Understanding Sukha: Yoga Philosophy

The term Skuha comes from the great Sage Patanjali, the man who gave us The 8 Limbs of Yoga. Nearly three thousand years ago, in the Sutra 2.46, Patanjali wrote "Sthira Sukham Asanam", it is the second word of the phrase we're looking at here, sukha. The phrase as a whole is most commonly translated to mean “asana [should be] steady (sthira) and comfortable (sukha).” The premise of the teaching is that we need to strive for the balance between effort and comfort. We talked about it briefly as an influencer of our asana practice here, but in this article, we're diving a little deeper.

Sukha on its own is often simplified to mean ease or happiness. Which isn't wrong, it's just shallow. This simplification is, however, is helpful when entering our yoga asana practice. It can guide us in on our journey to find balance; a point between strength, steadiness, and comfort. However, in restricting sukha to just asana, we miss the depth and wisdom of the teaching. Like all teachings in yoga, the wisdom transcends all realms of being; physical, mental, and spiritual.

The enigmatic sukha begins to make sense when we consider one of the most common historical analogies used to describe it.

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In ancient times, by far the most reliable and groundbreaking form of transport was the chariot. A wooden carriage drawn by horses, the vehicle was used to explore great distances and defeat the enemy in furious battles. In these oft vicious battles, an expert charioteer would control the carriage and horses, while an incredibly skilled marksman shot arrows at moving targets. Absolute madness.

In Sanskrit, the word sukha comes from , meaning 'good', and Khâ meaning 'aperture', though it is often translated as 'fit'. Historically, sukha was a metaphor for a well running, swift chariot. If the chariot wheel and axle came together well, the ride would be comfortable and easy.

Patanjali used the analogy of the chariot to explain that in life, we are the archer. We are the one on a bumpy ride, trying to aim and shoot a moving target, just trying to balance. In order for this task, the task of living, to be made easier, we need to ground ourselves, to find steadiness and ease from within. When you look into the analogy, you quickly see that the task isn't to control the chariot (life), instead, it is to bring calmness and ease to even the most trying situations, from within.

In yoga asana, even in the hardest, sweatiest, shakiest of postures, we need to nurture our body, or in yoga philosophy our annamaya aosha (physical sheath). We do this by actively being aware of our body's alignment, ensuring that we are working simultaneously towards strength and suppleness.

The teaching of sukha is also applicable to our manomaya kosha (mind sheath), our pranamaya kosha (energetic sheath), our vijnanamaya kosha (knowledge sheath), anandamaya kosha (sheath of bliss). Sukha, ease and comfort in all these sheaths come from awareness, compassion, and good alignment.

In the analogy of the chariot-riding archer, the arrows we are trying to aim are our intentions, in our yoga practice and our lives. We must act with purpose, awareness, and detachment from the outcome in order to our sukha, to find our higher self - our atman.

To quote the final verse of the Gita:

When Krishna (God) is the Master of Yoga,
And Arjuna is the mighty archer,
Then there will always be prosperity, victory, opulence, and righteousness.
This is my firm conviction.

Go well.