PYS II.46 sthira sukham asanam
The connection to the Earth should be steady and joyful.
Sthira means steady, sukham means joyful, and asanam means seat or connection to the Earth. This sutra belongs to the chapter on practice, and we are going to explore how it applies to both our physical practice on the mat and the way we live our lives outside the mat. Yoga sutras can be cryptic, the language flowery and sometimes we even feel like it's a lot of fluff. The words are carefully chosen and they make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. But what is their application beyond the intellectual game that we yogis like to play?
Let us get practical. Stand. Let us give what is not sthira sukham asanam a test drive. When we worry about things like what I should do tomorrow, or how I am supposed to work out my financial problem, what is going to happen to my relationship, what do others think of me so on and so forth, we start to carry the weight on our shoulders. Our shoulders tense without us even being conscious of it. And then we think of what a horrible place it is to live here, so many problems that are seemingly endless, everyone keeps doing the wrong thing, people are so ignorant, everyone should change but myself (because I am already perfect), we are consumed with anger and we tighten our fists. And we are so afraid of this dangerous world we live in, we are so afraid of how others may hurt us, we are constantly suspicious of them, and we shrivel up to protect our hearts. Then we walk around like that, tightened fists and clenched jaws, tensed up shoulders and drooping posture, and we get so used to it we think we are supposed to live this way. We feel back pain and shoulder pain and this discomfort and that discomfort and we wonder why.
Let us now try sthira sukham asanam on our bodies, if just for size. When we let go of our future worries and focus on the present moment, we come to realize that in this moment worries and fear do not exist, and we unburden ourselves and release the weight on our shoulders. When we look to others with compassion and see that everyone is trying his or her best to be happy, we no longer feel angry. We realize that our dissatisfaction with the world is a mirror, and we can transform our own lives and live positively that way. Our fists unclench and we open our palms into the possibilities. When we are consistent in our practice of yoga, we realize the world will still turn its wheel according to its rhythm, we will not be exempt from hurt and it will happen again and again throughout our lives. But because we are centered and secure and confident, we open our hearts anyway because we know pain is temporary but love is permanent. And when we stand like that, shoulders relaxed, chest open, rooted in security and uplifted in confidence, we stand in tadasana, mountain pose, which is the foundation of all poses.
The correlation between how we stand (or sit or twist or bend or invert for that matter) and the way we see the world becomes obvious once we start making the connections. Our bodies are storehouses for our karma, our histories, and the stories we tell ourselves. Our bodies take in our fear and love, our anger and forgiveness, our regrets and compassion. Our bodies do not lie to us. Our bodies can tell if we have been kind. If we stop eating animals, our digestion improves and twisting feels easier. If we forgive others, we let go of the chains in our hearts and we come into backbends with more openness. If we realize that our apathy is rooted in our fears, we progress in our inversions.
And so it is that kindness has everything to do with sthira sukham asanam. It is the kindness in our hearts that will open our eyes to our relationship with all beings. It is the kindness we have in thought, word, and action that will keep us steady and joyful, both in our seat when we do asana and in the way that we connect to the world.
"Patanjali says for those who want yoga, their relationship to the Earth, to life itself, to all others should be mutually beneficial. It should be based on sthiram and sukham. Steadiness and joy." - Sharon Gannon