Balancing Steadiness and Ease in Asana and More
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.46 is one of only three sutras that discuss asana directly. It is succinct: Sthira Sukham Aasanam, which translates as “Postures should be steady and comfortable.” It is often summarized as balancing effort and ease, but this misunderstands steadiness, which is effortless. The ease that accompanies steadiness is blissful.
One of the foundations of Svaroopa® yoga is the idea that support equals release, a corollary of sutra 2.46. You support a portion of your body to make it steady, and another portion can release effort. From steadiness, ease is revealed.
Here are some simple examples of how this principle is applied in asanas.
Lying in supported Shavasana, you have a stack of blankets or a chair under your lower legs; the back of your thighs rest on the front edge of the support. Your entire lower body is supported, and your low back and hips can release onto the floor. Your head is supported by a folded blanket and the entire back side of your body is supported by the floor and the blankets covering it. The back side of your torso and your neck can release tension, the front of your body can soften, and your bones and nervous system can align. No effort is needed. Ease can be explored.
When you have moved into the final position in Lunge, your hands and arms are directly under your shoulders supporting the weight of your upper body. Your front foot and back knee support your body from below. Holding these body parts—hands, arms, shoulders, foot, and knee—in position and providing the support takes some effort in order to align the bones; then effort is released, and steadiness settles in. From the steadiness of this foundation, everything else in your body can release tension and find ease.·
In Sukhasana, you sit on a stack of blankets with a wedge behind your sit bones so that your sit bones can point in their natural downward position while being supported from the back in that angle. Your legs are crossed in front of you where your calves taper. Your thighs are level with your hips. The backs of your thighs are supported by the stack of blankets you are sitting on. Your shoulders are relaxed and your hands are resting on your thighs. The base of your pelvis is fully supported and the muscles in your pelvic bowl can soften, leaving the bones to hold your body’s weight. Your shoulder blades settle onto your ribs as your collar bones widen and your shoulders hang with no resistance to gravity. Through your ribs and neck, your spine is long and soft and aligns naturally as the base of your skull settles in line with your tailbone. To balance steadiness and ease in this pose is illuminating.
Svaroopa® yoga affects both the body and mind. You are aligning and supporting your body in very specific ways to allow your body to relax. Using your awareness, you explore the sensation in your body with curiosity and without judgment. You are not on a mission to fix something. You will notice that some areas of the body are comfortable. They are at ease, feel fluid, are open. There is much to be learned from such sensation. Other areas are uncomfortable. Sometimes this is described as being painful. The description can be refined and named as achy, or congested, or burning, or stiff, or nervy, or tingly or something else. Whatever label you give it, do not judge it. Sensation is information. Your curiosity moves awareness toward, not away from the uncomfortable sensation. Being comfortable with the uncomfortable is healing.
Learning in the face of discomfort is challenging. Bringing your awareness to the uncomfortable sensation with curiosity and kindness reveals things to you. You may or may not understand the sensation. Its cause may remain a mystery. Let it be as it is. Accept it as it is. Sometimes while you observe the discomfort, you witness change. Sometimes the sensation moves toward ease. How can that easing happen? It is a subtle process and not easily described. It is not something that happens with effort or intention. It is best if you let your body take the lead in sorting out the discomfort and finding a path to ease. The body has its own intelligence. It knows how to heal. The support allows release of tension, opening the body to heal as it knows best.
Practicing Svaroopa® yoga brings deep changes to your body. The nervous system is rewired, and muscular function restored. You bring these changes with you into your everyday life. You walk differently, more comfortably. You sit in a more balanced and easy way. Standing is something you are aware of rather than just something you do. Having integrated the basic idea of sutra 2.46, your mind changes. You have discovered that the sutra is more than a guide for asana practice; it is applicable to the rest of your life—be steady, find ease. Striving to find this balance in all things supports a contented state of mind.