Struggling to find balance in your life? It could be time to take advice from an ancient sage. Patanjali, the father of modern yoga, compiled a book known as the Yoga Sutras around 2,000 years ago.
Steadiness AND ease are required in asana (yoga postures).
When you think about it, balancing steadiness and ease is a pretty good instruction for anything – relationships, work, exercise, decision making. When we practice sthira and sukham on the yoga mat, it teaches us to find the point at which our bodies and minds are challenged, but then ease back a little before we go into strain. And that’s a good recipe for living a happy life. Doing things that are challenging and engaging, yet still pleasurable and conducive to a relaxed state of mind. This experience of reaching beyond our comfort zone, yet staying away from pain and over-exertion is sometimes referred to as 'playing with the edge.'
Here’s an exercise that we practice during our foundational yoga teacher training to give students an experience of in sthira and sukham:
After a short warm up, move mindfully into Virabhadrasana 2 (see the photo above), using ujayyi breathing if you’re familiar and comfortable with it:
1. Stand with your feet together
2. Step the right foot back so that the arch of the right foot intersects with the heel of the left foot.
3. Inhale – raise the arms to shoulder height
4. Exhale – bend the left knee, bringing the knee directly above the ankle
Pay close attention to your alignment. Are your feet in the correct foundational position? Are your arms the same height? Is your front knee directly over your ankle? Are your neck, shoulders and face relaxed?
Gently ease yourself more deeply into the pose, keeping the breath smooth and even. Find a point at which your body’s strength and flexibility is challenged, but your breath and mind are still calm and steady. Play with that 'edge'. Hold the pose for 6-12 breaths and watch how your body, breath and mind respond. Is it easy for you to find that balance between strength and softness, effort and ease? Do you tend to ‘go for the burn’ or are you more inclined to ease off when the going gets tough? When we pay attention during our yoga practice, many of the habits that drive our everyday behaviour become apparent.
Repeat this exercise on the other side, then move into Savasana (lying down comfortably on your back) and reflect on your experience of Sthira and Sukha in Virabhadrasana 2. Observing your patterns and behaviours during your yoga practice can be very educational– they usually mirror your (often subconscious) patterns and behaviours in everyday life!