Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras offers us just three pearls of wisdom for Asana, the third limb of the system of yoga. However contained within these brief lines are much wisdom that we can use to deepen and explore our practice.
Sutra 2.46 offers us the advice “sthirasukumasanam”, or
Let the connection to the Earth be steady and joyful
The word sthira means steadiness and alertness, firm or stable. The word is the opposite of agitation, which implies this steadiness must also come from the mind and not just the body. Patanjali here is inviting us to be strong and steady in both our body and our mind.
Sukha is the opposite of dukha, which means suffering, or “bad space”. Sukha invites us to find a space for the body and mind that is comfortable, relaxed, even pleasurable and joyful.
Asana is often referred to as the postures we practice on our mat, literally translated as ‘comfortable seat’. However asana has a broader implication, it is the way we fully inhabit the body, practicing to be completely present to it in each moment.
This sutra invites us to find the opposite qualities of effort and surrender when we are in the body. It reminds me that I need to be present both with how my body is connected to the earth, and how it reaches into space, and to enjoy the practice.
To explore this sutra in your own practice take any pose you are familiar and comfortable with, perhaps downward facing dog or extended side angle (see photo above). Do three rounds.
In the first round enquire into Sthira, your steadiness. Ask yourself:
Steadiness includes attention to finding your unique most supportive alignment for your body. It involves effort to maintain and sustain posture.
In the second round focus on the qualities of sukha, or relaxation of effort. Questions to consider include:
On the third round focus on the whole verse:
When we practice with the qualities of this sutra our poses can feel both delicious and challenging. Our mind can be attentive without tension and we can feel completely supported by the Earth as we expand effortlessly into space. Donna Fahri teaches that when we clarify our relationship to the ground, gravity and space we also clarify our relationship between parts of the body and the whole, becoming conduits for the movement of prana, or life force through the body.
However remember that yoga never judges. It is merely a tool for noticing. There may be moments where the balance of your postures is not even between these two opposites. There may be days when we feel particularly lethargic, perhaps here the challenge is to introduce more Sthira, more effort. Perhaps on days were you have been rushing you need to focus on finding ways to practice with more Sukha, or relaxation.
There may also be days when our need for nurturing or nourishment is high. Using props such as bolsters to support the body is a great way of increasing both sthira; our steadiness and groundness and can also nurture the qualities of sukha; surrender and letting go.
Instead of letting this sutra be yet another thing to remember or achieve with our practice, let it be an opportunity to more deeply explore your relationship with your body, mind and breath. Using enquiries into Sthirasukamasanam can help discover your truth in each moment, providing opportunities to bring all parts of your Self into harmonious balance.
Enjoy the journey.
References and further reading:
Donna Farhi: “Bringing Yoga to life, the everyday practice of enlightened living”
TKV Desikachar, “The heart of yoga, developing a personal practice”