“If you can be comfortable with being awkward on the mat, you can be comfortable with being awkward in life.” These are wise words from an awesome yoga teacher, Luke Ketterhagen. There’s so much insight with that statement. How we treat ourselves during practice is a sneak peak to how we treat ourselves in life. It can go the other way, too. Treat yourself with love and respect during your practice and you can take that with you in life.
Recently two lessons from my yoga studies have collided and the results have been amazing. I attended a weekend alignment retreat with Luke at The Himalayan Institute in Pennsylvania. In that same time frame I was also revisiting my deep exploration of the yamas (the ethical guidelines within Hinduism and yoga) I studied with Janet Stone in San Francisco. Each experience gave me a lesson that really resonated. When they became intentions in my practice, I’ve noticed that my body feels more at ease and I’m calmer.
During the weekend retreat with Luke we tapped into some classic yoga philosophy. There are two Sanskrit terms from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: sthira (steady) and sukha (ease). Sutra 2.46 is most commonly translated as “posture (asana) [should be] stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha).” Pretty easy, right? But we commonly don’t bring sthira and sukha to our poses. We have this mindset that we have to physically push ourselves to get a sense of achievement and some kind of benefit. The amazing thing about yoga is that we don’t have to be rough on ourselves. It’s actually just the opposite. In yoga, it’s all about the breath.
We often get so focused on a pose that we let our breath shorten – or even hold it. The best thing to do is to breathe deep in and out your nose. I mean really deep – like from the belly deep. Let your diaphragm expand to the max when you inhale and completely deflate when you exhale. Keep your diaphragmatic breathing throughout the entire practice. If your breath shortens even a little, get your focus back to your breath. You may have to come out of a pose a little to do this, and that’s totally fine. You will get more benefits if you ease up vs. letting your breath shorten. It is this rhythmic breathing that naturally infuses sthira and sukha into your asana practice.
One thing I brought with me to The Himalayan Institute was the reading material Janet provided for our studies of asteya, one of the ethical guidelines from the yamas. Asteya is non-stealing. While is does apply to tangible objects, it also applies to intangibles like information, emotions and time. We steal when we feel a sense of lack. When we shift our perspective to being grateful for all that we have, we have a sense of fulfillment. And that’s a beautiful thing.
I was reading up on asteya in between my classes with Luke. One of Janet’s exercises was to think of someone or something we are grateful for throughout our practice. So when I returned to the workshop, Luke had us focus on our breath. From my reading with Janet, I was also focusing on gratitude. This layering of breath with gratitude is when this amazing collision happened. It was the first time I have had such profound effects after a practice, mentally and physically. I felt SO good.
I love this yoga cocktail of steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha) blended with gratitude (asteya). Have it part of your intentions for a week and observe the changes in your body and thoughts. For the small amount of effort it takes, you will feel a big difference in your overall wellbeing. When you practice it, you become it.
Many thanks to Dina Joy Nathan, Wellness Coach and Yoga Instructor, for her contribution to this article.