Sunday, July 11, 2010

Between a Rock and a Soft Place

"Rock fever" is a term used in Bermuda when one has to go, split, disappear aka "get off the frigging rock!!" It can happen when the bookends of life in a community that is too small, too inquisitive, too proud and too unforgiving close in on us. So we (Bermudians) leave, on a jet plane, just for the hell of it; just to get off rock island.

To call "time out" when rock fever hits, is a very okay thing to do in Bermuda. Most Bermudians, even young adults and teens, understand the need to "go" when all is sizzling hot in this sultry climate environment. And we (most of us) do, more often than not. In an island community as small as Bermuda (65,000 residents) it is amazing how well traveled residents of this 22 square mile Rock in The Sun,really are. But what if we could not travel, what if we could not just up and leave? What if we had to stay and duke it out? How would we manage the rock fever then!!!

Learning to stay is not an easy thing to do in Bermuda or anywhere else. Of course, it is not that we stay that matters most, but how we stay, that makes all the difference. In yoga, trying to navigate oneself through a difficult place, requires that we learn how to stay but remembering that our approach is what makes all the difference. Practicing yoga, like working through the ups and downs of life, requires one of many important rules... learning how to balance between "Sthira" and "Sukha",how to maneuver our way between, not a rock and a rock, but between a rock and a soft place!

In the yogic tradition "sthira" means steadiness or firmess/rootedness or strength and "sukha" means softness or comfort/ pliability or flexibility. So when we talk about maintaining sthira and sukha we refer to the balance between strength and flexibility, between too hard and too soft or between giving too little and giving too much. In Patanjali's yoga sutras Book II SADHANA PADA #46 (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjalii by Sri Swami Satchidananda), Swaniji writes, "STHIRA SUKHAM ASANAM Asana is a steady, comfortable posture." He goes on to say, "Asana means the posture that brings comfort and steadiness. Any posture that brings this comfort and steadiness is an asana."

In The Essence of Yoga - Reflections of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Bernard Bouanchaud, the writer describes Book II Sutra #46 as, The posture is firm and soft. He goes on to write,

"...Firmness is the opposite of physical agitation(angamejayatva,1.31) and ease is the opposite of suffering (duhka, 131). Both, firmness and softness are physical and mental. They form a whole that corresponds to the state of equilibrium (sattva), without agitation (rajas) or apathy (tamas). No yoga posture is real unless these two qualities are present together-they are constituents of the posture."

In any given day in class, I am reminding students of this fine yoga principle. If a student is relying too much on their flexibility, I remind them to use or develop their strength, if a student is too stark, too strong in their body and mind, I remind them to surrender, let go, lean into their softer self. Not just in yoga, also dance, gymnastics, ice hokey, track,actually all sports or activity, I would argue, sthira and sukha is required. In the popular T.V. show, So You Think You Can Dance which I love to watch from time to time simply for this very same reason, they are constantly informing the participants, 'you have a nice style but you need to develop your technique, or you have great technique but you are not feeling the music, becoming the dance' this not Sthira and Sukha?

Yoga, as we know, is not something just practiced on the mat (although it may begin there). Taken off the mat and applied in the every day living, it is a way one becomes aware of his or her personality type and general modus operandi . When approaching a pose then carrying that knowledge outside and recalling it, through life's activities, one learns something about him or herself. Learning to cope, learning to balance oneself in life requires a similar balancing act, where all is not too hard, and not too soft but just right! Even Goldilocks knew about stikra and sukha!!

In this tiny little rock island in the sun Bermudians, back in the day, knew about this balance; or, when they lost it, they knew how to get it back. Today we are a different community. We are stronger (of sorts) and have gone from strength to strength, as they say; but we have lost our softness, our sweetness, our balance, hence our desperate need to flee the Rock every so often, just to let go, just to get back to balance. As a community we need to return to the drawing board and reexamine our wellness and health, and that of our neighbours. As individuals we need to return to the mat, or come to the mat and learn about sthira and sukha and finding that sweet spot, that fine balance between a rock and a soft place.

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