sthira-sukham āsanam

The seat should be steady and joyful.

YS 2.46

 

 

 

Āsana can act a vortex pulling into its practice kindness, devotion, stillness, beauty and self reflection. As we move our body and attune our mind through an āsana practice we are simultaneously planting the seeds of devotion. Each time we come back to the mat we nourish those seeds and cultivate an intimacy to the movement of our body, breath, and mind. As we get into our bodies and truly feel, compassion has a chance to expand. When we feel ourselves more fully we are more likely to sense and be receptive to the difficulties of others. With repetition over an extended period of time we begin refine our ability to listen, contemplate and meditate all through the refinement of āsana

There are many nuances to meaning of the word āsana throughout the tradition. In earlier uses of the word, āsana meant your seat, as in the way in which you chose to sit for practices like pranayama, meditation or chanting. At times it would also mean the object upon which you were sitting; a mat or some grass. The meaning eventually broadened to include a wider range of bodily postures. Today āsana may be used to refer to stringing many movements together in a yoga class. Within Jivamukti Yoga, āsana as a form of movement plays a very important role, and the traditional meaning of the word is expanded in an updated contemporary interpretation.

How do you define an āsana practice? In yoga classes and workshops Sharonji would ask this of the students in the room. The question was followed by the investigation of what it means to take a seat. A seat infers a connection between at least two things. There is the one sitting and that being sat upon or connected to for support. What is it that we are all connected to and supports all of us; this home we call earth. The practice of āsana is understood to be the refinement not only of how our body moves through space or how we sit or even what we sit upon, but the quality of connection to the larger whole. Is the relationship to the earth steady and joyful?

Vyaas Houston translates the word sthira as stable. For something to be stable momentary balance will not do. A stable ecosystem is one that is resilient. A stable relationship is one that can endure hardship and challenges. Vyaas goes on to translate sukham as comfortable. Straining over a long period of time to maintain stability will not work either. We should have a level of comfort. Our effort and attention should lead us to a place where the seat, our connection to the earth is steady and stable as well as joyful or at least comfortable.

Human beings for many many years have seen the earth as a place that is here to provide for our needs only. The relationship can be defined as one sided, to put it mildly. Most of us have been taking what we want, when we want it; we have believed that the earth belongs to us. This imbalance and its profound impact on the environment both internal and external has become more and more obvious to a greater number of people. The desire to take care of the world and ourselves is seen on every form of social and mainstream media. The search for a spiritual practice is the search for healing on both an individual and and as part of a larger whole.

The āsana-s themselves are celebrations of the world we inhabit and the wisdom it contains. The āsana practice can become a confluence, a meeting place for ahimsa, bhakti, dhyāna, nāda, and śastra when we move with them in heart and mind.

TEACHING TIPS

 

  1. Chant YS 1.14 or 2.46 teach one or two challenging āsanas for the whole month. Allow the students to find greater comfort and stability through repetition. Let them know if the beginning of the month so they can take keep an eye on the progress made. The progress may not be physical but mental or emotional
  2. Invite students to choose one relationship in life outside of the yoga room or off the mat that they would like to refine. For example, you can ask them at the beginning of the month to write down what they view as a cause 
  3. Highlight how each of the 5 tenets is incorporated into each class. Keep in mind that the next few months will each one of the tenets as the focus. The idea is how the open class or workshop can be a blend of all 5.
  4. Choose an āsana that can be held for a long period of time and teach it in depth. Sukhāsana, swastikāsana, śavāsana. This length of time can show people where they are resisting the āsana. This can translate into daily life. When we are faced with the need to be with someone or something for an extended period of time to create change, can we do it? Can we at least see how our mind works, when confronted with unsteadiness and a perceived lack of joy?
  5. Ask the group can they see any of the 5 tenets in a āsana practice. Are some easier than others to identify or incorporate? 
  6. Do the same thing at the beginning and end of class to see if there has been a change because of the asana practice. You can read from I Am That (or preferred text) or chant or meditate at the start of the class, take the group through an āsana practice and then repeat exactly as you can what was done at the beginning. If you are able, you can sequence the āsana practice to heighten the effect at the end based on what is being repeated. For example, back-bending may complement chanting and a forward-bending or hip opening class may complement meditation. 
  7. Life is easier when we feel that our body is part of a healthy system and is itself a healthy system. A system is multi process’ working together, health is a mutually beneficial relationship. As we explore this in our body we may be able to see ourselves as part of a larger system that requires a more mutually beneficial relationship. All 5 of the tenets wrapped into the asana practice can bring about a healthier system, small and large.

 

JULES FEBRE