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What is Santosha?

What is Santosha?

This post is the seventh in a series of articles exploring the yamas and niyamas, the moral principles and qualities that form part of the philosophy of a “yogic” lifestyle. Stay tuned to our blog to continue to learn about each of the 10 concepts and how to integrate them into your yoga practice and daily life.

Introduction

Yamas are ethical practices that help us create a pure, resilient, healthy lifestyle. The yamas include Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha. If you’re just starting this series now, you can find more information on each of the yamas in their respective posts.

We’re now into the niyamas, and you can find an introduction to the niyamas as a whole in the last post on Saucha, or cleanliness. This post is on the second niyama, Santosha, which translates as “contentment.” The Sanskrit word includes two parts: “sam-,” which translates as “entirely,” and “-tosha,” which means “contentment” or “acceptance.”

We often attach conditions to our own happiness. “I’ll be happy when I get a new job,” or “I’ll be happy when I have some savings,” or “I’ll be happy when I’m in a relationship,” or “I’ll be happy when I’m single.” The trouble with this approach is that happiness is always just around the corner. Practicing Santosha means practicing contentment right here, right now, no matter what is happening in your life.

So are goals and aspirations bad?

Absolutely not! Santosha is not about being passively content with your lot in life; instead, it’s about accepting where you are now while also understanding that you are able to move forward. This takes away your reliance on external factors for your own happiness, because being unhappy until all of your goals are achieved means never being happy.

Remember Aparigraha? Aparigraha means non-clinging or non-grasping of people, things, or outcomes, and it is extremely relevant to Santosha. When you let go of clinging to a specific outcome, it is much easier to be content. In other words, when you stop worrying about how things will turn out, you can focus on the moment – and this moment is the only one where we can control how we feel.

The stories we tell ourselves

Besides letting go of outcomes, another big part of Santosha is letting go of stories. We all have stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and other people. “That guy who stole my subway seat? He saw me going for it and intentionally sat down before I could.” Does that tone sound familiar to you? If so, you may want to pay attention to your own mind when that kind of story comes up for you and work on letting go of stories that make you feel resentful of other people. See if you can rephrase those stories to include compassion: “That guy didn’t see me, and he looks exhausted. I’m glad he got the chance to sit down.”

Also, ask yourself: What are the stories you tell yourself about yourself? For example, “I am smart,” “I am stupid,” “I am capable,” “I am incapable,” “I am successful,” “I am a failure.” These stories tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies, and they also tend to be fairly consistent. When you constantly tell yourself that you are worthless or incapable, you’ll tend to put yourself in situations that reinforce those beliefs; part of the work of Santosha is to notice those consistent themes and begin to change your own patterns. Then, when you change your stories and give yourself love, it gives you the capacity to give others love and compassion as well.

What Santosha is not

Contentment is not passive, and it is not about avoiding change. The difference between setting a goal from a place of negativity and from a place of contentment is this: “I need to get this new training because I suck at my job” is a goal set from a place of self-criticism, whereas “I need to get trained in this skill because it will add to my current skills and improve my odds of getting this new job” comes from a more positive place. It is possible to challenge yourself and improve the world around you from a positive place rather than a critical one.

Santosha is also not about never feeling anger, sadness, or any other emotion. Feeling a full range of ups and downs is part of life, and practicing Santosha means accepting those emotions as they come, experiencing them fully without running away from them, but also understanding that they will pass and it’s okay.

Santosha in your yoga practice

Are you content in your yoga practice? Do you feel a sense of happiness on your mat or do you find yourself criticizing or judging your strength or flexibility while you’re practicing? Play close attention to your mind the next time you practice; are your thoughts positive or negative? What stories are you telling yourself about yourself and the people around you?

The key to a transformative yoga practice is to understand where you are now and work from there. Many of us force ourselves to “perform” to some standard when our body is not ready; you’ll know you’re doing this when you feel resistance and rigidity within your body in a specific pose or movement. Instead, see if you can practice where you are today – and if you feel the urge to play with your edge, try to stay within it instead of jumping right off the cliff.

Don’t compare yourself to other people, or even to yourself on other days – one of the beautiful things about yoga is that it is different every time. See if you can approach your practice with a sense of discovery, and simply work to explore how your body feels and moves right in this moment rather than seeing how far you can push yourself.

As always, if you have questions, ask your teachers – they are always there to help!

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