“Sthira sukham asanam”, thus goes the definition of yoga poses by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. Every Asana, which is the third of the Ashta anga or the Eight limbs, should be practiced with the right balance of steadiness (sthira) and comfort (sukha), effort and ease. So, are we really doing this?
Well, it has been quite some time since I have been practicing yoga. And, to the extent I know, everyone who attends the class has some or the other physical benefit as their goal. While strengthening your body is the Sthira part of the postures, do we really pay attention to the Sukha element? In fact no! Many of us fail to differentiate between stretching and pain. In the pursuit of getting the yoga poses perfect, we forget the balance.
According to the Ashtanga principles, when you can remain steady and relaxed without being disturbed physically or mentally, you will find yourself meditating continuously. And, this is what precisely the yoga poses were designed for.
So, why should one be aware of the Sthira and Sukha elements of yoga poses?
Sthira is the Sanskrit word that can be literally translated into resolute or steady. This element teaches us to be present in the moment. It teaches us to be aware of what is happening to us – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It inculcates a sense of stability in your mind and instills confidence in your body.
Sukham is a combination of two words – Su and Kham, with Kham referring to space. So, sukham means more space or comfort. It refers to the ease with which you can be present in this moment. When there is a dearth of space, you experience Dukham or pain or suffering. So, sukha is that ingredient of yoga poses which teaches you to accept yourself as you are so that you can remain balanced.
In fact, you can consider Sthira and Sukha as Yin and Yang – two polarities which you need to balance for living the life you desire.
How Do You Know if Your Yoga Poses Have This Balance
Let’s now take a look at how you can take these concepts to your regular practice. According to T.K.V. Desikachar, you will be able to reap the benefits of a yoga posture only when we begin to recognize and accept where we are at the present moment. This means we need to pay attention to how we feel by paying close attention to the cues rendered by our body and mind and accepting those without any judgment.
Once you are ready, you can move on with your practice. As you get into a yoga pose, observe what is going on with you without judgment – just observe!
Are you breathing or are you withholding your breath? Is your body tensed or relaxed? Is your mind calm or racing? Are you worried or happy? Are you listening to your teacher as he or she is guiding you through the pose?
Or are you thinking about the old man who lives in your neighborhood? Or, are you worried about what to cook for your friends? Would your girlfriends be now shopping at your favorite store?
If you are able to notice the first set of things, then you are in the right place. If your thoughts belong to the second category, then you are not living the moment. You have to bring yourself back to the present moment.
Once you come back to the present moment, take a deep breath in and allow yourself to enjoy the pose in a stable, easy way! Remember that yoga poses could help end your quest for equilibrium by helping you strike the balance between Sthira and Sukha.
Incorporating Yoga Poses in Your Daily Life
When I started practicing yoga regularly, it had a very strong physical goal behind it. I was, back then, the mother a 3 year daughters and was recovering from an abortion and nurturing a chronic ligament injury. My body was pretty weak and I realized that I had to traverse a long path towards strengthening myself. So, my focus was on stability or steadiness or Sthira, which was completely justifiable at that time. Slowly, but steadily I started gaining the strength with regular practice of strong backbends and inversions. But, off late, my practice has taken a different turn. There are days when I feel my body needs more of restorative or Sukha practices, which is why I just meditate or practice Pranayama on certain days.
Learning to balance sthira and sukham asanam helps you to live in the present. While sthira will render the confidence to face the changes and situations, sukham will open up your heart and mind, allowing you to move easily and effortlessly with the flow of life. These concepts will help you lead a life without judgment, but filled with courage, acceptance, compassion, and love.
You will be able to remain calm during tumultuous situations. You will be able to let go of the fears and angers and any such negative emotions, forgive yourself, and be compassionate with yourself and others.
The concepts of Sthira-Sukha, if understood completely, will help us to know ourselves. We will realize that the regular practice of yoga poses help us find our true self, thereby helping us to remain strong and calm, without bothering about what life has to offer us.