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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Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm – Feel the Vibrations

Vinyasa MeansThere is a certain power in the chanting of Sanskrit. This is not the incantation of spells or any magic – it is simply the use of our human ability to create unique sounds by movement of our mouth, tongue, and throat in a special way (which is a VINYASA!). On the physical level, one can easily feel the vibrations of resonance through the body simply by putting the lips together and humming (do it now – no one is watching you).

This technique is called Bhramari Pranayama and is a valid practice all on its own. If you are in need of anger management, feeling frustrated, or suffering anxiety – this is a good and simple technique you can do anytime, anywhere with no contraindications.

Why even bother making sound at all?

How does a good beat and good hook catch you? It resonates in your body and you feel something, a connection, an emotion – sound is one method of taking us out of the swirling mind and into a clear, present moment.

Why the need for a Sanskrit chant or mantra when there is plenty of music to be found?

One reason would be that we have no associations with the Sanskrit language. None of our memories or human conditioning have happened in Sanskrit, we have no preconceived notion of what it means when we hear it. Sanskrit is a perfect blank slate for most people – we can learn it from our teachers and then it becomes associated with practice and a great tool for meditation. The meaning we infuse is one of practice, peace, and presence.

Sanskrit is also a vibratory language, it is closely aligned with primordial sounds and each letter produces a specific resonance within the body meant to vibrate in specific areas or energy lines (nadis).  One could think of it as the Paleo diet of language.

This is also why it is important to learn the names of our asana and to hear it said in class, the names of the asanas carry the same energetic qualities as the poses themselves – layering on the proper name is important. Consider for a moment how you feel when not called your proper name – yoga tradition is similarly to be respected.

 

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Pranava of Om

You don’t have to believe me, experience it. Try an Om, the most well-known of the mantras. It is pronounced A-U-M; the aaaaaaaaaaa resonates in the belly, the uuuuuuuuuuu vibrates into the chest, and the mmmmmmmmmm is felt in the head. Although there are many meanings attributed to Aum or Om, it’s ok to enjoy it as a feel good vibe and respect the simplicity.

Breath Mantra – So Hum

Another easy mantra with no religious connection would be So Hum. This is simply the sound of your breathing. Take a moment to listen to your breath.

On the inhale – can you hear the whisper of breath saying So? Can you hear Hum on the exhale? What is the purpose of chanting the breath? To further connect to your true self and to disconnect from your ceaseless and noisy mind. So Hum is an excellent way to develop a meditation practice.

This is How We Do It

In learning to chant or use vibration, it is taught that you say the chants out loud – this occupies the senses of hearing, feeling, and even tasting as the tongue is involved.   We close our eyes and restrict the sense of sight.  All brings us closer to the yogic state of sense withdrawl (Pratyahara) Knowing our brains to be poor multi-taskers, chanting aloud gives more opportunity to quite the mind. You will notice it is near impossible to chant and think at the same time.

The next stage would be whispering the chant very softly. You will notice that if you are not yet well-trained in meditation, it is easy for the brain to get louder than the whisper, hence why it is the second stage.

The final stage is silent repetition in the mind only and this is the most difficult. It can be easy to go on auto pilot and sink back to thinking mind. If this happens to you, go back to repetition out loud to reconnect with the meditation. The purpose is quieting the mind to reduce distracted thought and allow creative, expansive, clear thinking to arise so that we might know our own gifts and share them.

Mala Beads

Frequently you see the use of mala beads – this helps to count the repetition and becomes a sort of time-keeper for your practice. In general, there are 108 beads and you repeat your mantra 108 times. Look for me to post more on the significance of 108 and mala beads in the future. But for now, the use of the beads is another good way to occupy your mind from thinking and anxiety, the mala is a great meditation companion.  Lotus Seed Mala Beads

Personally, I enjoy using mantra and sound in my asana practice. It is an enhancement to your routine and produces a palpable energetic effect as it naturally regulates your breathing. Many traditions of yoga utilize a mantra during asana as a way to time the breath and track the sequence.

Practice

Now to bring it back to the simple breath chant – So Hum. Try this right now – using a mala or a timer (try 3-5 minutes), sit on the floor or your mat, cross legs or lotus, and focus on your breathing. Add the So and Hum out loud as you breathe. How do you feel? Share your experience in the comments.

Gratitude

With respect and recognition, I salute my teachers that have helped me on this path.  For this love of mantra, I want to recognize teacher, Dr. Indu Arora, who illuminated aspects of this practice so I could understand and hope to share.  Namaste to you readers, thank you for spending this precious time with these words that flow through me to you, for you.

 

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