Steadiness and Ease: Sthira and Sukha: The Infinity of Practice

I’m in downward dog for what may be the 10,000th time of my practice, but today it still feels like the first. My breath is smooth and even, I feel solid in this pose, but then a draining feeling from my sinuses into my forehead emerges and I know I must leave this position and surrender to child’s pose. I’ve not been well for the past week, I’m tired and infected with a cold. The time for ambition in practice is not now – restoration is needed and my body told me that clearly. Rest, surrender, do less – it’s OK.

In today’s modern yoga practice and through our Western ideals of bigger, better, faster, stronger – we are easily connected with the Sthira or steadiness and strength of our practice but easily swayed from the sukha or ease and happiness of the forms we take. The idea of doing less at any time is somewhat foreign and seems unnatural in a world of bootstrapping up and making our mark.

I’m no stranger to this pull – I have a strong desire to master the handstand and an idea of touching my foot to my head in King Pigeon. However, a pose in which the breath is ragged or labored is not serving the deeper purpose of yoga – a withdrawal of senses (pratyahara) and an all encompassing awareness of every single cell in every single pose. B.K.S. Iyengar, whose teachings greatly influence my personal practice, said that the achievement of asana (postural yoga) is in that moment when you can literally feel every part of your body all at once with no stress or strain.403023_312843125497457_767800096_n

Goodness! That means I have yet to master Tadasana and I can clearly see his quote of “we all want to stand on our heads, but very few of us know how to stand on our feet!.” After 10,000 downward facing dogs, I’m nowhere near the goal of complete steadiness and ease in my practice – I may need 100,000 more.

That’s the point – do not feel the need to rush the practice, allow the practice to come to you. Try the next pose, but if you struggle, be kind to yourself, both mentally and physically and allow yourself to stay in the stage before (vinyasa krama). There was this one day, while in side plank (Vasisthasana) that I felt called to simply lift my leg and reach for my toes – there was no struggle and I had zero intention of doing that, it just arose from within me, as an evolution of my practice. When I stopped forcing myself into a shape, the shape naturally presented itself in my practice. Does that make sense?

In the practice of Astanga, the vinyasa flow does not progress until the prior stages are presented in the body. For example, one must complete, with steadiness and ease, the standing sequence before being permitted to move forward to more difficult floor work. In social media, this aspect is often left out as impressive forms are captured by cameras and as the audience cannot see all the hard work that went into that achievement.

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Pattabi Jois stated, “Do your practice and all is coming.” This quote indicates that you do not force the practice, it comes to you – through steady effort (consistency) and easeful approach (joy in the process).

As Yoga Sutra 2.46 instructs: Sthira sukham asanam – the posture should be steady and easeful. Apply this not only to your practice on the mat – but off as well, where in your life can you find more steadiness and ease, what can you shed to allow more strength and joy in your life?

Further Reading:

Yoga International (Himalayan Yoga Institute): https://yogainternational.com/article/view/sthira-and-sukha-steadiness-and-ease

SwamiJ, Yoga Sutras On-line: http://www.swamij.com/yoga-sutras-24648.htm

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Marinda Stopforth
    Jan 31, 2016 @ 20:04:34

    I can identify with your writing so much, Kirsten!!! I just love you MORE! you know what it feels like to be on the mat…. my deepest gratitude to you.

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