The second niyama of astanga yoga is one which I, personally, find very difficult to observe: santosha, translating to ‘contentment’ or satisfaction.
How often does the phrase ‘I’ll be happy when XYZ’ cross your mind? Whether it’s losing weight, getting a different job, earning more money, your partner being more sensitive to your needs, or being able to get into that yoga posture you’ve been working towards so long. These things are not inherently bad, but our state of mind of being dis-satisfied when we do not get these things can hold us back from Self-realization and experiencing joy in the moment, especially if we become dependent on things outside of ourselves to make us contented.
Santosha does not mean that we have to be complacent to dysfunction or to our dreams, it simply means accepting and appreciating what we have and what we are already, and moving forwards from there, living according to our values. In fact, if we are genuinely contented, we experience enthusiasm, willpower, and determination for life. This then begs the question as to how we can access contentment on an ongoing day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis, even in the face of challenging times. We can firstly be grateful for what we do have, appreciating the “small” things in life, and secondly become mindful of the stories our minds tell us, realizing that the Self with a capital S is not our stories. The “I am not good enough story” is one that probably rings true for most of us and our experiences and our emotions around that story constantly change. But by practicing mindfulness, we come to the understanding that our true Self never changes and that our presence is enough (we do not have to proof anything).
Santosha on the mat: we can all relate to performing a posture in class, and then taking a peek around the room to see who is doing it better than us. Or we feel aversion towards certain postures. Or we are concerned about how big our thighs look in our yoga pants. Instead of operating from a place of fear, attachment and pushing, we can rather accept where we are currently at in our practice, and move forward from there – this is the key to a sustainable and transformative practice. This translates to life off the mat as well. I will use an example out of my own life.
After I finished my Doctorate, I moved away from my student town with all its aesthetic appeal, beautiful landscapes all around, its lively artistic culture, countless coffee shops, art displays everywhere and all of my friends. I moved to Cape Town, where I had no friends or community and was initially house bound most of the time, having no bursary to sustain me, and having to drive a distance if I wanted to get out of the house. My sense of life purpose was also greatly challenged as for more 12 years, I associated it with being an academic and then I chose to craft out an “entrepreneur healing career” for myself, but with the healing and the compensation not manifesting straight away. For years I was profoundly unhappy, resisting all the changes and projecting it on to my partner, placing high demands on him to make me contented. The shift only really came when I started, religiously, naming three things for which I am grateful for, every morning upon awakening. I started to look at my situation with new eyes, appreciating magic in the mundane, such as the song of birds outside, the wholesome vegetable from Mother Nature on my plate, the care that my partner DOES display, and the very breath that I take in each moment, drinking up the prana (life force energy) that is all around and always available. As an added bonus of also starting to love myself, I could love, trust, and give fully and the very things I desired, slowly but surely started to manifest in my life.
Make the intention to appreciate what you do have, and love yourself for who you are, how far you have come and all that you have to look forward to, every day.