Meaning of Sukha And Sthira In Yoga
This term in our weekly yoga classes, the theme has been to cultivate both sukha and sthira in our yoga practice. These Sanskrit words feature in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a yogic text. Sutra 2.46 is ‘sthira-sukham asanam’ which is commonly understood as ‘Yoga postures should be stable, and the body be at ease.’ As with all Sanskrit translations, there are many possible meanings to the words. I actually love this as it gives us licence to interpret it in a way that makes sense to each of us. Sukha can mean happy, good, joyful, delightful, easy, agreeable, gentle, mild, virtuous or quite literally; good place. Sthira can mean to stand, to be firm, stable, compact, strong, steadfast, static, resolute, and even courageous.
I believe that the way we practice is really what defines whether we are practicing yoga or simply striking a pose (asana). I love this explanation by Kim Allen from Dragonflyyoga360.net ‘In yoga, we should resolutely abide in a good space.’ Perhaps this is something to ponder next time we are struggling to pretzel or force the body to go somewhere it really doesn’t want to. You could equally apply it to what is happening in the mind. For example if the teacher asks you to close your eyes and that makes you anxious. You might keep them open in order to maintain the good space for yourself. There are no absolute rules.
Patanjali’s View On Sukha And Sthira
Funnily enough, Patanajali only gives this one reference about poses in the sutras. The poses you practice in class are a relatively modern invention but that’s a whole other BLOG for another time. In this context, I think Patanjali was actually referring to our posture when we meditate anyway. However, I do feel that the practice of the lead up poses creates an ease in the body and allows for extended time in physical stillness. This means we can shift attention to concerns of the mind which we all know is where the magic happens in yoga.
These two seemingly opposite states are in fact much more closely intertwined then initially realised. I’ve felt this on a very personal level this term since as I have slowly recovered from abdominal surgery. Losing strength in my body, regularity in my practice along with losing some courage to practice what I usually do has created a lack of ease too. They really do balance each other and are juxtaposed in all aspects of yoga. Here are some examples of how we might consider sukha and sthira in our practice.
Sukha And Sthira In Yoga Practice
- Having a balance of poses that naturally encourage sukha or sthira – some to build strength and stability and others to create ease. We could also be aware of the opposite quality too eg. Shavasana may naturally encourage ease & Warrior may naturally encourage sthira
- Within each pose, being aware of each of the qualities in balance and how that might work eg. In Shavasana the pose itself may be easeful (sukha) but what happens in the mind? This could require cultivation of steadiness and courage to stick at it (sthira)? Warrior may be a strong posture physically (sthira) but require a conscious bringing in of softness to the breath, shoulders & face (sukha), can you feel both?
- Joints need to have a balance of flexibility (sukha) and strength (sthira) around them in order to function properly so we have good mobility. Mobility is different to flexibility; flexibility is our absolute range of movement whereas mobility is range of movement that is strong and stable. This prevents injury and is very important for our physical practice!
- Breath (pranayama) should be a balance of these two qualities as well. We might notice the steady rhythm or even a count (sthira) but keep the breath natural and easy so it doesn’t strain (sukha). Too much of one or the other and we lose the purpose of the pranayama
- Our approach to practice has the potential to overemphasise sukha or sthira . Too much ease and being relaxed about practice means we might not do enough or any at all! Too much resoluteness and strength might mean we do too much, don’t rest or get injured.
- Meditation – if you’ve ever fallen asleep during meditation, perhaps too much sukha! If you try too hard (sthira) to quieten the mind, that is not going to be useful either. It might make it harder and then you will lose the ease too. Oh gosh, so easy to lose the balance here!
This is by no means a definitive list and I’m sure there are many other examples. These are simply some ideas I’ve asked you to ponder in class this term. I hope you enjoyed the recap! I look forward to seeing you next term.
About Charleyoga & Charley Hickey C-IAYT
Author: Charley Hickey C-IAYT is a practicing yoga therapist and senior yoga teacher who runs group and private yoga classes in Applecross, Bateman & Fremantle, Perth. She also runs specialised yoga workshops for yoga students & yoga teachers.
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References: Yogainternational.com & Dragonflyyoga360.net