In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there are three sutras about asana practice:
- 2.46 sthira sukham asanam
- 2.47 prayatna shaithilya ananta samapatti bhyam
- 2.48 tata dvandva anabhighataha
This is a blueprint for asana practice. In translation, it says this:
(2.46) Asanas should be still and comfortable.
(2.47) You get stillness and comfort two ways: 1) by relaxing effort, and 2) by focusing on the bigger picture.
(2.48) When you achieve stillness and comfort in your practice, there is freedom from suffering due to “the pairs of opposites” (e.g., good and bad, flexible and stiff, strong and weak, right and wrong, success and failure, pain and pleasure).
The first sutra says asanas should be still and comfortable. Here are some other words for stillness: steady, stable, motionless. And here are some other words for comfort: sweet, enjoyable, relaxed, ease.
Getting to stillness and comfort takes practice. Remember to practice them. We can fall into a habit of spending practice wrestling with technical aspects of postures. Of course, when you have a new pose you will spend time looking for alignment, looking for ways to “do it.” But once you’ve got the pose a bit roughed out technically, stop struggling and start practicing being still in it. Yes, even if it’s not perfect. Even if you fall out of it. The stillness in the pose is where your intuitions about what you need to do to be more still and more comfortable and more effortless will manifest. Let those intuitions arise. Let them sink in a bit. Don’t default to fidgeting and shifting and struggling. You’ve got days and months and years and decades to sort this all out.
If you struggle and keep applying abstract ideas of “alignment” or “perfection,” you will not be able to “get inside” the poses. You’ll always be looking at yourself doing the pose from the outside. This is the very definition of misery.
Practicing stillness in your poses will bring ease and comfort — in time. If you are forever thinking and fidgeting and fixing, you will not get to stillness and comfort. So how do you avoid fidgeting and fixing? Use the breath count of the vinyasas. Get yourself into your current version of the pose as smoothly as possible and then practice *stillness* — five breaths of stillness. Stillness of body and of mind. If you practice this way, you will slowly find that you can go deeper and deeper with more stillness and comfort. You’ll be able to spread the stillness of those five breaths in individual postures to the moving transitions of the practice — getting into postures, exiting postures, etc.
The second sutra notes that you get stillness and comfort in asana in two ways: by relaxing effort and by focusing on the bigger picture. Effort is a part of practice, of course, but it’s an effort toward stillness and comfort. Think about this. In practice, it means you get yourself into the poses as efficiently as possible and then relax and just be. Focus your body and your mind on the stillness and the comfort — not thinking about the past, not projecting into the future, not judging good or bad or right or wrong. Just exactly where you are. That’s what we’re trying to get to.
The opposite of relaxing effort and focusing on the bigger picture is struggling in a pose and focusing on pain or discomfort in your toe, hip, emotions, mind… If you are always thinking and judging and fidgeting, stillness won’t come. If you are always focused on discomfort or pain (trying to avoid it, trying to adjust for it), that’s all you’ll find. Instead, relax and look for even the tiniest bit of sweetness, a speck of ease, and bring your consciousness to that.
The third sutra notes that when you manage to achieve stillness and a comfortable posture there is freedom from suffering due to the pairs of opposites. What are these pairs of opposites that torment us? Ideas about strong and weak, flexible and stiff, good and bad, right and wrong, pleasure and pain, success and failure. With asana sadhana, we transcend these things by practicing stillness and comfort, which we find by relaxing effort and focusing on the big picture.
Practice teaches us to transcend the inclination to react to immediate sensations, and instead just remain present. This is the consciousness we want to learn and practice — stillness and steadiness, comfort and ease. Asana is the tool. Use it thoughtfully.