The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali is a compilation of yoga philosophy written in short verses. Sutra 2.46, Sthira Sukham Asanam, is one of the most quoted and one of just three that addresses yoga poses.
Sthira and Sukha are opposite but equally important qualities to develop in both yoga and in life.
Sthira (steadiness, strength, stability), Sukha (ease, flexibility, openness) and Asanam (asana, seat) are translated from Sanskrit along the lines of, “a yoga pose should be steady yet comfortable.”
In our practice, sthira is usually that point where we touch the mat – hands in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) or the sitting bones in Navasana. In Tadasana, we root down into the mat with our feet. We find the strength in our legs that become the pillars for our stability. Even as we are grounding down into the mat with our feet, we are lengthening our spine, finding that openness between the ribs and vertebrae. Once we find our stability, we can settle into the pose and find our ease.
Practicing sthira and sukha is much easier in the yoga studio when you’re free of outside distractions or when you’re seated in meditation. Practicing it off the mat is a bigger challenge. There is the idea in meditation of the “witness mind,” that part of yourself that observes your actions without attachment; you witness the world without being affected by it or involved in it.
By taking your witness mind to the mat with you, you cultivate mindfulness. You begin to notice how you’re feeling in a pose that isn’t a favorite. Are you fidgeting? Is your mind wandering? Do you begin to think negative thoughts about yourself or the situation? Start comparing yourself to the student on the mat next to you?
Becoming aware of your patterns on the mat leads to noticing your patterns and habits, how you act and react, outside the studio. With practice you can translate this skill to your encounters with other people or during any activity. You can metaphorically step back, take a breath and find your steadiness in the situation. Finding that steadiness allows you to then tap into that sense of space and nonattachment.
The next time you’re on your mat, try this: slow your practice, moving into and out of each pose with your breath. Let your breath steady you and keep your gaze fixed. Enjoy the feeling of sukha arising out of your sthira.