“Sthira Sukham Asanam” [A Yoga Pose is a] Comfortable Steady Seat
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Ch. 2.46-2.48
The popular yoga with which most of us are familiar is the yoga asana (literally “seat” in Sanskrit) practice that provides so much benefit on a physical and mental level. Flexibility, strength, physical tone, and the sometimes surprising depth of stress relief are often immediate and palpable. This is of course why it has become so much a part of our lives in this culture.
When these largely physical practices are interwoven with even the most basic breathing and awareness practices, the benefits for the practitioner in overall well-being can skyrocket.
I agree with all those who believe that without the intention to integrate these higher practices, the yoga poses and movements are little more than physical culture or gymnastics, helpful in their own way but missing a great gift.
This gift can be the possibility of self-discovery and deeper growth. We can discover on the yoga mat how releasing unnecessary struggle and self-judgment are the foundation of higher development. Learning to meet our limits with compassion rather than force can be the catalyst that leads to greater growth in our skills and comfort in the yoga poses.
When the measure of our attainment of the yoga poses is no longer some external physical form seen in a magazine or demonstrated by that person next to you in class, a new process can begin. Your own sense of being able to accept how your body is able to safely and comfortably be in each pose or movement begins to be your measure of success. There can become a balance of effort and ease that enhances the ability to be present amidst the changes and challenges that all yoga poses bring.
In the ancient yogic text, the Yoga Sutra, the sage Patanjali called this attainment “sukha sthira asanam” (comfortable steady pose). Though this concept specifically relates to cultivating the seated poses of meditation, I believe it can be a metaphor for how you can approach the physical practices of yoga to expand their scope and power to bring healthful growth. For the adventurous student, this new mode of exploration can be taken from the narrow confines of the yoga mat.
To be sure, in the physical practice of yoga asana, the steadiness and ease in any pose does not always occur without demand or challenge. We do need to be challenged to build strength, to burn calories, and to recover lost flexibility. We need to address our mental limits to experience new ways of being. The ideal of comfortable steady pose is the end result of working through the blocks and resistances we all have. These struggles often reveal the present limitations or vulnerabilities that draw us to the healing possibilities of our practice in the first place. To work through these experiences, yogis do not throw on music headphones or other distractions to ignore or blast through these parts of themselves to “get their yoga done.” Instead, I believe that intrinsic to the practice of yoga asana is the process of incorporating a growing faculty of open-hearted awareness within each pose. This allows the student the ability to gain the compassion and consciousness needed to translate asana instruction into an invitation to explore ever more deeply all that is revealed.
Under the maxim “what we feel we can heal,” the possibility grows that the outcome of our yoga practice will be the physical benefits, mental ease, balance, and growing peace that is the attainment of sukha sthira asana.
***The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a major yogic text given over 2000 years ago by the yogic sage Patanjali. It codifies in 4 chapters of aphorisms (threads or sutures) the essence of the 8 limbs of Classical Raja Yoga. The third of these limbs is yoga asana, and the above quotation refers in this simple way to the yogic embodiment of this practice.