According to the great sage Patanjali, there are two steps in practice before ‘Asana’ which are Yamas and Niyamas. The Yamas and Niyamas are the Ethical and Moral codes of Yoga and are useful framework for reflection of our lives. ‘Santosha’ is the second Niyama described by Patanjali and is translated as contentment or satisfaction.
Santosha encourages us to be truly happy with what we have and where we are in our life. Santosha is not to be confused with stagnancy or laziness but instead encourages us to try our best in everything we do and to find peace and contentment in the outcome. We are also encouraged to notice what we have in our lives in the present moment and to move forward from that place with gratitude and appreciation.
Santosha is tough in our modern society where we are driven to accumulating more material possessions, buying the biggest house and shiniest car. We are also directed towards competition in workplaces, parenting and with ourselves. This conditioning goes against contentment and often comes from a place of wanting much more than we need, or from not realising the bounty that we already possess.
Santosha can bring immense joy and peace when honestly practiced. Truly accepting what is in the present moment is not always easy to do, especially if a plan or expectation we hold does not come into fruition.
Santosha should really begin with ourselves which can be a difficult yet important task. Practicing acceptance and joy with who we are and what we have allows us to move forward towards our goals with ease and a sense of peace. How many times do we scold ourselves for not doing something the way we planned. Perhaps wishing we were faster, smarter or more attentive. When these feelings arise it is important to notice them, acknowledge that they are coming up and remember then remind yourself that you are doing the absolute best you can in all aspects of your life, and you can only move forward from there.
And how about contentment to the people around us? It can be extremely difficult to let go of expectations from our children, partners or friends. Imagine you expect your friend to be available for a phone conversation to comfort you when you are unexpectedly made redundant from your job, but she is not available because she has recently started are new relationship that takes a lot of her energy and attention, and is enjoying the company of her new partner. Instead of being annoyed with her for not being there for you, perhaps you could instead foster joy for her new love and remember what it feels like to be swooned in a new relationship. If you can do this with pure intention and joy for where she is, your feeling of being let down by her will soon disappear.
Two Practices to Bring Santosha in Your Life
Find a comfortable, quiet seat with pen and paper. Start a list of all the things you are grateful for. Perhaps they start as obvious and material. For example; the house you live in, the food you have access to, the job you comfortably go to everyday and your loving partner and children. Perhaps you can then look further than your immediate household. How about being grateful for the peace in your life, or the freedom of choice, or the safety in walking the streets, or your good health? How about if you had a really busy day on your feet? Could you be grateful for your strong legs for helping you carry out your tasks? Or your mind for being alert and helpful?
The exercise doesn’t need to end in one sitting. Make time every day to add at least one thing to your list. Pretty soon your mind will be trained into a habit of noticing and finding joy in what you have. Gratitude will soon naturally come into your everyday life and you will be able to move towards your goals with easeful grace. You will be more accepting to the people around you, and you will be able to accept yourself more fully and wholly.
Hip Opening for Santosha
Hip opening asana’s can be super challenging. Our bodies can feel very different each day, and operate very differently from one another. Practicing Hip Opening postures is a perfect opportunity to notice feelings of longing, and wanting for a more flexible body. Or if your body is naturally flexible perhaps you notice a craving to feel even more sensation. Do this asana practice daily if possible, or add it into your current asana practice. You may like to keep a journal of how you feel after each practice.
Uppavistha Konasana/ Seated Wide Leg Forward Fold
- Sit with your legs straight, with 90 degree angle out from your hips
- Try to point your knees towards the ceiling, firm your legs
- Place your hands behind you and lift your chest, if this feels strong, skip instruction 4 and go straight to 5
- Move your hands out in front and slowly walk them forward, try to keep your spine straight and chest moving forward instead of straight down, you don’t need to go to your maximum
- Stay for 20-30 breaths, as you breathe notice your body sensations and your thoughts, notice if you feel peaceful and content with where you are at in the asana, or if you are longing for something more, or to be somewhere else. If you do not feel peaceful repeat the mantra ‘I am here now, doing the best I can in this moment. I am true and authentic’. Continue the mantra for the remainder of the Asana.
It is possible to use this mantra in life whenever we feel disappointed or distressed in the current moment.
To learn more about the Yamas and Niyamas see our article here. Or check out the book 'Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali' by BKS Iyengar.