sthira sukham āsanam is one of the commonly quoted sutras that talk about asana. Sthirtha and sukham have many shades of meaning and while it is easier to see it in the context of asana, I also see how difficult it is to apply it to life off the mat. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is a gift of grace to be able to have these twin states in all life’s moments.
All three words are part of the Malayalam vocabulary too and it lends a flavour to learning Sanskrit. There is a background of context as I explore the language of the ancient texts. Sthirtha in my mother tongue also means firm or steady and sukham means a sense of wellbeing, comfort (for lack of a more accurate translation) and asanam means seat.
Freewheeling on this crisp Sutra, I think about Yog being an essential oneness which allows me to be rooted firmly like a tree or mountain. Perhaps that is why we begin with tadasana… The steadiness of equanimity in being where one is, a state of openness which witnesses without discrimination, acting without attachment. Difficult situations are a good opportunity to see how Yoga can be applied, less as a solution and more as a natural state of being. Easier said than done, like all other practices, this attitude too is one that needs patient cultivation. I feel sthirtha before sukham is also indicative of the progression required to experience sāmyatā.
As Lord Krishna sings of the man of steady wisdom in the Chapter on ‘Sankhya Yoga’,
यः सर्वत्रानभिस्नेहस्तत्तत्पाप्य शुभाशुभम्।
नाभिनन्दति न द्वेष्टि तस्य प्रज्ञा प्रतिष्ठिता ।।५७।।
follows the earlier sutra and clarifies the state of sthiram and sukham where the effort becomes effortless. In everyday living, it is a promise of a new way of acting rather than reacting being the new base without effort, a ‘growing balance in ourselves’ as Swami Chinmayananda puts it.
Asana practice surprises me when I encounter an ease at times. I expect effort to move further and find little resistance which makes me wonder if I am underdoing an action. Last evening it struck me that regular effort has led to a slightly greater range of movement and it is perhaps time to start exploring the actions beyond a muscular level. Start paying attention to all those sensations and experiences that I consciously do not try to understand even as they occur. Maybe I don’t need to be fixed in assuming a certain time has to elapse before I am eligible to receive the blessings of the eternal teachers.