By Kali Morse and Rashmi Galliano

In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book II: sutra 46, Patanjali describes asana as having two components: sthira—steady, sukham—comfortable. Swami Satchidananda’s commentary on this sutra tells us that “We need the strength of steel, but with steel’s flexibility.” How might one experience the idea expressed in this analogy?

Exploration of Sthira

Often in the Sanskrit language words have multiple meanings. Sthira’s meaning can be explored from a foundational approach to mean “stability.” It requires strength to be stable. Stability plays a vital role in determining whether we feel comfortable. Stability offers security, strength, and skill. Without security our comfort level is challenged—whether it has to do with asana, delivering a speech, or even building a structure. When looking at asana, we are building a structure with our bodies that we call a posture. To skillfully “build” a posture one begins with the foundation.

Exploration of Sukham

In order to better understand the meaning of sukham, as related to our comfort level in an asana, we can dissect the word sukham. Su literally means “good.” Kha literally means “space.” Therefore, the foundational meaning of sukham means “good space.” Comfort is the state of physical ease which could also be thought of as mobility. Being able means to have skill or strength. When one is comfortable, he or she is in a good space. If one is in a good space there is physical ease, mobility, and even liberation. And that ease comes from stability.

Looking for Stability in all the Wrong Places

Often as teachers, we see students attempting to stabilize themselves in a posture, not from what lies below, but rather from above, such as in Virabhadrasana II. Too often students attempt to hold themselves up from their shoulders causing rigidity in the mobile, or the more sukham part of the body—the body that is ingeniously built for stability—which is comprised of the pelvis, thighs, legs, and feet. When there is a collapse in what best serves as sthira, everything above is compromised.

For example, the front leg sways inward, and the back leg loses its foundation. The trunk of the body sinks into the hip joints. The lumbar spine is compressed, adversely affecting the sacroiliac joints and the ribcage juts forward. Meanwhile, the arms and shoulders are working really hard and become overtaxed with too much effort. Inevitably, the shoulders hunch up by the ears, the jaw clenches, and the manifestation of the asana is restricted. Because of the dis-ease of the pose, the breath is compromised and consequently the prana; not unlike when a large rock is placed in the middle of a flowing stream, interrupting its smooth flow. . . .

Read the rest of this article in the Spring 2015 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.