In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras there are about 12 words that speak to yoga’s third limb, asana. And of those 12, there are perhaps three in particular that we as yogis know best: 11.46 sthira-sukham asanam. The verse speaks to steadiness, ease, and balance. While it refers to our physical yoga practice, like all of yoga’s teachings, the dharma and our lives are the same thing.
Rima Rabbath, a renowned Jivamukti teacher, says it is one of her favorite verses among the 196–200 sutras. “It is so rich, and so exciting, and so beautiful to bring to mind throughout our daily practice,” she says.
Sthira: Commitment and Grounding
Sthira means steadiness or feeling grounded. It is the equal-footed quality we bring to our Tadasana, or the stillness we hold in Vrksasana. It also goes hand in hand with consistency, says Rima, “it reminds us to be committed to our practice.” That doesn’t mean dragging ourselves to the mat when we are tired, but perhaps modifying our practice on those days. “Can we perhaps just do 10 minutes of warm-ups instead such as the Jivamukti Magic Ten Sequence, or a few Sun Salutations? Or maybe we just sit on our cushion and focus on our breath that day. We find a way to show up every day for our practice in light of any limitations or obligations we may have. As my teacher, Sharon Gannon likes to remind us—through repetition magic arises,” says Rima.
Away from the mat, sthira calls for us to have integrity. We don’t say one thing and do another. Instead we show up for the people in our lives and for ourselves. We stand strong in what we believe in. Says Rima:“When we connect to others we are fully present for them, and become somebody that can hold another.”
Sukham: Ease and Space
Sukham, our second word, means “in a space of ease” or ‘good’ or ‘centered’. It is contentment with what we have, and also a gentleness, a kind of “effortless effort”. In our practice sukham happens when we first take time to create a space of ease through preparation. In yoga, says Rima, we can cultivate that state through chanting. “We warm up the heart and the vocal chords, and we create a place that is soft and that feels good,” she says. “There is a lot of tenderness and spaciousness that occurs when we chant.”
That sukham continues with us as we move through our practice. It also dissuades us from pushing too hard while at the same time it encourages us to not run away either. “We meet our edge without becoming irritated or annoyed,” says Rima—and we take this to our daily lives.
“The greatest heart shifts occur when we can go there and relax. That is how we can also approach the hardships in our lives,” says Rima. With sukham comes also a sense of fluidity. “When you see a master at work they often appear to be operating with such ease it is as if they were floating. This is sukham.”
Asanam: Our Seat in the World
Together the two words encourage us of to be in a state of grace and firmness that lead to balance. Sukham also means ‘toward the sky,’ Rima points out, and so it creates a sense of living in the world by being grounded and connected to the Earth, while simultaneously relaxing us to the possibility of a celestial force operating within us—our pure potential.
It is our natural state, and reflected to us by our surroundings. “We see this sthira-sukham in nature,” says Rima. “It is in the trees that are rooted into the Earth but are extending upwards to the sky. We see it in the way a bird will pause on a branch before it takes flight.”
When we walk in the world with sthira-sukham we become like the women of ancient Egypt who would walk great distances with buckets of water on their heads never spilling a drop, she adds. “It is a recognition that we are carrying something pure and healing within us, and so we must move steadily, and easily so as to honor it and not let it go to waste.”
If we can find this steadiness and ease in our minds and our bodies, Rima says the people around us will benefit. “Yoga is not about retreating to a cave, it is more about finding our seat in the world.” This is our last word of the verse—asanam—which means seat.
“We trust that our yoga is not for us alone. It is about being in the world, and taking our place in that world,” says Rima. “Whatever we do to elevate ourselves and be joyful and balanced, will be inspiring and contagious to those that share the world with us.”
Learn more about Rima by checking out her website.
Helen Avery is a senior writer for Wanderlust Media. She is also a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, minister, and full-time dog walker of Millie, residing in Brooklyn, New York. You can find out more about her on her website, Life as Love.