Raise your hand if you feel total peace, contentment and satisfaction with your daily life. That’s what I thought, no hands are up. Practicing Santosha is challenging but an important concept to consider if contentment is what you seek. Let’s break it down.
The Sanskrit meaning of Santosha is this: San means ‘entirely’ or ‘completely’ and Tosha means ‘contentment’ or ‘satisfaction’. Santosha is the second Niyama as described by the sage Patanjali in his Yoga Sutra’s eightfold path. The Niyamas lead us towards a more positive relationship with ourselves. We know that we cannot form authentic and sustainable relationships with others until the contentment with ourselves is solid.
How often does the phrase ‘I’ll be happy when...’ cross our minds? Does this sound familiar? I’ll be happy: when I lose weight, when I meet a loving partner, when the conflict with my daughter resolves, when work slows down, when I can meditate regularly, when I retire, when I’m up north on vacation, and so on. You fill in the blank. Even if we are dedicated to practicing yoga, doing everything ‘right’, there’s still probably that sneaky voice saying ‘I’d be happier when….’ in our minds. Getting that promotion, buying the shoes, or even meeting someone and falling in love are all things that we seek outside of ourselves in order to make us happy. Sooner or later those things (or at least the initial joy of those things) leaves. Once we have ‘fixed’ something in our lives, another thing seems to pop up. It’s an endless spiral of juggling happiness, sadness, love and fear. So how do we escape this and move further towards that sense of Santosha?
Santosha on the Mat
Yoga practices like yoga postures and meditation are excellent places to examine our internal stories and observe how they affect our mood and attitude. The next time you are on your meditation cushion or yoga mat (especially in the middle of a difficult pose), take a moment to listen to your story and your self talk. It is said that Santosha helps the yogi to develop a better relationship with him/herself/themself. They learn to accept and be content with the way they are and their life is, rather than making their happiness dependent on achieving certain goals, changing aspects of themselves or seeking satisfaction from other outside forces.
Santosha off the Mat
Constantly chasing after a feeling, a physical possession, or a person can become exhausting. We may experience temporary joy or happiness once we have achieved what we wanted, but how long does it really last? Once we have reached that place of temporary peace, we ultimately become very attached to this feeling, and fight to keep hold of it, which eventually leads to sadness again until we find that next thing to make us ‘happy’. Just as in nature, our minds are constantly changing; emotions and states of being are totally impermanent, yet we fight to hold on to and attach to things. The promises we make to ourselves, like the ‘I’ll be happy when ….’ all cause us to disregard the glorious present moment. Searching outside ourselves for happiness in any form, whether it be substances, people or possessions, just leads to more searching.
In order to come closer to finding peace, Santosha or ‘contentment’ doesn’t mean idly sitting back and abandoning the need to do or accomplish anything. It simply means accepting and appreciating what we already have and what we already are. Having the desire to want to grow and expand our minds and push ourselves towards a goal isn’t a bad thing – it just becomes concerning when we base our entire sense of peace and happiness upon achieving this.
What is the most important message to take away from this? Santosha is undeniably one of the most important practices to return to consistently – we cannot love, trust, give or live fully until we have enough of that love inside ourselves. Do not wait for happiness to come to you. You have everything you need right within you, so get out there and do whatever it is you’ve been waiting to do. You are perfectly imperfect so love yourself and go live life.
Namaste friends, Joslyn Shehab, M.D., RYT-200