Sthirham, Sukham Asanam! (Sanskrit) means that all asanas (yoga postures) should be done in a balanced and relaxed manner. Stated differently, one must have balance and be relaxed when doing any asana. It is important to “have” balance and that is acquired by being conscious of it. It is also important to “be” relaxed and that too is obtained by being conscious of one’s state of being!
When someone asks, "How to practice Tantra Yoga?," the answer is in many parts, and Balance is the first part. Balance is not merely achieving proficiency in the yogic position or posture of an asana; it is ensuring positioning of the body with the appropriate breath. Take a simple yogic exercise as an example: touching your toes while standing. In this asana, you have to raise your hands over your head and bend down to touch your toes.
1. Raise your hands straight over your head while taking in a deep breath
2. Bend forward and down – slowly exhaling – and touch your toes (do not bend the knees)
3. Hold this position for a couple of seconds
4. Straighten up inhaling again
5. Relax by lowering your hands and breathing normally
The balance here is achieved by ensuring that you don’t bend your knees when you are trying to touch your toes and continuing to breathe as instructed. The instructions for this posture would be as follows: Raise your hands straight over your head while taking in a deep breath. Coordinating the breath with the movements required for a particular asana is the balance that the statement Sthirham, Sukham Asanam! talks about. But there is more! The other parts of the answer lie in Breath and Relaxation. How does one achieve relaxation in a physically contorted – and often painful – posture?! The answer is simple: To achieve any kind of relaxation there can’t be any pain; some amount of discomfort is OK – and even recommended – but there can’t be any pain.
Breath and Relaxation
This is also achieved in a simple manner by doing the asanas slowly – very, very slowly. This ensures there are no sudden or jerky movements that may cause spasms or sprains. But what is simple to do is also simple not to do, and that is why one sees Yoga being performed like aerobics!
T’ai Chi is also like Yoga; it too is “meditation in motion.” Performing yoga in a slow, deliberate manner acquaints one with one’s own body. Close your eyes while doing Yoga; do the asanas slowly, and you will feel as if you are “talking” to your muscles and joints. Different asanas require different sets of muscles but in all of them you are also breathing in the right manner. In some postures, you are required to continue breathing in an apparently uncomfortable and contorted position. This is to help one attain relaxation and normalcy even in difficult positions.
When I asked myself: How to practice Tantra Yoga?, the problem was where to begin! My primary purpose was to get rid rid of my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) in my right hand. After doing the necessary asanas, when I sat to mediate in Sukhasan (sitting cross-legged on the floor), my entire right hand would go numb. I decided that with each breath I took I would imagine blood gushing into my right hand and with every exhalation I would imagine that my right hand has relaxed. Over several weeks, my right hand stopped becoming numb, and eventually I was rid of my CTS.
Many things can distract you from establishing a connection with your body: uncomfortable clothes, noise, other people, etc. But the most distracting things are those that many experts actually recommend. One of those things is counting! Counting while doing an asana is most distracting because it keeps the mind engaged with the mind and not with the body. Counting up to a certain number to help do the asana or holding a certain posture for a certain interval of time is helpful for beginners, but the sooner one gets rid of this practice the better.
Balance the Mind
At any given moment of time, the Yogi should be aware of his mind, his body, and his surroundings. To achieve this state, the practitioner should try and connect with his muscles, bones, tendons, organs, nerves, veins, capillaries… And a time will come when the body begins to speak and your mind will be trained to listen. Till then, remember: Every Asana must be relaxed to achieve a Balance between Mind, Body, and Breath!