One of the most quoted lines of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is sthira sukham asanam. You may have heard your yoga teacher discuss this concept of creating a “steady yet comfortable posture.” This balance between stability and ease can be difficult because it requires one to balance two dynamic opposing forces. While attaining sthira and sukha in a seated asana is one of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s path to samadhi and enlightenment, modern yoga teachers also consider them important qualities to strive toward in all of the hatha yoga poses. Learning to incorporate sthira sukham asanam into the practice of yoga leads to an understanding of the purpose and deeper nature of the poses.
What does Sthira Sukham Asanam mean?
In Yoga Sutra 2.46, “sthira sukham asanam” is defined as “the posture for meditation should be steady, stable, and comfortable.”
The word “sthira” translates to steady, stable or still. Sthira can also mean to be firm, compact, strong, steadfast, static, resolute, and alert. Steadiness is achieved through proper alignment and strength. A stable pose requires a strong core and a focus on grounding and rooting down to the earth. An unsteady pose will reduce mental focus and cause the mind to wander.
The word “sukham” or “sukha” means comfortable, easeful or good place. Sukha can also mean soft, open, joyful, delightful, calm, easy, agreeable, or virtuous. Comfort is achieved by focusing on breath and relaxation. Ease is experienced when you are able to breathe slowly and deeply without straining the body. If you are holding the breath or breathing shallowly during asana, this will affect your ability to achieve Sukham. An uncomfortable pose will create distraction, which prevents us from achieving a state of calm and peace.
The yoga term “asanam” or “asana” translates to “posture” or “seat.” In the Yoga Sutras this was meant to be a seated position for meditation practice. Most modern interpretations agree that this sutra can be applicable to all of the many different types of yoga postures.
How to achieve Sthira Sukham Asanam in your practice
We can experience the sthira and sukha on multiple levels—physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual. For example, if you are practicing a challenging pose and you find yourself struggling, notice what muscles can soften or relax and what emotional resistance or mental stress can let go of that might be preventing you from being fully present in the moment.
At the physical level, a balance of sthira and sukha manifests as a sense of stability, ease, comfort, and power in the yoga postures. Our muscles are evenly engaged to hold the shape of the asana with steadiness while being free of tension and strain. The body can move easily and fluidly, while feeling grounded, relaxed and strong. Our alignment is precise but not rigid, allowing our bodies to feel alive and expressive within the space created by the pose.
At the mental level, a balance of sthira and sukha can be experienced by a sense of peace and tranquility while our minds remain focused and clear. We feel centered even under the pressure of performing challenging and intense asanas. Our drishti focal point is steady and strong and we are not distracted by outside stimuli. The mind becomes patient and vigilant, observing whatever arises from moment to moment.
At the emotional level, a balance of sthira and sukha allows us to release any negative emotions or feelings that may arise in our practice. We can feel connected to ourselves, others and nature yet feel detached and free. We aim to develop a soothing sense of calm, contentment joy, happiness, and gratitude in each asana.
At the energetic level, we experience sthira and sukha as an easy flow of breath and a balanced flow of prana (life force energy) throughout the body. Prana flows freely through the chakras, or energy centers, along the spine but remains contained within the body. The breath moves smoothly and effortlessly, flowing with fullness without holding or straining even during the most intense poses.
At the spiritual level, we experience a balance of sthira and sukha as a connection to the divine while remaining present in our bodies. We infuse each asana with the spiritual qualities of faith, love, devotion, peace, wisdom, compassion, humility, purity, patience and equanimity.
If you find yourself struggling with any of these aspects of your yoga asana practice, try to slow down and take time to work on each aspect individually.
Benefits of Sthira Sukham Asanam
- Promotes safety and reduces injury risk.
- Creates a feeling of calm and relaxation.
- Develops concentration and focus.
- Cultivates patience and perseverance.
- Enhances self-awareness.
- Promotes mindfulness.
- Boosts self-confidence, grit and inner-strength.
- Encourages tolerance and compassion for others.
- Encounter life challenges with clarity, equanimity and rationally.
- Create a strong foundation for the deeper practices of yoga and meditation.
Sthira and sukha in daily life
It’s important to remember that we are always moving between sthira and sukha on our mats and in our daily lives. To cultivate a balance of these two states off our mats, we need to be mindful of when we are experiencing either one state or another. If we’re too caught up in the world around us, we’ll miss out on the opportunity to recognize when we are experiencing a lack of sthira and sukha. This could be due to a busy schedule, overthinking about the past or future, or spending too much time alone. Imbalance can also be caused by eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or engaging in other activities that increase stress levels.
Once we notice that we have lost touch with our inner self, we bring ourselves back to this balance. First, notice how you can create a better shape with your body that is more aligned, open and grounded. Then fill this good space with ease, joy, delight, wonder and calm.
When we are able to achieve a balance of sthira and sukha, we not only move toward perfection on our yoga mats, we also cultivating a state of mind that allows us to move through life with grace and ease.
Achieving sthira and sukkah in your practice is a great goal for skillful yoga students to work towards. By understanding what these two terms mean, you’ll be able to better understand why they’re so important, and how to go about achieving them in your own practice. The more you incorporate and practice these aspects of yoga, the easier it will become to achieve them and realize their benefits both on and off your yoga mat.