“By contentment, supreme joy is gained.” sutra 2.42
“Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study, and self-surrender. sutra 2.32
Santosha is Sanskrit for contentment. The word contentment/santosha is first mentioned in The Yoga Sutras among the list of five niyamas (sutra 2.32). Side note: My take on the niyamas is they guide our internal compass. They’re ethical principles (or observances) that strengthen our character and guide us to live life in the best, most purest way possible. As a result, they help us shine in a way that inspires others to live richer lives. Richer meaning all the wealth we truly need is deep within, and not found held in a bank account.
Back to contentment/santosha. In my yoga studies, I’ve seen many deep definitions on contentment. From a simple idea like contentment is being able to appreciate and live in the present moment to a more thought-provoking description of “Contentment is perfected in the absence of cravings. It is the experience that nothing is lacking, that everything happens is an integral part of a Divine Plan.” (quoted from Inside the Yoga Sutras by Jaganath Carrera)
It’s often said that we already have everything we need. Or as Sri Dharma Mittra says “all is within.” Though our culture wants us to believe we need “things” or other people to make us happy. The “things” list is long but a few examples: new toys (cars, bikes, clothes, accessories), fancy restaurants, botox, a different boyfriend/husband/family. You get the drift. I have many friends who are always seeking beyond what they have and at the same time they’ve yet to take time to fully appreciate what exist in their lives.
The path of yoga leads us in the opposite direction…let go of external desires and internal contentment will be discovered. Though the process of discovering contentment requires a huge mound of trust, courage and attention. It takes a lot of trust to follow a notion, such as the niyama contentment, when no one is there to hold your hand and lead you through the dark moments of life. It also takes a lot of courage to fully step in and feel life as it is happening – feeling the awesome, okay, bad, scary and all the sensations in between that show up. It takes a lot of paying attention to the present experience – being in it, as it is and not mentally jumping ahead to what’s happening 5 hours later the day.
Total confession here…I took a not so great yoga class this past weekend in DC and it was there that I experienced santosha in a new way. Last side note: My new goal is to try 2 new (new to me) yoga teachers a month in the DC area. Not a tough challenge given there are sooooo many studios now in the DC Metro Area (defined in my mind as Arlington, VA; Alexandria, VA; Washington, DC; Bethesda, MD). So I signed up for what was listed as a vinyasa yoga /intermediate level class. Let’s just say after starting in a restorative pose for 10+ minutes and not getting into my first Downward Facing Dog until 20 minutes into class, I was not content. Thanks to my Grandmother’s constant words of wisdom, I reminded myself that there is always something new to learn in every situation in life. Though I continued to find myself way too often checking the clock, realizing I had no idea the end time for the class and feeling I was stuck there. Then I thought “I’m stuck here for a reason”. That’s when I settled in and tried to make the best of it.
I can’t say I learned anything “new” from the teacher but I had a total realization that my life could be way worse. Here I was on a Sunday morning surrounded by 40 or so others in a yoga class, bending and stretching in ways that many people aren’t able to do. I have a healthy body and a great life. The sun was coming out and I had a full day off ahead. Life could be so much worse. It was there and then I reminded myself of santosha.