As Yogin(ini)s we often hear the phrase sthira-sukham-āsanam as a means to create a balanced experience in the body complex via the posture. However, as I have been studying other Vedic texts, I have come to appreciate that order in the sutras is of utmost importance. Unlike English where two words coupled together can indicate equality (sthiram and sukham), the conciseness of the Vedic sutras insinuates that what is first has prominence and thus what follows is potentially dependent on what is listed in the primary position.
This is important because as a teacher of āsana, I often hear a call to follow sensation through the posture. However, sensation is more connected to sukham, I would suggest. The stretch of a posture is an effect of the posture. It comes after the posture is created and held - sthiram. Thus, we must figure out what is opposite to the sensation - what supports and engenders it. For example, in a side bend, the experience of the stretch is created because the opposite side of the body is in contraction. If we make the contraction conscious, the experience of the stretch will promise long term happiness, not just attached happiness relative to the perceived “depth” of the stretch. This is because the sensation is related to the direction and purpose of the organized movement of energy.
Currently, as modern people, we follow sensation around like dogs with our noses to the Earth. The issue with this is it keeps us trapped outside ourselves following an ever changing and never satisfied world of the senses. It forces us to succumb to the addiction of effect rather than commit to the work of the cause.
If one of Yoga’s goals is to restrict our senses in order to utilize that powerful energy within, we have to create a stable container so the energy can live and work. If we are always following sensation around the posture, we are likely to be leaking this energy because sensation is how prana expresses itself. Naturally, if anything is expressing, it is moving outward. This feels good in the moment, but it also forces us to utilize more energy to accomplish tasks because we are losing the energy we are trying to hold. If we focus on the stability of the posture, we are likely to be breathing well, utilizing our locks (bandhas), with joints supported. This permits the extra attention that was once used for “feeling” to be directed toward witnessing. This distinction is profound to me.
Modern practitioners may crave this because it makes them feel like they are working harder, sweating more, accomplishing more, but truly, sukham is relative to ease and there is no ease if there is no safety of foundation - stiram.
A strong container is one that is stable and that directs energy and attention particularly (as opposed to generally). Only from this place can we appreciate the happiness the posture offers because only from the space of stability can we find true joy. Anything that is superficially created will not last. But, it will addict us to ever more sensation as it will expand our use of our senses, rather than simplify it.
Additionally, if we are always searching for sensation for ourselves, we will always be concerned with ourselves. If we can move beyond the experience of personally having and doing, we will feel more satisfied within ourselves, and thus be able to concern ourselves with the long term well-fare of all living being, including that of this planet.
Practicing āsana in a way that is addicted to happiness will never bring us happiness. Happiness is a by product of energy well spent. Well spent energy is not found by looking for a good time, but by committing to the work of the posture without seeking any result beyond being there. (See Bhagavad Gita 2.47).