“Stira Sukham Asanam”. The pose is steady and comfortable. These few words from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali have been a large influencing factor in how yoga asana is experienced. As a student and as a teacher we seek to find the balance of effort and ease in a pose, the balance of strength and softness. Asana specifically means the seat, or seated postures, so the asanas as a whole can be thought of as a way to prepare for sitting in meditation. I liked the way one teacher explained asana as to, “sit in the seat of the self”.
Being able to sit comfortably for meditation requires a certain steadiness in the body and openness in the hips. When the body can sit in this way the spine naturally aligns and the ability to breathe deeply is enhanced. The head gets to rest comfortably over the neck and spine. The mind can feel clear and alive.
But for all of our efforts in the west to make sitting in chairs comfortable, we have totally lost the plot. We haven’t made sitting comfortable, we have weakened the very muscles needed to support the body in order to sit. We have stiffened the muscles and joints. And thanks to computers (which I happen to be sitting in front of as I type), our heads are craning forward and the neck is uncomfortable, the shoulders sloping, the chest collapsing. ouch!
The easier we make sitting, the harder it actually becomes.
I think this phenomenon translates into many areas. I recently read a great book called, “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. He investigates the ultra runners who can run 100 mile races over trails and mountains. His interest began with a simple question, “why does my foot hurt?” he was experiencing, like so many people, countless injuries from running. His intrigue led him to find tribes of people who run with hardly any injuries, and hardly any shoes.
His argument, which is highly compelling, is that running injuries began with the invention of the running shoe in the 70′s (thank you, Nike). The over cushioned heel allows for a heel strike as you run, a completely new concept for running. Before that, the natural way to run would be a mid to forefoot strike.
If the name doesn’t just say it all. This is the over cushioned super heel of the Nike running shoe. It quite possibly spurned a whole generation of running injuries by teaching us all to heel strike. Not only that but these shoes weaken the muscles and the structures of the foot so that over time your foot has lost the ability to do what it was designed to do. Run.
Stira Sukham Asanam.
The pose is firm and comfortable. Not just comfortable. A feeling of ease comes from strength and foundation. It doesn’t really work the other way around.
When we experience discomfort we strengthen and grow. That is how the body works. We have to challenge the muscles, tissues, and bones to some extent to build their strength. The mind has to be challenged to stay sharp as we age.
This was going around facebook earlier in the week and it really rings true:
I will leave you with a video for fun. Cell phones: The prime example of making life “easier” gone wrong. Communication at your fingertips…blessing or curse?