourselves. And no matter what I throw at you during yoga class, don’t be afraid to practice this too. Keep finding that sweet spot between working hard and finding your comfort. How? Watch your breathing. The quality of an asana is the quality of breath. Your breathing, like the asana, should be steady and comfortable.
Keep practicing. Abyasa Yoga.