Ever get into a heated debate where the last words were “Yeah, well, Life is hard!”. And so you walk away, feeling defeated and hopeless because you actually agreed with the statement. Then you go to an intense yoga class, burn through the surya namaskars (sun salutations) and standing asanas, and just when you are sure those words are the formula to life… you take a seat. In that moment, a sense of stillness and inner peace floods your senses reminding you that life doesn’t have to be so hard.
Sthira-sukham asanam, Patanjali tells us in the Yoga Sutra, “Stability and Ease are the defining qualities of asana.” When he speaks of asana in the eight limbs of yoga, he is not referring to Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III) or even the auspicious Salamba Sirsasana (headstand), but rather Sukhasana, Easy Pose. Sukha is the quality of being relaxed and Asana is the state of sitting in stillness. And so the practice of being still with ease is cultivated in Sukhasana.
If you have ever sat on the floor with crossed legs for any length of time, however, you know that Easy Pose is easier said than done. First the knees start to feel stiff, then toes get cold, the hips feel tight, the lower back gets sore, and eventually the shoulders get so tired, they no longer wish to support your head. So, how do we aspire to the state of Sukha, the quality of comfort and ease, when the asana instigates so much Dukha, the quality of suffering? Yoga comes from the root yuj which means to yoke, to bind, or to bring together. And so often it is simplified to mean union… union of mind, body, and spirit… you’ve heard the cliché. But, Yoga is more than that… it’s the means to get from where you are now to where you want to be! So, if you are sitting in Sukhasana and it feels more like Dukhasana, then the yoga is the means or practice of preparing your body-mind for Sukhasana.
The Practice: If you have not had an opportunity to go for a nice walk to warm the body and get your circulatory system pumping, try a few sun salutations, marching in place, or just circling your limbs for a minute or two. On a mat or a blanket, take a seat with legs folded gently at the ankles. If your knees are elevated above the hips, you will inevitably notice some strain or tightness to the hips and lower back after several minutes. So, you can modify the pose by sitting on a few folded blankets, or a meditation cushion until your knees comfortably descend towards the earth. Feel your sit bones firmly plant into the mat or cushion, draw the tailbone towards the earth, and lengthen the spine so that the crown of the head gently opens toward the heavens. Let the palms rest up or down on the knees or gently fold them in your lap. Allow yourself to be still in the pose, letting go of thoughts and impulses, adding the affirmation “Let Go” when needed. If you have a meditation timer, set it for 1-2 minutes to start, gradually increasing the length of time as you comfortably begin to master the asana.
Benefits: Sukhasana calms the nervous system and regular practice of coming “into stillness” transcends the mat, so that when difficulties arise, you are able to move through challenges with clarity or sit through them with ease. Easy Pose strengthens the back, tones the abdominal muscles, stretches the knees and, when practiced on hard surfaces (advanced practices), can help improve bone density in the hips and pelvis.