As part of Focus of the Month February 2018
Yoga Sutra of Patanjali 2.46: sthira-sukham asanam.
According to Patanjali, the physical postures are meant to contain two seemingly opposite qualities, sthira and sukha; steadiness and ease.
I remember hearing that sutra for the first time. “How can I be at ease and steady at the same time?” I thought to myself… “They are opposites!” I took it as an intension to try and embrace the opposites in my physical practice and learn to trust it. Just by listening carefully to the instructions given to me in class: “left side, right side. Inhale, exhale. Expand, contract. Warm up, cool down…” I realised how so many opposites are already incorporated in our practice and how we just do it, without asking questions, we trust it. Even the word: Hatha (the style I was practicing) - can be translated as ha meaning, "sun" and tha, meaning "moon." This refers to the balance of masculine aspects: active, hot, sun and feminine aspects: receptive, cool, moon, within all of us. Hatha yoga is a path toward creating balance and uniting opposites.
Pictured: Nadi Shodhana Pranayama – Alternate Nostril breathing.
There is a wonderful story about a musician who asked the Buddha how we should meditate. The Buddha replied by asking: “How do you tune your instrument?”
The musician answered: “Not too tight, not too loose.”
The Buddha answered: “Exactly like that.”
Our yoga practice includes both the mind and the body. We know that whatever comes up in our mind will affect how we work with our body and the opposite. The useful concept of “not too tight, not too loose” offers us a recommendation about how hard to work, when to let go. Discovering that in-between place.
At a deeper level, not too tight, not too loose also reminds us that nothing is solid or permanent.
As you transition from one asana (pose) to the other, you are completely leaving one experience and entering a new one. The old pose does not exist anymore. It was a momentary gathering of alignment, breath and attention into one physical shape. And then it was gone - as soon as you focused your body and mind on the transition and then on the next pose.
In the physical practice it was easy for me to embrace the qualities of Yin-Yang, acknowledge the opposites, and how they do not cancel each other out. They are relative to each other and one cannot exist without the other.
This powerful teaching applies to our everyday life as well. In our lives we find it more difficult to embrace or ‘trust’ opposites. We just want the shiny half, right? Happiness, health, wealth, love…
I love the way Jack Kornfield refers to it:
“If we seek happiness purely through indulgence, we are not free. And if we fight against ourselves and the world we are not free. It is the middle path that brings freedom.
The middle way describes the middle ground between attachment and aversion, between being and non-being, between form and emptiness, between free will and determinism. The more we delve into the middle way the more deeply we come to rest between the play of opposites.”
Esther Teule aslo puts it beautifully:
“Somehow life seems to express itself through polarities: you cannot experience strength without knowing weakness. You only feel warmth because you can experience cold. A strong core can not be felt without the taste of being no one. How can you experience day without night?
We cannot separate these 'opposites' but yet we seem to insist on feeling only the shiny half. Maybe because we learned that strength is good and insecurity is bad. Unconsciously we are on a mission impossible: we try to feel good the whole time! Nobody can or ever will.”
After time, I learnt that finding the place in-between of what seem to be opposites and the recognition of both as part of the whole of existence without getting dependent on one or trying to escape the other is what the practice says it will help us to do.
Use the actual opposites in the teachings, left, right. Inhale, Exhale… Asymmetrical practice. Standing Balance poses with opposition of movement: “From that place of rooting down, rise up tall…”
Practice Nadi Shodhana Pranayama – Alternate Nostril breathing. Method & benefits.
Explain the mudra that we use so often: Anjali Mudra – by joining your hands together, you make a physical gesture of union, (a symbolic reference of the union of your individual self and the Universal Self), in which you are aware of the inter-connectedness of all living beings. The gentle pressure of the two palms against each other is believed to harmonize the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
Explain different poses where “not too tight, not too loose” can be sensed easily. For example, in Savasana, if it were too tight we would be defeating the purpose of letting go, but if we were too loose, we wouldn’t stay awake.