Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.46 reads Sthira Sukham Asanam. Sthira refers to stability, strength, effort, and steadiness. Sukha refers to ease, comfort, and flexibility. Asanam is the pose, the asana practice. So roughly translated “the posture for yoga meditation should be steady and motionless, as well as comfortable”.
To me this sutra means balance, finding the happy medium between effort and ease. Tadasana, mountain pose, is the perfect way to illustrate this. As we build the pose from the ground up the tendency is to engage the muscles fully but that is not sustainable for long periods of time. We are trying to build stamina in the muscles and even sprinters know that in training they can’t run flat out the entire time. Neither, though, should we just stand. We need to consciously stand, be mindful about what we are doing, how we are grounded onto the earth. We should activate the muscles but only to about 50% effort, finding the balance between engaging the body but in a comfortable and sustainable way that allows us to continue breathing effortlessly.
Sthira and sukha can also be used as a way to describe our bodies and how to find the balance between flexibility and strength. If we only have flexibility in our asana practice then we risk injury, dumping into the joints. If we only have strength, then we have tight muscles that limit our expansion and can curb the freedom and delight to be found in the asana practice.
To find the balance, think about your body and your practice. Are you very strong but have difficulty touching your toes or binding your arms behind your back? If that sounds like you then try to focus on improving your flexibility to balance out the strength. If you’re very flexible then your focus should be on building your muscular strength to protect your joints.
Listen to the cues given by your teachers to safely engage and stretch muscles and find some freedom and ease in your practice.
As a recovering Type A personality, I have found balance in my life by taking the concepts of sthira and sukha off my mat. I used to (and sometimes still do) demand perfection of myself and felt shame and guilt when I let myself down, which led to other self-destructive behaviours. Yoga has taught me to give myself a break. That doesn’t mean that I don’t show up and give my all, it just means that when the result is not perfect that I don’t punish myself for it, I am learning to be ok with it. I am now accountable but not attached to the outcomes. I have found it to be a huge relief, like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders and I can now go about my life experiencing the freedom and joy to be found there without feeling anxious about the possible outcomes or disappointed by the actual outcomes.
Next time you come to class, really listen to the cues and see how they feel in your body, find some balance and then see if you can apply those same concepts in your life and find some freedom and experience the joy of being alive and just being.