It’s a continual struggle not to freak out about the state of our lives or community or the world. It makes you want to stay home, draw the shades, enjoy your ultra-soft 300-thread count sheets from Target, sip on your homemade chai and binge the first season of Netflix’s Ozark. But, really, you can’t do that, at least not for very long.
We are continually challenged to meet situations with grace and equanimity, even when the proverbial a-hole cuts us off in traffic. Conversely, watching your neighbor pour motor oil down the sewer requires some action on your part. There is a constant pull of hanging back and acting out. What’s in the middle is, well, the middle ground or middle path. It’s the intersection of doing and not doing.
Taking this concept onto our yoga mat, we have the Sanskirt term stiram and sukham from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra II.46. Stiram means being steadfast, strong, resolute and courageous. Add to that balanced and grounded. Our yoga postures all have these qualities even in a common posture like tree pose or a complicated arm balance like astavakrasana. Without steadiness, our practice can become dull, unstructured, off-balance and lack enthusiasm. All yoga postures, besides savasana, will have the quality of stiram.
Off the mat, Rima Rabbath, (2) a renowned Jivamukti teacher, say of stiram: “[S]thira calls for us to have integrity. We don’t say one thing and do another. Instead, we show up for the people in our lives and for ourselves. We stand strong in what we believe in. When we connect to others we are fully present for them, and become somebody that can hold another.”
Sukham is translated, according to Dr. Robert Svoboda in his article for Yoga International (1),“happy, good, joyful, delightful, easy, agreeable, gentle, mild, and virtuous.” The literal meaning is “good space,” from the root words su (good) and kha (space). As opposed to stiram, sukham means comfort and ease. In our yoga poses, even difficult ones, there needs to be a sense of ease and comfort, even if it’s just the eyeballs! It’s all too easy to make yoga difficult and hard, both in effort and form. Mostly I see students struggling to get the pose “right” with serious faces and gripped toes. This is not the middle path.
In all poses, there is an ability to relax even if it’s just the shoulders or face or toes and breath. For example, in Warrior II, much of the effort is from the waist down with the legs being steady and strong. The upper half of the body can find the comfort and ease. Through both of these opposing actions, the middle ground is achieved and there is a sense of balance and calm. In each pose there is both simultaneously stiram and sukham–both exist. Your job (should you choose to accept it) is to balance the two.
Take this into your life outside of the yoga class. Notice the situations that require courage and strength and at the same time ease and softness. It’s tricky and may take some practice. But, now that you know what to look for, there’s no going back. Can you find middle ground right between effort and ease in interactions with your child or your boss or partner? You want conviction and strength in your beliefs and values, but also a softness to allow room for new input and empathy. With too much effort you become rigid; too much comfort, you become apathetic. Find the middle ground.
See you all soon. I always welcome your input. We are a community, you know. I’m at email@example.com.
(1) Dr. Robert Svoboda has a more inclusive and informed article at Yoga International which you can find here.