Sthira Sukham Asanam
Yoga should balance stability, strength and steadiness with gentleness, relaxation, and joy.
As I read the ancient yoga texts with the students in the Harmony Yoga Teacher Training, I am reminded of the wisdom at the heart of yoga philosophy. The same truths that resonated with people 5000 years ago, are still relevant today. One of those pearls is the value of finding balance between Sthira and Sukha.
Around 200BC, the sage Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras which are considered to be the foundational texts of Yoga. Patanjali described the physical practice of yoga in Sanskrit as “Sthira Sukham Asanam.” Loosely defined, we should strive to practice yoga with strength and in a relaxed manner. Sthira translates as strong, steady, and stable. Sukha means comfortable, happy, and relaxed. Asanam refers to the physical practice of yoga. Sthira and Sukha are opposites, but equally important qualities to develop in both the practice of yoga and in life. Opposites do not need to be mutually exclusive. A yoga practice can be stable and gentle or steady and joyful just as we can find harmony in our lives between strength and relaxation.
When practicing yoga, the point in the body that is touching the ground is usually in Sthira. The connection to the earth needs to be strong, steady, stable, grounded, and firmly rooted. Sukha can often be experienced through those parts of the body furthest from the ground for example the arms in tree pose, the upper body in warrior one, or even the hand in triangle pose. However, sometimes, it feels like the entire yoga pose is in Sthira. On those occasions, how do you find Sukha? Simply start by softening your gaze and relaxing your facial muscles, and try to find comfort and joy somewhere, even in the fingers.
Just like in Yoga, it is important to balance Sthira and Sukha in our personal lives. To be strong, stable, and steady are wonderful qualities, but you also need to balance that with joy and relaxation. In both yoga and life most of us have plenty of Sthira, but not enough Sukha. I challenge you to find balance and inner harmony during these dog days of summer by incorporating Sukha in your life. Go for more walks on the beach, sleep late one morning a week, and carve out some time with your family and friends away from your electronics. Enjoy the simple pleasure of reading a book. Give yourself permission to bring balance and inner harmony into your life by cultivating Sukha this summer and always.