No, I don’t mean the kind of cuppa you need after a shock…or maybe I do?
Sthira-sukham describes the ideal yoga pose. It’s an adjectival phrase from the key classic Sanskrit text that informs most of yoga practice these days*. You can see the roots of the English, strong and sweet (suker, sugar); a lot of people don’t realise how much of our language has survived straight through from Sanskrit**.
It’s a paradox, strong-sweet, the hyphen seeing them as connected though different qualities on their own. I’ve been pondering on other ways to translate:
firm – ease-y
steady – yielding
still – fluid
resilient – flexible
determined – (self) accepting***
faithful – quest(ion)ing***
It’s more of an attitude though, and one for life, not just the yoga studio.
It came to mind as I was holding a yoga session last night, thinking of one student who hospices a hundred retired horses, another with a toddler, another with demanding colleagues, another managing a chronic constantly life-threatening condition, another with a life-or-death role in the NHS, another with deep pastoral duties. Really it’s a lesson in life, a mature approach.
I’d like to name it as grace, a quality that is often unnamed and so not often recognised.
This attitude is the aim of yoga, to help us grow up. Yes, it starts with the body: so the body, so the mind, so the spirit/soul.
And about that cuppa, yes yoga is really an antidote to the trauma of life that shifts us out of grace. Strong and Sweet.
*the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali c. 300BCE, a description of Raja Yoga, the royal path which consists of 8 practices leading to transcendence. These are:
- the yamas (restrictions) and niyamas (observances), together a set of 10 commandments for ethical living. The very first of which is ahimsa, non-violence in word or deed or thought
- asana (postures, or bodily mastery, or simply sitting in contemplation/meditation)
- pranayama (breath exercises or mastery of the neuro-endocrine system or subtle body of the life force)
- pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses, taking yourself away from the mundane world and its inputs
- dhyana – concentration or the will to focus on the divine
- dharana – dualistic being with the divine, I am with God
- samadhi – self-transcendence and merging with the Divine, the heart’s prayer of mystics
Interestingly, Patanjali, coming from an oral tradition felt the need to write down the ways of yoga as he feared they were being lost. This was in the era of Classical Greece, increased urbanisation and the rise of Buddhism. Sutra refers to the stitches that bound the leaves (literally leaves) on which the verses were written. These sutras were translated into over 40 languages in the middle ages with the revival of ‘Hinduism’ and then re-revived when the sage Vivekananda travelled to the west in the early 20th century.
** I don’t know a lot of ordinary sanskrit but I find it delightful that words like mus (mouse), pater (father), mater (mother), bhrata (brother), gau (cow) and most of the cardinal numbers (eg sapta, seven), for instance show our agricultural/linguistic/cultural indo european commonality through the ages. Of course, yoga is the root of any word with uni- in it, and indeed the word one. Anything non-dual has its roots in the word yoga. From the sanskrit deva, we get everything divine.
***These are where I am extending the paradox to make sense of coping with my faith journey and entry to the church