Sthira sukham asanam.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Verse 2.46
Yoga is found in the perfect balance between steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha). Too much focus on steadiness and you create unnecessary tension. Too much ease and you become a lazy floppy noodle, stuck in your ways. Sthira sukham asanam. This might just be my favorite description of yoga. I believe it wholeheartedly. I repeat it to my own students all the time. Yet I struggle with this balance myself. Like many Type-As and recovering Type-As, I tend to overdo the “steadiness” half of the equation, and it’s been weighing me down.
Yesterday I went to Amanda Moran’s Saturday morning class in Hayes Valley. She opened as she usually does, with a story. This time it was a personal story, about how her morning yoga practice was thwarted when her daughter ran into the room and demanded some lovey cuddle time. Amanda explained that at first she was frustrated at being held back from her practice, a frustration that was compounded by the fact time was running out before she had to come teach us. But then she gave in to the magic of what the moment was offering and realized, of course, doing so was yoga.
The point: As yogis we have to be flexible before "what is." Yes, discipline, or steadiness, is important, but is no more important than surrender, or ease.
I have to admit, a tear rolled down my cheek as Amanda spoke these words. It was as if she had been speaking directly to me in my current state. You see, I’ve committed myself to waking up before sunrise each day for my morning ritual, but yesterday I slipped up and slept in. As as a result I didn’t leave myself enough time for a full 30-minute sit and to get ready for Amanda’s class. “Whatever. I’ll take a Lyft,” I told myself. "Because if I don't get this sit in now, everything is ruined."
But when I settled into my seat, my mind refused to join. My mind split itself in two and one side wouldn't stop loudly berated the other for messing everything up. The rigid schoolmaster half of my mind said the other half, “What's the point? It doesn’t count anymore. You broke the routine.” The other half of my mind tried to make things right by stopping to add 10 more minutes to the clock. “It’s okay,” she said. “We just need a little more time to calm down this morning, I see.” This went on and on until it was time to leave, causing my inner discipline junkie to explode. “Fine! We’ll meditate later," she said. "But it’s not going to make up for this."
I went to Amanda’s in a foul mood -- stressed out, ironically, by meditation. But I'm glad I showed up, because Amanda reminded me of what I needed to hear -- that discipline can be overdone. As yogis, we have to learn to be flexible, especially given that most of what happens in life is completely out of our control. Sthira sukham asanam. I let myself surrender to her words and to life at large. Then I recommitted myself. Not to my rigid rituals, but to joy itself.
After class I went home and did my meditation practice. And you know what? Nothing was ruined at all.