What does it mean to be truly content? Is it even possible in this day and age when we are programmed to always desire more? And what’s the difference between being happy and being content? Discover why you need to step up your search for the second niyama, santosha, or contentment, to find true happiness.
Looking for Happiness
When asked what we want from life, most of us just want to be happy. But judging from the number of therapists, self-help books and articles out there, it’s easier said than done. But what about the quality of contentment – how does it differ from happiness? And just how do you go about finding contentment, especially in challenging situations? Let’s explore our second niyama, santosha, both on and off the mat.
Using Santosha On The Mat
Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. ― Lao Tzu
As beautiful as the statement above is, most of us are rarely content with how things are in our lives and our yoga practice. Sometimes in our constant striving for more, we can miss the simple joy of purely being in the moment. This, ironically, is often particularly true in a yoga class. As people increasingly become drawn to yoga for its physical benefits, there is a danger that the pleasure of simply moving our bodies in time with our breath is lost as we strive for progress or even perfection.
Being content with our practice means accepting our ability as it is right now, not comparing ourselves to other students in the class, or even comparing today’s practice with yesterday’s. How can we cultivate this sense of contentment, of santosha, on our mat? Here are three ways to get you started:
1) Enjoy Moving
Whatever your level, whatever your practice, the fact that you are on a yoga mat in the first place means you have some mobility. Enjoy stretching your body, enjoy playing with the breath and see how you feel by the end of class. If you need more convincing, then I suggest you check out Matthew Sanford, a paralyzed yoga practitioner, for a truly illuminating story of what it means to practice yoga.
2) Get Grounded
In yoga, we move with an energy known as prana. This energy can lift us, make us feel almost buzzing with life. It can also ground us down, reconnecting us to our roots, to the earth, and helping us find stability and balance. Make sure you include some grounding aspects of yoga to your practice to cultivate your feeling of safety. Tree Pose (Vrksāsana), Wide Leg Forward Bend (Prasarita Paddotanāsana), and Head to Knee Pose (Jānu Sīrsāsana A) are all good for connecting to the earth.
3) Accept Where You Are In Your Practice Right Now
Aah, that little thing called acceptance. How we struggle with it! Learning to accept is often the precursor to letting go. From an āsana, posture, point of view, we can think of this as softening. Even in the most challenging of postures if we look for the breath, and find the ease, we can often accept where we are – and maybe even enjoy it. One way to notice if you are accepting or resisting your current situation is to notice if you are labelling it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Sometimes changing our perspective can change our battle with acceptance.
Taking Santosha Off The Mat
Much like acceptance on the mat, learning to accept our situations off the mat can be the first step to contentment. Let me be clear, this is not about ‘putting up’ with things that are causing you pain. Often when we work to accept a situation, to see it for what it is, we can find the courage and clarity needed to change it. Here are some ways to practice santosha in your life, whatever your situation:
1) Talk About It
Sometimes we bottle up our true emotions and feelings for fear of being judged or criticised by others. Too often we are our own worse critic, berating ourselves for feeling this way, or that. I’m a strong believer that movement is a powerful therapy – getting on my mat almost every day has been crucial for my own personal journey of acceptance. Sometimes, though, we just need a good ear to listen to us. Be it a good friend, therapist, or even your pet, allow yourself to express whatever it is you need to express. And don’t judge!
2) Be Grateful
Writing down three things every day that you are grateful for can help you feel more satisfied with your present situation. You could even have a special ‘Gratefulness Diary’, to record daily all the things you have to be grateful for that day. If you live with someone you could create a ritual where you share the things you are grateful for each evening, maybe at dinner or just before bed.
3) Try Yoga Nidrā
Yoga Nidrā is a deep relaxation technique that can leave you feeling calm, deeply relaxed and connected to your true self. Yoga Nidrā is also great for promoting good sleep, and alleviating anxiety and worry. Best part is, you can check out YogaLondon guide to the best free online versions here.
Taking Santosha From Here
As Eckhart Tolle once said, “accepting means you allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling at that moment. It is part of the isness of the Now. You can’t argue with what is. Well, you can, but if you do, you suffer.”
Suffering is a big part of what causes us pain, but what causes us suffering is worth pausing to think about. Do we suffer each time we compare ourselves to someone else? Do we suffer each time we beat ourselves up because we succumbed to eating that biscuit, or having that glass of wine? Could we alleviate some of that suffering just by accepting ourselves as we are right now – and cultivating new habits (like journaling) to replace the unhealthy ones?