Sthira and Sukha – 2 Vital Principles of Yoga Explained

(pic via Zuna Yoga)

Sthira and Sukha – 2 Vital Principles of Yoga Explained

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are considered the most concise and thorough explanation of yoga and it’s significance to us as practitioners today. The Sutras, thought to have been compiled around 400CE and literally translated as ‘threads’ from the Sanskrit word, serve as individual definitions of concepts and knowledge that together form the entire ideology of Yoga.
The style of the ‘sutra’ is designed to present us with essential knowledge in as few words as possible, free from ambiguity or irrelevant information. Each principle or thread of knowledge is laid out in easily understood and straightforward sentences which has led to their successful and accurate passing from generation to generation, right down to our understanding of them today.
Two vital aphorisms which the Sutras define are those of Sthira and Sukha, key aspects of both the physical and spiritual practice of yoga as it is understood today. Although there is no successful ‘completion’ or personal attainment associated with any genuine yoga practice, the translation of Sthira as ‘steadiness’, and Sukha as ‘ease’ are two aims which we should associate and seek to embody throughout our yoga practice.

Strength and Steadiness

To hold an asana (pose) with steadiness and strength (Sthira), we are working our inner core and drawing upon a lengthy period of sustained and regular practice. Strength and confidence in holding difficult asanas is not achieved overnight, and as such the attributes of Sthira are generally realised only after a period of consistent and dedicated practice.

Ease and Comfort

Sukha, on the other hand, is a softer and more emotional element of the asana practice which usually follows Sthira in its revelation. To truly relax within a posture or given situation, we must feel both strong and at ease within our bodies. Sukha embodies the feeling of ease and peace of mind that comes with a comfortable flow from one posture to the next and the ability to maintain each asana comfortably. It is this comfort and contentment within a given posture or flow which successfully defines Sukha.

The softness of Sukha combined with the alertness and strength of Sthira is the real goal of any yoga practitioner; no matter how far or deep the twist or stretch may be, once it is held steadily and comfortably with a sense of both Sthira and Sukha, both the body and mind will be at ease within it – and there’s nothing better than the feeling of finally being able to comfortably hold a posture you once struggled with, whether it was mentally telling yourself you weren’t able, or being too physically weak to do so!
In this sense Sthira and Sukha further promote and maintain the unification of mind and body we seek to achieve through yoga practice.

The Meaning of ‘Om’

Originally posted here for Zuna Yoga

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“For it to have its effect, the sound of AUM is remembered with deep feeling for the meaning of what it represents.” (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1.28).

“Om,” in the yogic tradition, is chanted at the beginning and end of class or practice. It’s one of those things that’s often assumed as universally understood yet it’s rarely explained properly, if at all, by yoga instructors.

Om is an ancient sound used by various Eastern religions, including Buddhism, Hinduisim, Sikhism, Jainism, to denote the beginning and end of sacred scriptures, texts, and prayers. Many of the world’s religions indicate that creation began with sound, the vibrations of which are said to be contained within om. Each time we chant om, we connect with the eternal vibration of being that has been in existence since the beginning of all things and is the creative source of energy behind all existence.
The Om symbol consists of 3 curves, a semicircle, and a dot. The curves represent mind, body, and soul, and the semicircle at the top is maya, understood as an obstacle to achieving the highest form of enlightenment. Om is sometimes spelled “aum,” a more accurate phonetic spelling which divides the chant into its three individual sounds of a-u-m. “Aum” encompasses all possible combinations of sounds and lies at the root of all potential or pre-existing sounds. In linguistics, all sound is said to be produced between the root of the tongue and the entrance of the lips, the throat sound being “a,” the lip sound being “m,” and “u” representing the rolling forwards of all sounds until they stop at the lips. Like the letters of the alphabet, which in all possible combinations give rise to every word ever spoken, the sounds of a-u-m pass through every formation in the mouth necessary for vocalising language, making it a magnificently meaningful sound.

Om allows us to tap into the existing energy which always surrounds us but which modern distractions and lifestyles have shifted from our immediate awareness. For millennia, various names and personifications have been used by religions to represent a single all-powerful being. This placement of belief in a deity instead of in our immediate environment ignores the connection between the individual and that which surrounds us. We chant om to not only honor the beginning of all things but to appreciate all of creation that still surrounds us. The Upanishads refer to this state of collective consciousness and universal awareness as ishvara. Om is our key to accessing it.


We do not create om simply by chanting it. Instead, om serves as a medium through which we connect to these vibrations. Physically, chanting om creates a pranava or humming sound, as Patanjali describes, which stimulates the body into a meditational state, increases relaxation, and is said to stimulate the body to remove toxins and increase our capacity for self healing. Mentally, speaking om allows us to focus, shifting our attention outwards, away from internal struggles and helping us tune in to that which can provide us harmony in mind, body, and soul.
It’s common to hear the word “shanti” included after a final expression of om. Shanti means “peace” in Sanskrit and is intended as a parting wish for peace and happiness within the universe at large and within everything around us. Shanti is commonly used throughout India to express a light-hearted and peaceful state of being in casual conversation and descriptions of everyday occurrences, while om is reserved for more spiritual practices such as yoga practice or religious ceremony.
Om shanti.

