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Yoga Off the Mat: Practicing Sthira Sukhamasanam this Holiday Season

Posted December 9, 2014

by Judi Checo

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“How is the love life treating you?”, my step-sister’s husband asked.

It was the weekend before Thanksgiving and I was at a reunion with my extended family from Rhode Island. I hadn’t seen them in 3 years, and while I was happy to be with them and felt their love and joy at seeing me, I was steeling myself for the buttons that I remembered they always managed to press.

This extended family is made up of four step siblings, who were a very important part of my childhood and upbringing, but all of whom are now settled into very lovely suburban lives complete with multiple children (and even some grandchildren!), homes, and cars and far from the big, bad city. As a result, it seemed like whenever we managed to get together (for weddings, holidays or reunions), I felt that I stuck out like a neon sign. I have no children (yet!), had been in and out of a complicated relationship for years that did eventually come to an end, and have been content living in my apartment in Washington Heights. By traditional standards (not to mention Dominican standards as my family is from the DR), I’m behind on the ball and officially an old maid, so this line of questioning was familiar to me and had made me squirm uncomfortably many a time before.

I took a deep inhale

 

I took a deep inhale, and on the exhale, much to my surprise and relief, instead of feeling attacked or judged and answering defensively, I smiled and responded calmly, genuinely, and compassionately because for the first time ever, I allowed myself to consider that they weren’t “out to get me”, but perhaps were just trying to connect with me from their comfort zone: “Nothing much going on in that department, but I’m feeling really open to possibilities.”

More questions ensued, the usual really- mostly around marriage, my lack of children, and the general lifestyle choices I’d made. As I answered each one, I used my breath to guide my responses and reactions. Politely and respectfully declining to get into the questions that I thought were very private or inappropriate, and smiling and breathing through the one’s I felt fine discussing, all the while letting go of my judgment that there was any malice behind any of the things being asked.

The next morning, I realized I’d actually had quite a lovely time, and in largely thanks to my yoga practice which I’d managed to bring off my mat and into my life. Specifically the practice of Sthira Sukhamasanam.

You’ve likely heard this Sanskrit term in yoga class before: Sthira (meaning stable, steady effort) Sukham (with ease) asanam (asana or posture) is Sutra 2:46 in the Yoga Sutras of Master Patanjali. It refers to growing the physical or asana aspect of our practice on the mat, through the effort of our alignment and the ease of our breath.

What we’re looking for as we move in our practice is to bring harmony and union of the body, mind and spirit

 

One of my teachers and yoga mentor often says “asana is conflict.” And I agree. There are so many opposing things happening when we do yoga asana, we’re grounding through the feet, reaching through the hands, twisting and bending and folding often in opposing directions. It feels good when we’re finally in savasana, but it IS work that involves much multi-tasking, negotiating, focusing, and surrendering. What we’re looking for as we move in our practice is to bring harmony and union of the body, mind and spirit through our breath to the conflict that is asana.

And very similarly, isn’t that our goal as we move through the conflict that is life? The way we react (or don’t) to those uncomfortable, annoying, button pushing moments determines how we experience that family reunion, that holiday dinner, that stressful commute. Our physical yoga practice is a great metaphor for how we show up in the world and how the world shows up in our lives. So next time you’re on your mat, pay attention to what’s happening: physically, mentally, emotionally. See where you might need to put in more effort, and where you could practice more ease and notice how that translates in your life. It could be informing you about more than your form in trikonasana or downward dog.

And this holiday season, bring the practice of Sthira Sukham, of effort and ease, off the mat. Run the errands, plan the party but be present once your guests arrive and have some fun! Pick your battles. Decide where you need and want to draw boundaries and do so with compassion and respect. But also know when to breathe and smile and let it go.

Try it. And see if it doesn’t make your experience of this time of year less resistant, stressful and nerve-wracking, and more loving, magical and bright.

 


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