In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there is very little written about asana. The first book doesn’t mention asana at all. In the second book there are 3 sutras which deal directly with asana.
Sutra II.46 states “sthira sukham asanam” which translates as “Posture should be steady and comfortable”. Consider this the next time you’re in a yoga pose. Are you steady and comfortable? And what exactly does that mean? Sometimes we need to engage the muscles to be steady, and at other times we may need to relax our muscles, our breath, our mind . The same is true for our comfort. Sthira can be translated as firm, strong, balanced. Another definition for sukham is ease (Not to be confused with easy). The opposite of ease is dis-ease (disease). How do we achieve this firm and easeful posture?
Sutra II.47 states “Asana is mastered when effort is relaxed and the mind is absorbed in the Infinite”. This doesn’t mean we don’t need to put forth effort. What we need is relaxed effort, which can be achieved through practice. When we begin an asana practice, we exert a LOT of effort. With time and consistent practice we can learn to relax the body, the breath, and the mind in order to become steady and comfortable.
And finally Sutra II.48 informs us that the result of this practice is “One is no longer afflicted by the dualities of the opposites”. Meaning, you can stay in a state of yoga (union) despite the changing nature of the physical world. In this way we move beyond defining our happiness by the sensations of the body or the thoughts in our mind.
We are not “good yogis” based on how many difficult poses we can do. Rather, it’s the quality of our practice that determines the level of our yoga. The next time you practice asana ask yourself if you feel steady and comfortable.