How Yoga Can Enhance Creativity and Productivity, in Business or Otherwise

“I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the ‘monkey mind’ – the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl’ – Elizabeth Gilbert

It’s often been observed that a regular yoga practice can help promote a more productive and efficient work ethic, allowing practitioners to excel in their various specialised fields and carry out work with a clearer, more focused mind. It’s a mark of a good business man or woman to possess a natural spark or flare for creativity, allowing them to stay on top of trends and aware of competition, and it is this spark which must be nurtured by a consistent base and supply of healthy energy to succeed. In this case, we’ll consider that nurturing care and careful maintenance in terms of a yoga practice, and the spark a focused idea or task which requires certain circumstances to come to light.

When this focus and clarity is added to an already creative and highly-active mind its potential becomes magnified, as the existing creative energy can be harnessed correctly and more efficiently directed solely towards creative output, whereas before it may have been scattered elsewhere. The ‘monkey mind’ of overactive imagination and the ‘creative’ individual is successfully directed to a single task or idea at a time, instead of flitting momentarily from one to another and ultimately failing to produce anything worthwhile. This way, a smaller number of tasks or ideas get realised to their full potential, instead of a handful of incomplete or unfinished ‘maybe’ or ‘what if’ ideas being dropped half-heartedly along the way. Patanjali describes this focus in the Yoga Sutra as nirodha, a particular state of mental activity and function, characterized by consistent directed attention, and ceasing to identify with negative or damaging practices.

Yoga helps us to sit with our thoughts and ideas, focusing upon them as they come and go. We learn resilience, we learn persistence, and we learn how to recognise thoughts for the truth and potential they contain. It is this belief in our own potential and capacity to carry out tasks and fulfill ideas which allows them to come to fruition, and through a strong physical and mental core built up through our yoga practice, we have a stable foundation upon which to build them.

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Several asanas and inversions, such as Sirsasana (headstand) and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), are believed to enhance creativity and promote a healthy, productive brain, as they reverse the blood flow, relieve anxiety and present us physically with new perspectives. This activity can be beneficial in shaking up the often static office scenario we have become accustomed to in today’s working world, and allowing a new outlook to be explored in relation to pending issues. In this way, productivity and creativity in business can be approached differently, posing potential for further exploration and unique endeavours. In Cambodia last year I met a successful corporate business owner just after she had completed a yoga teacher training, and her initial response to my queries of whether she was going to leave that world behind completely was one of refreshing balance and reality – she told me she’d continue to manage her business and workforce, whilst teaching part-time, using her yoga practice to compliment her successful business and office routine. With its leader more balanced, centered, and productive, the entire business thrived and received inspiration and support stemming from this one woman’s own strength. It really does start that deep.

Justin Micheal Williams, musician, yoga instructor, and co-founder of The Business of Yoga has outlined how Sirsasana often helps him escape from creative ruts or blocks, allowing him to see things from a new perspective and return to his current task or creative endeavour with renewed energy and enthusiasm. Justin is just one of the millions of other artists and creative entrepreneurs who use yoga as a means of maintaining this temper-mental and unreliable creative energy, though many may not quite understand just how or why it has this effect. Sadie Nardini is another established yoga teacher, wellness coach and musician who has successfully recognised this energy and harnessed it to help achieve her creative goals. Having suffered severe illnesses in her youth, Sadie has described how she had a unique insight into the damaging effects of suffering from a severe lack of any kind of energy entirely. In her recovery and discovery of yoga, this energy returned with a new vitality. In learning to harness it, she has since established herself as a successful yoga teacher, wellness coach, and recently written, recorded and released a solo album, ‘Salt & Bone”.

As a creative individual myself, I have found since beginning and maintaining a regular yoga practice that my writing, musical, and other creative endeavours have succeeded altogether more thoroughly than they ever have before. And it’s not just the creative; all aspects of my life requiring an attention span lasting longer than a cup of coffee have improved. I have a newfound awareness and appreciation for my energy, and have learnt how to successfully delegate it to things, thoughts, activities and practices that will positively benefit me and my talents. Combined with a healthy, yogic diet and a particular emphasis on ensuring I get enough sleep every night, my energy and productivity has never been stronger. Mental, physical, spiritual…I now fully understand how intricately it is all intertwined!
In taming my own ‘monkey mind’ through my yoga practice, I have learned valuable crowd control. The ‘crowd’ in this sense being my thoughts; the anxieties that trample over one another on a daily basis if left unmonitored and uncared for. Although I’m not (yet!) a business owner, founder of a groundbreaking new company, or even secure in a well-paid office job, learning to delegate my energy to completely and fully realise creative endeavours has provided me with a similar sensation of fulfillment and satisfaction as I imagine those who have succeeded in other fields achieve. Creativity, productivity, and persistence are key to realising any business venture and maintenance, and they just happen to be some of the countless benefits a regular yoga practice can help you achieve.

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