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When I first began practicing yoga, I listened to the teacher at the front of the class discuss the importance of maintaining an equal amount of sthira, which is steadiness, and sukha—meaning “ease, joy, and good space”—in each posture.
My teacher described sukha as a form of gentleness. To someone who grew up in East Los Angeles during the LA riots, and who only noticed the hardness and imbalance of life, this was a huge challenge. Things had not been gentle for me. In fact, my life was the opposite of gentle. I didn’t know what balance was, or how to be in a good space in my body. Nothing about my early practice felt easy. Anytime I tried to find comfort in a posture, I was defeated by a cyclical repetition of negative thoughts telling me, “you’re not doing it right.” It took hours on the mat and years of practice, to get anywhere near sukha.
When it comes to practice and life, most people want results to happen now—instant gratification, perfect asanas, mindful meditations. That’s just not how life is. Things take time, nature takes time, learning to be comfortable in your body can take time. It took time to accept that my body is never going to achieve certain postures, and it may take time for me to feel the gentleness in my life.
So how did I finally find sukha in my practice and my life? Here are three things that helped:
Call in sukha through your breathing
I learned the value of deep breathing as a little girl during a drive-by shooting. I was six-years-old and my grandmother told me to lie down and get away from the windows. As I laid on the ground, I watched my belly and narrated out loud, “belly goes up, belly goes down.” I calmed down and felt safer. Those words are still my mantra. Anytime I feel discomfort or tension, I realize my shoulders are in my ears, and I’m not breathing. Anytime I’m on social media, scrolling and feeling uncomfortable, I’m not breathing. In order to enter into a state of comfort and ease, I deepen my breath, relax my shoulders, throat and the muscles in my face. Sukha comes in the form of a six-year-old’s mantra—that is now “inhale” and “exhale.”
Even with all my years of studying yoga and mindfulness, I’m still the most impatient person I know. I want people to respond to my emails quickly. I want my boyfriend to text me back immediately. When I’m in work mode, I want to check the boxes and make sure everything on my list gets done quickly, and I expect the world to operate at the same pace. When they don’t, I get just as irritable as anyone else. What I’ve learned though is that expectation is premeditated resentment. When I’m impatient, it creates an expectation that the world should operate on my frequency. The best gift I can get is when the world does not operate my way, because it teaches me that I’m not in charge of everything. The world has its own pace, and I can either accept it and be in a good space, or I can be impatient and disgruntled. Sukha comes in the form of constant testing of my patience.
Practice sukha both on and off the mat
The difficult part about a yoga and meditation practice is taking it off the mat and into the world, where the real teachings happen. This is about being kind, being in a good space, and not listening to that old negative voice that says, “you’re not doing it right.” I’ve practiced for long enough that I’m disciplined but not too hard on myself. It used to be, I felt like I had to practice every day or else I’d be a faux yogi. Nowadays, I’m able to ease up and practice by immersing myself in the present moment while I’m cooking a meal, reading a good book, or playing with my dogs. Sukha comes in everyday moments of joy and ease.