Finding Balance through Sthira and Sukha
Sthira and Sukha are the words used by yoga sage Patanjali to describe the quality of yoga asana, ie. what makes a posture yoga, as opposed to a fitness exercise. I’ve heard many translations from different teachers, but really we are all trying to achieve the same thing – a sense of stability and ease. It’s an elusive feeling, but when you feel it, it’s a wonderful moment of expansion, freedom and awakening in the body. The poses that work well for me are balances and warriors, the feeling of the ground beneath my feet, which is reflected in this standing sequence. It's designed to take around 30 minutes, but you can pause, rest, repeat or hold the postures as feels right for you. Asymmetric poses are done on both sides.
Turn your attention to your physical body. Notice the firm support from the earth beneath your feet, gravity drawing you down, especially around the outer edges of your feet, heels and toes; invite your body to respond to this support with a gentle lift of the arches of your feet, lengthen through your legs and spine all the way to the crown of your head. Sthira and sukha are held beautifully in balance in Tadasana, a pose we have been practicing our whole lives.
Make large circles with your arms, inhale deeply through your nose crossing your hands in front of you and up above your head, exhale in a deep sigh through your mouth while opening your arms and bringing them down by your sides. Repeat five times. Reverse the movement.
Gently rotate your ankles in both directions, keep your toes on the floor.
Step your legs wide further apart and make a circle with your hips, gradually work up to your full comfortable range of movement. Change the direction of your circle.
Swing your arms from side to side, creating a twist at your waist, build up pace and energy. Give yourself a pat on the back for doing your home practice!
Stay in the pose, steady natural breath, knees together if you can; after a while you may notice a subtle change in your thigh muscles. You could use a strap/belt to hold your foot and use your free hand for support.
Virabhadrasana / Trikonasana Flow
Hold each pose for at least three rounds of breath, try to re-create the firm base and support in your lower body and lightness in your upper body that you found in Tadasana.
Start with a strong warrior base, front knee tracking in-line with your front toes and back foot at a diagonal angle away from your front foot. Arms up, steady gaze forward.
On an exhale, open your arms in-line with your legs until they are parallel to the floor, allow your back hip to open to side a little too.
Straighten your front leg, careful not to lock it back (particularly if you’re hyperflexible), tilt your body over your front leg, arms travel with you. Stay higher up if you’re tempted to rest your hand on your leg or the floor.
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Bring your back arm up and over your head and then both hands onto the floor either side of your front foot. Step your front foot back and adjust into a comfortable downward facing dog pose.
End of sequence.
From AMS, lower your knees onto the mat, step forward with the other leg and repeat. Once you’re familiar with the sequence, try moving more quickly from pose to pose.
Start in Tadasana, connect with sthira and sukha, then allow gravity to draw down more strongly on one side, turn the other leg diagonally away from you and bring your foot to rest against your ankle, calf or thigh. Hands can start on your hips, then move to your heart centre, then rise above your head. For a challenge try moving your body as though you are being blown by the wind.
This challenging balance is the perfect expression of sthira and sukha, giving you the opportunity to slowly expand from the earth into perfect balance.
From Tadasana, step forward with one foot, lift up through your arch, lengthen the front of your hips and side body, gradually tilting over with open hips and raising your back leg.
Keep your back leg and body in a line and invite your arms to expand from your body. Do not aim at the floor.
Having the hand away from the floor makes it equally accessible and challenging to all. If you find balance challenging keep the back leg low and the tilt small to maintain the line from head to toe. If you love a strong balance and your leg comes up parallel to the floor, your hand may well find the floor, resist the urge to rest on it!
Step your legs wide apart, knees bent, fold forwards at your hips using your hands as brakes to walk down your legs, hold and breath at an appropriate place for your body. Straighten your legs and rest your hands on the floor or a block if you want to go further.
Prepare for relaxation, lie on your back, legs relaxed, arms away from your sides, palms facing up. Eyes closed.
You may prefer to have your legs bent, soles of your feet on the floor and knees resting together.
Don’t be tempted to scrimp on these precious few minutes of peace and quiet. Namaste.