Yoga’s yin and yang: sthira and sukha

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines the physical practice of yoga as sthira sukham asanam.  The common translation from Sanskrit is “asana is a steady, comfortable posture.”  What does this mean, exactly?  Ideally, every yoga pose should encompass qualities of sthira (steadiness, effort, strength) and sukha (ease, comfort, joy).     It’s the balance between the two that brings the essence of yoga to the physical, or asana, practice.  Try too hard and you can easily miss the subtleties of the practice and the experience of really tuning into your body.  Try too easy and you can zone out and miss the opportunity to cultivate strength and mobility.  But bring the steadiness with the ease and you’ve got a magical combination.

It’s easy to see this principle in action in life, too.  Take an important relationship, for example, maybe with a friend, a child, a significant other.  Notice how if you try or push too hard, rigidity and even a sense of disconnection can occur.  I think back to my first “love.”  Man I wanted that relationship to work.  But we were young and it wasn’t meant to last.  I tried too hard; too much sthira.  At the same time, too much sukha can result in taking a relationship for granted, or never actually enforcing the rule that your 12 year old daughter make her bed every day (hypothetically speaking, of course).  It’s like the Goldilocks principle in yoga terms.  Getting things “just right.”

The next time you are on your mat, try to bring elements of both into the pose.  In down dog, for example, firm up your thighs, plug your arm bones into their sockets and press down with the palms of your hands.  At the same time, soften your face and neck.  Sthira sukham asanam.  You might just find that perfect yoga rush post-savasana.