Balancing flexibility and strength in yoga

“Sthira Sukham Asanam” is one of the most quoted Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It means a yoga posture should be steady, firm and stable, yet also comfortable, light and delightful.

balancing flexibility

Sthira and Sukha

To approach balance in our yoga practice let us first look at the 2 sanskrit words stirha and sukha. 

These two words are known from the yoga sutra’s of Patanjali. The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are a collection of 196 Indian sutras (aphorisms) on the theory and practice of yoga. 

The sutra that refers to these terms is sutra 2.46 – “sthira-sukham asanam”. This basically translates as, “postures should be stable and comfortable.” Another typical definition is a balance of “effort” and “ease.”

Sthira refers to stability and strength. Sukha refers to comfort, ease and openness.

On our yoga mat, but also in our lives, we are looking for the balance between our flexibility/ freedom and our strength/ stability.

If we only have flexibility in our asana practice, this can mean we have not enough stability to keep our body and joints safe. Being only strong, means we have short muscles. We can’t fully expand and find the freedom and delight in our poses.

If, for example, the abdominal muscles are weak, but the lower back tight, you will end up with a sway back. You will hang in certain joints and over time this can cause problems. You need balance between opposite of muscle groups as well. Yoga, like life, is all about balance.

To work with this information in your yoga practice, it’s important to determine in what category you fall.

Are you Sukha or Sthira?

Do you have too much sukha in your body, are you mostly flexible and open? In that case you should focus more on improving your strength to balance your flexibility.

If you are a runner, for example, and you start doing yoga, you may notice your muscles are stiff and tight. This is more sthira and so you will have to work on your flexibility to create this balance.

Awareness and inquiry

So again it all comes back to what yoga is really about. Awareness and inquiry. If we don’t bring this to our mat then we just continue with our stuck, repetitive patterns. This will eventually lead to injury and our experience of yoga will be short lived and uncomfortable.

We are also looking for a quiet, fully present mind in our yoga practice in order to find stability and strength. From this foundation we can then experience the lightness and ease. If the mind is too active and aggressive, you will approach your yoga practice that way – you will probably push your boundaries striving for the perfect pose. If your mind wanders, lacks stability, we will lose the stability in our pose too and the pose becomes dull and lifeless.

So look at the way you live your life too, is everything planned and timed and do you push yourself often? Or are you late, forgetful, fearful and do you never push yourself?

Then ask yourself the question: 

“What do I need to do in my yoga practice to break this pattern, to balance myself more? And can I do the same in my life?”

If you can do the opposite on your mat to how you usually are in your daily life, then something will start to shift, on and off the mat. You are moving towards more balance.

The invitation is to play around with this idea to use your yoga practice to break out of your normal habits and create a few new healthier and more balanced ones.

“Life is a balance of holding on and letting go” – Rumi


Explore this in class with Adela Serrano

Fundamentals of yoga: Sthira and Sukha

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Esther EkhartEsther Ekhart, face and founder of EkhartYoga, brings years of personal yoga and meditation practice, therapy training and study of yoga philosophy into her teaching.