|The word, sthira, means
more than just firm. It translates as stable, resolute, changeless.
Sthira speaks not only of challenge, strength, endurance and fortitude
but also vigilance, the ability to be pay attention, to be present. It
is the opposite of agitation and refers to both physical and mental
stillness: a controlled, fully engaged body and a focused mind.
as pleasurable, joyful, agreeable, easy, comfortable, happy,
prosperous, relaxed. It is the opposite of discomfort, suffering or
pain (duhkha). Here we bring in the principles non-violence and
self acceptance. We nurture ourselves by doing something that feels
The actual translation
of asana is seat or camp, and can refer to a way of sitting, a
hatha yoga posture, a place or a situation. Traditionally, the word is
linked to the seated position itself, or to a posture or series of
postures that prepare the body for seated meditation. In the more
expanded view of yoga, asana occurs not just on the yoga mat or
meditation cushion, but is the foundation from which we act in daily
life. Interestingly, the root (as) speaks of being present in
one's body -- existing, inhabiting and living fully in it.
In practicing asana,
we create a ritual of entering and holding the posture without
interruption for a period of time, being fully present with all the
details, sensations, and experiences that occur in the body/mind. We
compliment the qualities of engagement with letting go. We find a
balance between tension and relaxation, a balance between effort and
ease that feels delicious and challenging at the same time. Sthira and
sukha form a state of equilibrium (satva) that is without
agitation (rajas) or inertia (tamas). T.K.V. Desikachar
says, "It is attention without tension, loosening-up without slackness"
Most students will
need to emphasize one or another of these qualities, depending their
personality type. Over-achievers need reminders to relax and be enjoy
the experience. Those who tend to be lethargic or half-hearted need
encouragement to work at their edge. Those who lack focus need
reminders to stay present. Students with limitations need support in
creating modifications and working at a gentle level that's still
|We all know that
unpleasant emotions and painful memories can bubble up and out during
yoga practice. This is the feeling of pain being released, and the
result of that release is a greater sense of joy, relief or openness.
Even so, there must be balance or moderation in intensity of the
catharsis. A respect for the emotional limits. A challenge to the
psyche within a safe zone of comfort.
More often the kind of
pain I see in my classes is reflected in the facial expressions of
students who work so hard at performing an asana that they look as if
they are inflicting punishment upon themselves. At this observation, I
might remind the whole class of the qualities of sthira and sukha, and
pose the question, "Are you happy in this posture?" For some students
the most challenging asana is the posture of letting go.
Another kind of
discomfort is boredom. We've all experienced either the apathy or the
agitation of yoga classes that lacked the challenge we felt we needed.
How can we as teachers create an environment so engaging that students
leave satisfied, fulfilled? How do we respond to boredom when we sense
it in some of our students.
As yoga teachers are
we ourselves moving through our classes in that state of sthira
sukham asanam? Are we fully engaged, fully present, vigilant. Are
we relaxed and enjoying the experience? I find that when I am present
with my students everything else falls into place, creating a
satisfying experience both for them and for myself. When I am trying to
accomplish something or show up a particular way I often create
discomfort or duhkha. Personally, I tend to be an excessive
planner, but if I allow my plans to run my yoga class, I may loose the
richness of the moment. When I lead a posture or series of postures
that I've led hundreds of times I can go on automatic pilot and give
all the proper details, or I can challenge myself by responding to what
I see on the mat, living in the experience with my students.
Asana is not just an
externally codified position. It is a subjective experience that allows
us to explore and discover the nuances of body, mind and spirit,
bringing all parts of our self into harmonious balance. Yoga does not
impose a form upon us, but allows us to discover our Self through a
form. In life, asana firmly settles us because of these two
complementary qualities: firmness in directing our actions and softness
in expressing them.