finding balance with sthira and sukha
I borrowed the title of this post from my favorite line in the movie, The Matrix. The scene depicts a child who seems to be levitating and bending a spoon in midair using only his mind. The main character witnesses this and the child shares the following wisdom with him: “Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth…there is no spoon.”
So much delights me about this scene. So imagine my delight when I read the following line written by T.K.S. Desikachar, “Without both these qualities there is no asana.” The qualities he was referring to were “sthira” (or stirtha) and “sukkha” (or sukkham.) Let’s explore these qualities, described in the Yoga Sutras, before we imagine an asana practice where there is no asana.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes sthira as “steady, stable and motionless.” Sthira also refers to “alertness” within a posture. Sukkha is described as “comfortable, light, happy and easy” and refers to the ability remain comfortable in a posture. Finding harmony between the sthira and sukkha of each posture allows us to breathe easily in the asana while also growing strength. Ultimately, the body will no longer struggle in the pose so that the mind can meditate and the spirit can align with a higher consciousness.
One of my greatest joys when in an asana is noticing the dichotomy in areas of my body that are at ease and areas that are stretching to find space. For example, in warrior poses, I love feeling the stability of a solid base in my legs while opening my hips and chest. Like the in and out of our breath, this delicate balance of sthira and sukkha can be found in all postures.
However, if we enter our asana practice with a perfect posture in mind as a goal to attain, we risk straining our bodies to achieve perfection. Our sthira will be out of balance and we may hurt ourselves. In this situation, there is an asana in our mind, the “perfect posture,” but our body is not in alignment. So is there truly an asana in our practice?
Similarly, if we hold a posture for a period of time and have to stretch immediately after because we are hurting, we are not achieving the quality of sukkha. In essence, there is no asana under those circumstances.
I invite you to find balance in the lightness and steady alertness of your asana practice. Do not struggle or force postures; instead, move into them gradually with your breath. Over time, your body will open and build strength. Your mind and spirit will align with your body. Sthira and sukkha will be balanced, and there will be (no) asana.