Updated: Feb 13, 2021
One of the key definitions of what describes a yoga posture as being a yoga posture rather than some other form of exercise is that it is both “steady” and “sweet”. In Sanskrit we say that a yoga posture (asana) has both qualities of “sthira” (steadiness) and “sukah” (sweetness). Yoga practice in general also carries these qualities — we show up with an eagerness, an inner resolve or willingness to participate in the practice (sthira) and also a softness and gentleness to our approach (sukha). There’s a fine balance point between the two.
When I first started practicing yoga everything about it was, naturally, very new, exciting and fresh. I recall approaching my practice like yoga was a limited resource. The underlying tone was that I had to extract from the time in class every last ounce of sweat, self-awareness and calm that I could get. Time in class felt like it was extremely precious. Something was unfolding in me in those moments on the mat that I couldn't put words to. I knew it was valuable and I wanted more of whatever was transpiring. When I approached practice from this lens, I came from a short-term view: what can I get NOW? There was a general feeling of scarcity, like I had to get everything I could get out of the class and push myself to the limit physically and mentally so that I could be sure that I wasn’t missing anything. Too much “sthira”. This tone was unsustainable in the long-run. I’d end up over-straining muscles, burning out, and feeling exhausted for the rest of the day.
We could liken this experience to how some folks approach going on vacation. They only get two weeks off per year and so they must squeeze every moment of this freedom for what’s it’s worth. I can recall being in Paris with a group of friends while on exchange in University and half the group had planned a long itinerary to do while we were there. They wanted to see Paris like they were sprinting through it. Because we’ll never have this opportunity again. And off they went, ticking items off their list as they whipped through sight after sight, museum after museum with no time to pause. When I first started traveling I used to travel like that — huge itinerary, every day planned to the last minute, enormous disappointment if something wasn’t done and suffocating pressure to do it all. There was little space to explore, slow down, be curious and let the energy of the moment inspire what decisions to make next. I would end those vacations feeling more tired than when I began. I needed a vacation to recover from my vacation.
Is this how you sometimes end your yoga classes? Like you're more tired than when you arrived? We can feel energized, sure. We can feel calm, that’s great. But like you’ve just emptied your tank? Maybe there’s a time for that, but my intent in leading a class is to have there be a sense of energetic balance for participants by the time they’re closing their Savasana. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t figured this all out; sometimes I go overboard, too and feel like I need a yoga class after my yoga class. But I’m learning.
This brings to mind how we treat our intimate relationships as well. After nearly three years together, my wife and I are now transitioning out of the honeymoon phase. The energy that lives in the first months/years of a romantic relationship can feel like a limited resource. We’re addicted to our significant other and can’t get enough; they make us feel so loved. All other relationships seem to pale in comparison with how this person makes us feel. We want to spend every minute with them and extract all the juice that lives in between our two energetic fields. Then at some point, it dawns on us that we feel empty, drained, tired and distant from ourselves. Where are all our friends? What happened to our community? And so again there’s a turning point of withdrawing not from the relationship but from our way of being in the relationship to come to a more balanced place. Letting there be more sweetness or “sukha”, less pressure, more space and ease. The relationship is also not a limited resource and requires time to regenerate.
Last, how can we speak about limited resources and not also mention how humans have approached our natural resources? We are consuming every living thing until we now inhabit well over half of the wild spaces on the surface of this planet. Globally we are called to find a new way of being in relationship with our natural resources. We must come into a more balanced way of living here if we hope to survive as a species. The Earth is, of course, able to regenerate its resources but not more quickly than we consume them. A global rebalancing of consumption habits is well-over due. We can’t keep eating like there’ll be no food tomorrow. We can’t keep cutting down forests and jungles to lay out monoculture crops and enormous factory dairy/meat farms. We can’t keep sucking oil from the earth and burning our atmosphere into nothingness. We need more “sukha” here. We, and the planet, need more rest.
So, my dear Reader.
Tell me: how has your yoga practice felt of late?
Have you experienced or are you experiencing this feeling of urgency in your practice? Like you’ll miss out on some revelatory experience or inner peace if you aren’t outputting your maximum potential?
I understand. I’ve been there and sometimes I’m right back where I started, pushing and pulling my at my tissues like I’ll never get the chance to do this again. Huffing and puffing through pranayama, finishing with a racing heart or lightheaded. That’s ok. I'm less and less hard on myself for falling into old habits. Right now, I’m just working on acknowledging what’s there and observing those tendencies as they arise and continuing to observe as they often fade away into nothingness and “sukha” naturally arises to replace the excess of “sthira”.
It’s a fascinating journey to explore and one that I urge us all to continue on if we hope for our yoga practice, our relationships and our lives on this precious planet to extend long into the future.
DEAR READER: How has your journey with your yoga practice evolved over time? Are you approaching it with too much sthira or sukha? Comment below and let's start a conversation!