Applying Sthira & Sukha to Asana : Effort & Ease Within Each Posture
Reflecting back on my yoga teacher training; a challenging yet simultaneously blissful six months. The paradox of these two seemingly opposing forces existing together at once and sometimes alternately, weaving in out and out of my daily experience, one graduating into the next so that there was no apparent beginning and ending; much like the seamless and interdependent cadence of the breath. An inhale roles into an exhale, an exhale roles into an inhale. What comes first? Does it matter? It matters not. What matters as that they both are needed, and one without the other, does not exist. The same balance, of effort and ease, in Sanskrit Sthira and Sukha, applies to our yoga practice.
According to T.K.V. Desikachar from the pages of "The Heart of Yoga : Developing a Personal Practice" Sthira and Sukha are the two paramount qualities within each asana (posture). Desikachar reminds us that the word Asana, itself, comes from the Sanskrit root "to be, to sit, to stay". This requires effort on the part of the practitioner. However, to truly perform the asana the quality of Sukha, that ease, and sweetness, must too be present. Desikachar literally translates Sthira as "steadiness and alertness". What happens if this quality is present absent the sweetness of Sukha: tension builds, jaw tightens, toes and fingers may crunch up, the fluidity of the breath may cease.
With the current popularity of yoga in the West, we see how our ease and sweetness can be traded in to gain the ability to perform a fancy inversion or arm balance sooner than our body is ready. We labor and sweat, and push ourselves beyond our edge, we fixate on the final perfect version of a posture. Sometimes along the way we injure ourselves. And we wonder, why? We blame the teacher, we blame the lack of sleep, we blame our bodies for not being an "ideal yoga body". We punish ourselves and bury our minds in Avidya (ignorance) further separating our mind from our heart. This is not yoga. Yoga has many different meanings. Take a moment to think about how you would define yoga, what does it mean to you?
"It is primarily the physical aspect of our practice that people see as yoga. They will rarely notice how we breathe, how we feel the breath, and how we coordinate our breathing with our physical movement; they tend to only see our flexibility and suppleness. Some may want to know how many asanas we have mastered or how many minutes we can stay in a headstand. -- Much more important than these outer manifestations is the way we feel the postures and the breath."
- T.K.V. Desikachar
I like to think of yoga as all things in harmony; a coming together, whether it be a community, or a union of body, mind and spirit. Yoga is a complete circle. There are many ways to obtain this wholeness. Yoga Asana is one path, yes, but it is not the only path. Meditation and self inquiry are also pathways to union, to yoga. Whatever pathway we choose, may we remember to find the balance of Sthira and Sukha within each step.