Art in Action is a weekly post: a simple, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.
Want to do anything better? Introduce the concepts of sthira and sukha to anything you do. (You can read more about sthira and sukha here.) These Sanskrit terms can be translated in lots of ways but my favorite is that offered by master yoga teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar:
Sthira is alertness without tension.
Sukha is relaxation without dullness.
Here are 5 steps to doing anything with more skill and ease by using sthira and sukha:
1. Identify a Thing you want to do More Skillfully
It can be anything.
Your Thing can be a physical endeavor like running or yoga or healing an injury. It can be an activity like studying for an exam, giving a presentation, or writing an essay. It can be creating (or letting go of) a habit like driving or eating or shopping more mindfully, exercising every day or flossing. Your Thing can be a relationship issue like reaching out to friends more, listening more attentively to your child or partner, or being kinder to yourself.
Whatever it is you want to do better, identify it clearly. Whatever it is, we’ll call this Your Thing.
2. Observe with Curiosity
Notice how you do Your Thing. Get curious about the details. At this point, make no effort to change anything, just see how you do your do.
Do you run with grim determination in all weathers regardless of how you feel? Do you put off studying until the last minute and then casually read your notes? Do you start popping cookies as soon as the kids go to bed? Do you zone out when your partner starts telling you about her hapless coworker?
Without judgement or criticism, get curious about your tendencies when you do Your Thing.
3. Tweak by adding Sthira
The next time you do Your Thing, experiment with adding some sthira: alertness without tension.
Drive to work with awareness but without gripping the wheel. As you put your PowerPoint slides together, do it with focus and attention but without hyperventilating about what the boss will think. Invite a friend over to lunch without winding yourself into a perfectionist knot about the Caesar dressing.
See what happens when you add more sthira tension-free alertness to Your Thing.
4. Tweak by adding Sukha
Do Your Thing again and this time focus on adding sukha: relaxation without dullness.
In yoga class, notice what you can relax (eyes, jaw, eyebrows?) and still keep the form of the posture. At the dinner table, take time between bites to pause and breathe without zoning out and shoveling in. When your child wants to tell you a story, see if you can soften your eyes and hands while still listening.
Again, get curious about what happens when you add some sukha relaxation without lifelessness as you do Your Thing.
5. Repeat steps 2-4 as needed
We all have tendencies and we all sometimes swing to alert hyper-vigilance or floaty numbed-out. It’s about practice, not perfection. Like the levels on a stereo, adjust the dials of sthira and sukha depending on the moment and the Thing at hand. Have fun tossing a little Sanskrit wisdom into the mix of your day.
BONUS: Compassion Boost
When I pay close attention to my own habits I have the opportunity to make more skillful, happier choices. An added bonus is that my awareness of my tendencies ups my compassion for others.
When a hurried driver passes me, zigging into the lane in front of me, I can recognize myself in their tension and stress (and I can up my own sthira to stay clear of them on the road). When my teen is zoning out on the Internet instead of doing their midterm paper, I can connect to times when I’ve relaxed myself into a stupor.
More kindness to me allows me more kindness to those around me. The practice is a gift to yourself and to your relationship with the world.