A “comfortable steady seat” refers to the dual qualities needed to maintain the seated posture for sitting meditation. These qualities are also regarded as necessary for fully experiencing all yoga asanas.
Sthira– Strong, steady, stable alertness. Sukha: Comfortable, ease-filled, light, relaxed. Asananam is ‘seat’ and can refer to a way of sitting, a hatha yoga posture, a place or situation.
T.K.V. Desikachar says, “It is attention without tension, loosening-up without slackness…alertness without tension, relaxation without dullness.”
Sthira speaks not only of challenge, strength, endurance and fortitude but also vigilance, the ability to pay attention, to be present. As opposed to agitation or gripping, it refers to physical and mental stillness: a controlled, fully engaged body and a focused mind. Sometimes the challenge can shift so that it is easier to hold steady in a posture, but not so easy to relax in it. Other postures we may find only the ease- and cannot find a way to bring a steady, firm attentiveness to. Some people who are very open can lay out in a pose and feel they are so relaxed that they lose their connection to the pose and the breath and they begin to daydream.
We can think of ways that we naturally embody sthira & sukha. The spine has both qualities. Our bones are solid, firm, weight bearing and hold us upright and steady. The ligaments connecting to the spine are soft in relation to the bone- they give way when we move- they are flexible and allow us to stay upright and at the same time bend and be supple.
The breath also has elements of sthira sukha. As we inhale, the diaphragm contracts, increases in volume, pressing the internal organs downward. There is a firmness to the inhale. There is an element of strength to the diaphragm filling and pressing downward. When we exhale, the volume of the diaphragm decreases. The pressure moves up and air is pushed out from the lungs, releasing the pressure on the organs. We relax on the exhale.
Off the mat we can practice sthira sukha by bringing steady attentiveness to all that we do, yet finding a way to be relaxed and comfortable at the same time- driving is a good example! Traffic can at times require our utter attention and we get tight and agitated. Can we remain attentive yet stay relaxed? Or on the other hand, can we bring a mindful quality to driving instead of drifting off, getting distracted and forgetting to pay attention to what we’re doing? In relationships, can we stand our ground while being kind, open & receptive to others? When we bring a balance of sthira and sukha into our lives we cultivate a habit of facing that which is hard with a soft heart.