Yoga and the Practice of Santosha
The word contentment, while simplistic in concept, tends to convey an almost unattainable ideal in our Westernized society. A society that can push and pull us in different directions with its frenetic energy and constant bustle. Combine that with the constant visual stimulation we experience from a commercial media that advertises and pushes us towards what we need to consume to fit into an ideal of acceptance as a whole. With all these factors clamoring for our attention, something which should be easily attainable, such as contentment, can become elusive.
However, when we find contentment, or Santosha, and incorporate it into our daily life, it has the ability to be both personally empowering, humbling and transformative. Santosha, or contentment, is included in the philosophy of the Eight Limbed Path for living a yogic life, culminating in Samadhi, or bliss or enlightenment.
It is empowering in the way we seek to choose acceptance without judgment. Acceptance in the moment, as it happens, and finding the happiness that resides within that acceptance. It’s true that not every life event will be a positive one, but by peeling back the layers in the nuances of those events, we can find acceptance in knowing that those trying times will pass. There is a sublime power in finding the contentment within those moments of trial…finding a happiness while holding the hand of a loved one before their final passing and imprinting the texture, temperature, and pressure of their palm against our own, finding the appreciation after a traumatic accident in recognizing the safety of everyone involved or finding peace within the quiet instants of extreme adversity. When we know that we, as individuals, can control our reactions to experiences, even if we cannot control the unfolding of the experience itself, it becomes empowering.
Santosha is humbling, as well, for when we live a life of unfettered judgment, we find happiness in the insignificant things that we often take for granted…finding the appreciation in the multitude of scents within the wafting fragrance of a freshly brewed cup of tea, finding contentment with the tactile sensation of blades of dewy grass that sweep across a bare foot in summer, or discovering the beauty within the faint lines that crinkle around the corners of the eyes of a loved one when they laugh. When happiness or contentment is discovered at the most minuscule of scales, we begin to experience a change in our perspective of the world that we live in. This allows us to humbly view our life as complete, without the desire for things beyond what we need, and to view the world in all its complexity with compassion and peace.
Santosha can be achieved by rising above judgment as it comes upon us and allowing it to wash away without grasping onto it. This includes judgment that is cast at ourselves, judgment that is cast when our expectations are not met and judgment towards how we or others feel, think, act or speak. It’s allowing those judgments to dissolve and altering the aspect to one of acceptance, appreciation and happiness and letting loose the preconceptions of any given moment. It grants the gift to both elevate an experience and transcend it happily, while at the same time remaining grounded in that same experience so we can be fully immersed within it.
Santosha examined at the physical layer of the self can be achieved by finding contentment in the physical, external aspects of ourselves. Finding the beauty in our imperfections, just as they are, for it is our imperfections that make us unique. Nature, while profoundly beautiful, is imperfect by default – a tree is rarely straight, a rock rarely symmetrical; and yet it is within those imperfections where true beauty lies.
Santosha can be integrated on the mat through an asana practice by recognizing our inner physical self and understanding what our limitations are, physically, and accepting those limitations without judgment. It can be practiced by keeping our attention on our mats, with ourselves, and not comparing ourselves against those around us. Knowing that what our bodies need today may not be what it needed yesterday or what it will need tomorrow and honoring our self, where we are at. Experiencing yoga poses where they are most easeful, even if modifications or props are required, and appreciating the sensations of the pose in that moment.
While Santosha was recorded by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras to live a life of yoga, it can actively be applied for a life that comes with ease and grace. By practicing Santosha, life’s hues on the palette that surrounds us will be both vibrant and invigorating, and one will grow in harmony and compassion, living a life of fulfillment and bliss.
Always a student, traversing life through practice and intention.
Refer to Journal Prompt, Mudra and Guided Meditation for Cultivating Santosha