In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, sutra 2.46 is “sthira-sukham asanam”. This sutra is commonly understood as “yoga postures should be stable, and the body be at ease.” This understanding focuses the practice of yoga postures and movements. It is a valuable concept to aim for steadiness and ease when practicing yoga movement, but there is a deeper understanding of these ideas.
Patanjali used the sutras to describe a path toward developing samadhi, cultivating mental focus and clarity. In this perspective, this sutra would refer to the quality of a practitioner’s meditation pose or seated posture. It could be understood that the practice of asana leads to an ease in the body and allows for extended time in physical stillness to shift the practice to concerns of the mind.
A more literal translation of the sutra could be “in yoga, we should resolutely abide in a good space.” Sthira etymologically comes from the root stha, which means “to stand, to be firm, to take a stand” and can mean “firm, compact, strong, steadfast, static, resolute, and courageous.” Sukha comes from the root words su (good) and kha (space) so the literal meaning is “good space.” Sukha originally described the kind of smooth ride one would experience in a cart or a chariot whose axle holes were well centered in the wheels, implying the development of sukha as an active process. Asana (most commonly referring to yogic movements) comes from the root as which suggests “the act of sitting down, abiding, dwelling, inhabiting, being present.” In this sutra, asana suggests being grounded and being fully present in the current action.
So, there are many levels in our yoga practice where sthira and sukha can be cultivated. The development of physical stability and ease of movement on the mat benefits our bodies. Creating a still, easy place for our minds allows for the practice of samadhi and deep meditation. In the broader sense of our full lives, sthira and sukha can be building a “good space” that allows for us to feel stable and have a sense of ease in the face of life challenges.