Posts Tagged With: dhyana

Balance you life and yoga practice with Sthira and Sukha

Patanjali described yoga asana as “Sthira Sukham Asanam” or ‘a steady, comfortable posture.’ Sthira refers to steadiness and firmness in your yoga practise and sukha involves gentleness, softness and ease. Cultivating steadiness and ease in each pose requires a combination of effort and release. These two Sanskrit words are opposite, but equally important. It are qualities to nurture on and off the mat. Sthira and sukha are complimentary poles, like Yin and Yang and they teach us the wisdom of balance. If you find balance, you will find inner harmony, both in your practice and in your life. The way you practice yoga mirrors the way you live your daily life. Therefore, yoga can be a great tool for developing greater insight into ourselves and the world around us.

Sukha

Sukha can also be translated as pleasurable, joyful, agreeable, easy, comfortable, light, happy, prosperous or relaxed. It is the opposite of discomfort, suffering or pain. By cultivating sukha, you incorporate a light, mindful approach to the asanas. Your pose is joyful and soft.

Sthira

You can translate sthira as stable, firm, resolute, steady, alert, motionless or changeless. The pose must be strong and active, if you would like to embody sthira. It also refers to the ability to pay attention and to be present. It is the opposite of agitation. It includes both physical and mental stillness: a controlled, fully engaged body and a focused mind.

The breath

Finding sthira and sukha in your yoga practice can truly take it to the next level. These qualities are accessible in every asana, but it’s up to you cultivate them. The breath naturally embodies sthira and sukha. You can inhale sthira with each breath and channel this new energy into strength and steadiness. There is a firmness to the inhale, since there is an element of strength to the diaphragm filling and pressing downward. With each exhale sukha or release is possible, since the volume of the diaphragm decreases and the pressure moves up and air is pushed out from the lungs. The breath ultimately represents the quality of each asana and is therefore the best place to begin. If you cultivate steadiness and ease of the breath, your yoga asanas will blossom.

In your asana practice

According to Patanjali, an asana is properly performed when – in the muscles and the mind – there is stability and alertness without tension as well as relaxation without heaviness. If you practice yoga with strength and in a relaxed manner it gives rise to harmony with the physical body. You can look for example at warrior II pose. You keep the hips squared forward with proper placement of the feet which requires balance and grounding. The holding of straight arms further increases the intensity of this pose. Sthira is found with the proper foot position and in the ground of the outer back foot, in sinking down into the pose with strong legs and in the breath. Ease can be found with relaxed shoulders, with a gaze upward, a soft forehead and with each exhale.

Integrating in your daily life

The next challenge is to find this delicate balance between the effort of sthira with the comfort of sukha in the rest of your life as well. A lot of people struggle to find balance in their lives. We feel exhausted, depleted, drained and find it hard to unwind during our free time. The first step is self-study or Svadhyaya (the fourth of the five niyamas). If you learn to recognize when you are out of balance, you can start to change this imbalance. If you bring a balance of sthira and sukha into your life you cultivate a habit of facing difficult moments in your life with a soft heart.

Too much sthira

In our busy society we usually have too much sthira or effort. We’re working too hard and we would like to do too many things after work and as a result we feel tired and exhausted. That is why burn-out is such a common phenomenon nowadays. So how do we incorporate more sukha or ease or lightness into our lives? One important thing is the breath, make sure you breathe deeply. Take time to nourish and nurture yourself, rest and be still through for example meditation and/or pranayama. You will drain yourself if you keep on living a faced paced life. It seems like we lost our patience in this society; everything needs to be done quick and easy; eating, cooking, sleeping, driving and so on. Ready made meals and magnetrons are apparent in almost every household and our children need to be joining at least one sport club and an art class. By giving yourself permission to relax, you will give people around you permission to relax as well. Here are a couple of things you could do to incorporate more sukha in your life: 

  • Practice restorative yoga poses (for sure you will develop more patience)
  • Go on a nature walk
  • Read a book
  • Meditate
  • Enjoy the process of slow cooking

You could also try to bring attentiveness to the action you’re doing and at the same time find a way to relax and be comfortable as well, for example while you’re driving in heavy traffic. In regards to relationships, you could focus on being grounded as well as kind, open and receptive to others.

The next level

If you learn to relax your muscles in the yoga asanas, you will be able to achieve greater comfort. As a result this will allow your mind to calm and makes it easier to focus inwards. Through meditation you can access the higher states of your mind. It is not without reason that the meaning of asana is ‘a comfortable steady seat’. The development of sthira and sukha in your asana practice is a great way to guide the physical body toward becoming more open and receptive to the effects of meditation. Your balanced practice of yoga asanas will prepare you for the next stages: pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. So you can focus on the ultimate goal of yoga; a non-physical uniting with the Self or God and reaching ultimate freedom.

 

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Dhyana

The seventh limb of yoga, dhyana means the development of witnessing awareness. It can refer to a form of meditation or to perfect contemplation. Dhyana can be defined as the practice of mind control by which you stop all thinking and seek to realize Truth in its essence. If you master dhyana, you never lose sight of your deepest self, instead you master the aspect of yourself that is witnessing these changes.

The most efficient way to cultivate dhyana is through meditation. It is good to note that it is normal and acceptable to have thoughts during meditation. When you get more experience with meditation, you learn to observe your thoughts, feelings, sensations and the sounds of your environment without attachment, judgment, chasing or analyzing. You simply notice your thoughts or feelings, acknowledge them, and let them pass. Like the clouds in the sky; they come and go. If you further develop and maintain your meditation practice, you learn to define these skills and bring it into your everyday life. The calm achieved in meditation infects all areas of your life with positive energy.

In terms of development of witnessing awareness, I found it really supportive to go on a silent retreat. Our thoughts are usually directed outwards and much less frequently inwards, since we are constantly concerned with the external world. During a silent retreat you will find opportunities to guide your mind inward and reconnect with your inner peace. I experienced the first few days of the retreat as quite awkward, since I was surrounded by other people, but not interacting with them. It almost felt a bit rude and selfish. But before I knew, I got used to spending so much time with myself. I practiced a lot of different forms of meditation which brought me back to my truth self or inner voice. My goals in life appeared frank and clear, so that I could not ignore them in anyway. In this state of being, I felt grounded and as a consequence I became more equipped to deal with life’s challenges.

Meditation has taught me to make better choices and take more appropriate actions. Consequently, the chances that my intentions will be fulfilled are maximized. On top of that, meditation helps you free yourself from your past and allows you to be in the present. You learn to let the past go and be more fully engaged in the present with the result of being more aware, more empathic, more compassionate, more mindful and more connected. How many more benefits do you need to be convinced of the effects and advantages of dhyana?

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Patanjali’s Eight-fold path of Yoga

After writing about the first two limbs of Patanjali’s Eight-fold path of yoga, I would like to continue with the other limbs:

–          Asanas (yoga postures)

–          Pranayama (control of the breath)

–          Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)

–          Dharana (concentration)

–          Dhyana (meditation)

–          Samadhi (absolute bliss)

These limbs are Patanjali’s suggestions or guidelines for living a meaningful and purposeful life through yoga. The eightfold path is called Ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta = eight & anga = limb). The eight limbs are all equally important and are related as parts of a whole. Ideally this Eight-fold path of yoga will lead you to enlightenment.

“mens sana in corpore sano”  or “a healthy body in a health mind”

 

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