Sthira & Sukham - Steadiness & Ease
written by Jenny T.
The focus of this month “Sthira and Sukham” (steadiness and ease) is addressing something that we all might have experienced in our lives - imbalance. “Higher, faster, better, more” seems to be the credo and it does drive us forward. But still we are humans and no perpetuum mobiles. In my first job as a project manager I experienced what it means to be out of balance. I was pushing myself so much to an extent that not only did my energy levels drop really low, but I also felt completely out of touch with myself about what I want, where I want to go and especially what I need. The urge to accomplish more and more wasn’t forced upon me. I was even encouraged to take it more easily, but the pressure was created only by myself, my mind. I forgot not only to permit myself to rest but also to enjoy the beautiful job that I was lucky to have.
Now I know, it’s a blessing to pause, take a look at where we are and ask ourselves how and if our actions and efforts help us to grow. And also, do we still allow ourselves to experience the beauty of life in the meanwhile and truly embrace the presence? This is where the concept of Sthira and Sukham (steadiness and ease) come into play and can teach us how to truly connect to ourselves, find inner harmony and follow our path with more grace and joy.
The meaning behind Sthira and Sukham
sthira-sukham-āsanam || 2.46 ||
Sthira and Sukham is a concept first introduced by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras - the written collection of aphorisms on the theoretical and physical practice of Yoga. From Sanskrit this aphorism can be roughly translated into “postures should be stable and comfortable”.
Sthira (stability, strength, intent) - The word Sthira translates into stability, strength and endurance but at the same time also into being fully present. Meaning that we find ourselves in a place of physical and mental stillness, where our body is steady, fully engaged and the mind focussed.
Sukham (comfort, ease, openness) - Sukham as the counterpart to Sthira translates into a state of comfort, ease and which feels agreeable for you. By honoring our body with the principles of nonviolence and self-acceptance we can ease ourselves into a posture that feels good.
Āsanam (seat) - Introduced in the context of meditation Āsanam refers to the meditation seat. “Ās” translates into being present in one’s body and living in it to the fullest and therefore this bears relevance for all Yoga postures.
Sthira-sukham-āsanam is teaching us to find balance between strength and lightness, effort and ease. In a posture we shall be able to hold it longer but at the same time comfortably. By allowing ourselves to ease into our own individual form of the general Asana shape we can connect more mindfully to the breath, bring awareness to the sensations in our body, create more space for meditative focus and arrive in the present moment within our practice.
“When an asana is done correctly, the body movements are smooth, there is lightness in the body, and freedom in the mind.”
– B. K. S. Iyengar
The relevance of Sthira and Sukham for our Yoga practice
The highly appreciated Yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar refers to the Yoga Sutra 2.47, which follows sthira-sukham-āsanam || 2.46 || :
प्रयत्नशैथिल्यानन्तसमापत्तिभ्याम् ॥ २.४७ ॥
prayatnaśaithilyānantasamāpattibhyām || 2.47 ||
It states that an “Asana is mastered when all effort is relaxed and the mind is absorbed in the infinite”. Not only does it refer to finding ease in the posture where we let go of uncomfortable tension, but it also reveals the true essence behind an Asana. Even though Asana traditionally is one of the eight limbs of Yoga and refers to the physical practice, its true aim is not the physical but the mental body, the mind. The reason why we often can’t seem to find comfort in a pose is our mind, our ego, because we think we need to be in a certain shape. This leads us to go into a practice which doesn’t align with the natural conditions of our body, thus creating discomfort in our bodies and mind. But the true magic lies in realising that Asanas are a tool to connect to our mind that the shapes have no true value. The true value lies in letting go of our ego mind that wants to reach “the perfect posture” and simply allow ourselves to be and fully embrace who and where we are in our practice. We can then truly harness the transformational power of the Asanas.
“Opening one’s self to a feeling of inner peace amid the relative intensity of the asana practice - being calm and soft while strong and stable - takes the practice to a deeper level.”
- Mark Stephens
On the Mat
When you enter a pose try to move into it with full awareness and intention: Engaging all relevant muscles, finding a stable foundation and safe alignment. You can always adjust the pose. From there start connecting to your breath, feel the moment expanding and arrive in the present moment.
Following are a some tips which can help you to bring the principle of Sthira and Sukham into your practice:
Honor your body and embrace its natural capabilities and limitations.
Try to let go of expectations. There is no such thing as good or bad practice.
Find the general shape of the posture and your personal edge. From there you can ease into a version which still feels active but where you can remain longer and it’s comfortable - a balance between strength and surrender.
If your breath becomes irregular or your muscles begin to shake, you might have pushed a bit too much. You might still be able to find steadiness and ease there: Focus on your breath, so you can calm your mind and nervous system. Otherwise you can always ease out of the pose.
Try exploring different variations that are given by the Yoga teacher.
Always feel welcome to bend your knees in Forward Folds (e.g. Downward Facing Dog, Paschimottanasana, Prasarita Padottanasana etc.)
If you naturally tend to lean more into Sthira in your life, working hard, constantly keeping yourself busy and doing things to full perfection, you can create more balance toward Sukham by practicing Yin Yoga or Yang to Yin Yoga, meditation, Pranayama.
If you find yourself more towards Sukham, taking things with absolute ease and maybe finding it difficult to get things done or to focus, try Vinyasa Yoga or Power Yoga. This can help increase your inner fire and drive.
Off the Mat
Embodying enthusiasm and eagerness balanced with lightness in life, this is what the physical practice can teach us so we can integrate the principle of steadiness and ease into the practice of life.
Try to ease your mind by staying in the present moment. All you have is now and worrying about the future or past might bear unnecessary suffering.
Show integrity by continuously standing up for yourself, your values and the people around you.
Meet your edge but where you still feel comfortable - in work, in relationships or friendships.
Try to cultivate a healthy routine in your life but be kind to yourself when you modify it depending on how you feel at the moment.
In challenging moments and under stress, try to take a step back, breath and reassess.
Practice gratitude for all the small and big things in life.
Acknowledge that life has its natural balance. There will be times where we will push hard, bringing in all the effort but also times where we need to rest and take care of ourselves.
“Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.”
When you invite mindfulness into your practice and everyday life you can fully become aware of how you move and act. This in return will give you the clarity on how to bring the balance of Sthira and Sukham into your life - living with intention, feeling inner drive and enjoying life to its fullest.