Asanas, or physical yoga postures, are only referenced in three of the 196 stanzas or aphorisms in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The remaining 193 describe other aspects of yoga practice, philosophy, concepts and traditions. Yes, yoga is much more than asana.
But when Patanjali does discuss asana, he talks of sthira sukham asanam
11.46 Posture must have the two qualities of firmness and ease
11.47 Posture is then when effort ceases and meditation on infinity occurs
11.48 In asana there is no assault from the pairs of opposites
– Ashtanga Yoga, Practice and Philosophy – Gregor Maehle.
In the yoga class I was teaching earlier this week my intention was to introduce these words, this concept. As it was an Intro to Yoga series I didn’t want to overload students so provided them a brief definition or explanation, as I understand it.
Sthira –stable, firm, hard, steady
Sukham – easy, pleasant, soft, gentle, mild
Asanam – seat or to sit, (meditation) posture
In yoga, we practice asana but we cannot force any particular outcome so hopefully we learn to let go and detach ourselves from expectations, achievement or perfection of poses. I talked about finding both the firm and stable posture, but also how we look to find ease and softness to each pose. In life, the same is asked of us. I used one example of speaking our mind, but then letting go and learning to accept whatever the response might be.
Duality. Effort and ease. Engagement and release. Practice and detachment. In yoga and in life.
This week my husband and I, our family, were preparing for our oldest child to move out. For our son this means moving to another country, another continent. I easily recall the emotions when he was born and how happy I felt. Blessed and fortunate. I was in love with him and with being a mother to him.
However, there were opposing feelings that also stirred inside. Feelings I mostly tried to ignore or displace to where I didn’t have to acknowledge or admit to them. Loss. Grief. Loss of my life as I had known it to be for the past 31 years. My life was no longer just my own. It now included obligation, responsibility, sometimes seclusion compared to what I had been used to. I felt a heaviness and grief with having to give up and release some freedoms I once enjoyed.
The same dualities of emotions are again true today.
I am feeling, or am about to feel, great loss as our son steps on board the airplane that will take him so far away. But also feelings of intense love, pride and joy in all the ways he has touched our lives. In his young life he is already an example of the Yamas (one of eight limbs in Ashtanga yoga) I aspire to: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacarya (sexual responsibility), aparigraha (abstention from greed). These qualities exude from his being.
So I shall continue to seek the balance of sthira and sukham in my asana. I shall continue to look for and recognize it in life with my family, my children, my self. Today I will try to be strong and firm offering up encouragement. Confident in his readiness to move on. And then I shall attempt to release, let go, and trust that he is right where he needs to be in his journey.
My observation through it all is that he will always be a part of me – he just might be a little further away than I’m used to.
Published in Elephant Journal, 18 October 2011