Less Dukkha, more Sukha

How can yoga help us clear stale, stagnant space and make room for fresh, sweet space? Jennilee explains...


You may have heard the terms Dukkha and Sukha and wondered: “What are these things?”, “Where do I find them?”, “Do I need to get rid of or cultivate them?” and “If so, how do I do it?”.

Since I am a lover of these two words and their practical application when it comes to the human body, radiant health and Hatha-Vinyasa yoga, I wanted to share with you the concept of ‘Less Dukkha, More Sukha’.

Yoga Sutra 2.15

Parinama tapa samskara duhkhaih
gunavrtti virodhaccha duhkham
evam sarvam vivekinah

 ~ The cause of suffering is change, longing, habits, and the ever-fluctuating activity of the gunas. Even the wise suffer, for suffering is everywhere.

Dukham (Sanskrit) or Dukkha (Pali) is referred to in Hinduism and Buddhism as suffering. Sukham (Sanskrit) or Sukha (Pali) means the opposite: comfort, sweetness or ‘quiet joy’. As a yoga anatomist I really enjoy the more literal breakdown of these words, as they describe good or bad space (in the body and/or the mind):

Du: Bad
Su: Good
Kha: Hole (early Aryan translation referring to the axle of a wheel), sky, ether, or space (later translation)
Dukkha: Stale, stuck, stagnant, uneasy ‘bad’ space
Sukha: Fresh, clear, sweet, easeful ‘good’ space

Sthira Sukham Asanam

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.46: Sthira Sukham Asanam, is usually translated as ‘a steady and comfortable seat’ for the purpose of seated concentration, meditation and absorption. In Hatha yoga this Sutra is used to describe the ideal equanimous experience in every asana (physical yoga posture). This experience, with practice, can be accomplished with a calm and focused attention to breath, bandhas, bone alignment, muscle activation and joint stabilization.

A more literal translation of Sthira Sukham Asanam is ‘to firmly sit/establish oneself / dwell in good space.’ I love this translation because in order to firmly establish oneself in good space one has to actively cultivate said good space (Sukha). Eliminating physical, emotional and psychological Dukkha – the ‘bad’ space – is necessary for this process of cultivation.

Making space for Sukha

During a 24 hour period, the human body moves through three eight-hour cycles: 

  • From 12pm-8pm it receives and digests information and fuel (Appropriation cycle).
  • From 8pm-4am it assimilates this information and fuels it the best that it can (Assimilation cycle).
  • Finally, from 4am-12pm it eliminates all that is unwanted and unnecessary (Elimination cycle).
While we all know that everything we eat and drink leaves ‘waste’ that needs to be processed and excreted, it’s equally important to be aware that everything we say, feel, think and do also leaves a similar residue.

As Newton’s third law states: “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. While we all know that everything we eat and drink leaves ‘waste’ that needs to be processed and excreted, it’s equally important to be aware that everything we say, feel, think and do also leaves a similar residue. This ‘waste product’ from all physical, emotional, and psychological chemical reactions needs to be eliminated by the excretory system. In other words: getting rid of the Dukkha to make room for sweet Sukha! 

7 Channels of Elimination

Our bodies and their internal systems are always seeking to maintain a state of harmony and balance (homeostasis). Metabolic waste is the necessary by-product of all the systems working together to achieve this homeostasis. In order for our body to rid itself of this toxic waste (Dukkha) we have at our disposal seven channels of elimination:

  • Blood – Liquid organ that transports nutrients throughout the body, removes carbon dioxide and carries waste to liver and kidneys.
  • Colon – Transports fecal waste out of the human body.
  • Kidneys – Filters the blood and produces the waste product urine.
  • Liver – One of the largest organs in human body. Builds, stores and eliminates chemicals. Removes waste from the blood.
  • Lungs – Exchange of gaseous energy happens in the lungs (oxygen-rich in, oxygen-depleted out). Oxygen is transferred from lungs into the heart where it is dispersed through the body via blood. Carbon dioxide is eliminated.
  • Lymph – The lymphatic system filters out bacteria and other foreign particles, supporting the immune system.
  • Skin – The largest organ in the human body. Toxins that are soluble in water can be eliminated by sweat.

*see also The Organs of Elimination

Getting rid of Dukkha with yoga!

There are so many fantastic ways we can rid ourselves of Dukkha with yoga. Sun Salutations and other creative and dynamic forms of Vinyasa flow yoga increase our heart rate by getting the blood pumping oxygen throughout the body. This quickens the removal of toxins, encourages deeper breaths (greater gaseous exchange in the lungs – in with the fresh and new, out with the stale and old) and creates heat in the body (sweating out water-soluble toxins through the skin). Specific asanas stimulate and encourage organ mobility (every organ has its range of mobility in its cavity).

squat twist pose

Twisting asanas (think beyond spinal twists to eagle arms and legs twisting around each other!) are great for massaging our internal environment and aiding in the removal of waste products via the seven channels of elimination.

Backbends bring awareness and massage into the posterior body (great stimulation for the kidneys) and forward bends bring awareness and massage into the anterior body (great stimulation for heart, lungs, liver and colon).

Inversions encourage lymph and venous blood to return to the heart area with the aide of gravity (versus working so hard against gravity).

Balancing postures are also beneficial for the lymphatic system – if you let yourself wobble, hop and rebound a little (remember, the lymphatic system does not have a pump like the heart of the cardiovascular system!)

Try it in class

30 minute detox flow with Jennilee

Everything we think, say, feel, eat or do leaves some sort of chemical residue/metabolic waste. This 30-minute detox flow will aid in the release of these toxins with movements of twisting and squeezing – Hatha / Vinyasa / All levels.

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Jennilee TonerJennilee has the best job in the world…travelling the world and teaching four of her passions: yoga, human anatomy, injury prevention, and mythology of the asanas.