Often we think of yoga as being bendy or meditating, but did you know that the physical yoga we practice in the west is just one part of the practice? The overall objective of ‘yoga’ is to follow a spiritual pathway to enlightenment. The Asanas(poses) are one of eight points known as ‘The 8 Limbs of Yoga’, which is a moral guide arising from the Yoga Sutras, written by a sage called Patanjali around 3,000 years ago.
In this article, we look at simple but effective techniques to help you how to embody ‘Santosha’ – or as we know it – contentment. To begin, let’s look at where Santosha sits in the overall structure of the eight limbs of yoga.
The first limb is called the ‘Yamas’ – or broadly speaking, our moral conduct towards others. Much like many organized religions that preach ‘treat others as you wish to be treated, the yamas are about how you behave when around people.
The second limb is the ‘Niyamas’, which we can summarise as the observances of the self.
The Niyamas promote a more positive relationship with ourselves and the recognition that as much attention needs to be upon our own being as with our treatment of others.
Santosha is the second of five Niyamas, roughly translating as ‘contentment’. It highlights the need for acceptance and simple appreciation of what we have. To be able to find a sense of gladness, regardless of what you have or your status is to find overall peace with life.
But how do we practice contentment when life is tough?
Challenges come up for us every day in the form of work, kids, house, traffic, relationships, health, money… How do we maintain Santosha when the universe seems to go against us? And how can we move forwards if we’re so busy being contented with everything that is?
Here are 5 easy ways to help you on your journey towardsfinding Santosha
To practice Santosha you must be able to be happy with what you have, with where you’re at and with who you are. In yogic philosophy, searching for happiness outside of ourselves, will just lead to more searching!
Tempting though it is to fall into the trap of believing that substances, possessions, promotions, money or people will lead us to a better existence, actually it’s the inner you that has the answers.
If you struggle with discontentment, looking for things to be thankful for is a great place to start.
And there is always something to be thankful for; your loved ones, a meal, a tap full of clean water, shoes on your feet, the sun on your face; your eyesight, your teeth!
Next time you wash your hair, see if you can find 5 things to be grateful for just in that simple task.
By creating a daily mantra of gratitude, it becomes easier to feel blessed and lucky, and one step closer to contentment.
Sounds easy right? Actually, the entire point of modern physical yoga that we see in studios across the UK, is to prepare the body for stillness in order to meditate. From meditation, it’s said we can connect to the divine, or God, or the universe or Bliss.
It goes without saying that this takes huge discipline. Essentially meditation is a practice in training the mind to be still, so you can see what’s behind your mind.
To accept that you are not your mind is another key point of meditation in that, you are not your thoughts, rather – the space between the thoughts.
It’s often said that the final resting pose after a yoga practice, known as savasana or corpse pose, is the hardest pose of all because no longer are we focusing on the body; but on the mind instead.
How to Meditate
To begin a meditation practice, you must first set aside some quiet time.
Set your timer to just 3 minutes and have a soft alarm like a chime to indicate when time is up. That way you won’t worry about having enough time or overrunning.
Begin sitting in a comfortable seat, with a tall spine and relaxing around the face, neck, and shoulders. Simply stop. Stop moving and stop doing.
Begin to allow your breath to guide your mind into focus and enjoy the simplicity of just breathing; each inhales lengthening and smoothing, each exhale softening and surrendering.
Take time to notice how you feel and give an allowance if your mind is busy.
Be prepared to keep beginning again and drawing your attention gently back to the breath every time your mind wanders.
Continue this process and develop the art of just ‘being’ with no doing.
This knowledge that you have this place to go to inside, everpresent and available to you, will enable you to deal with life’s difficulties. With practice, you will gradually be able to tap into this space more easily and benefit more regularly.
3. Stop Judging Yourself
We are sent so many messages about how we should be that it’s easy to start blaming ourselves for our failings and imperfections. To truly find Santosha, you must also practice non-judgement of yourself.
Don’t ever think lowly yourself for trying to reach a goal. No matter how small your effort seems, bear in mind that something is always better than nothing. Find acceptance that you are where you’re supposed to be on your journey.
If you’re feeling down about your life, try to intersect your negative thought patterns with a change of scenery. Even a quick walk around the block listening to music or the sounds around you can do wonders for self-inflicted judgy thoughts.
If you can’t get out, use a 10 breath meditation technique as a simple, easy, and free way to take a mental break from your own thoughts. Without judging your experience, instead, see meditation as a way to find the calm inside of yourself. With practice, you’ll realize you can access this calm at any time.
4. Prioritise Your Goals
There is a temptation to keep making everything ‘better’ in our lives – if only we were more this or less that.. If we had a better car, more money, lost weight, moved house.
How many times do we seek to improve things rather than accepting things as they are and seeing if we can reach contentment that way?
When we rely on external things to bring us happiness and freedom, we are actually binding ourselves to a life of discontentment.
Although it’s important to keep striving towards our own goals, where does it stop? When do we have enough? For some, just having clean water to drink, or a warm home would be the best thing they could ever wish for.
How do we stop obsessing about getting more and realising that the initial happiness at getting what is only replaced by the next ‘I want’?
Similar to gratitude and definitely tied in to santosha, ‘Aparigraha’ means non-attachment. In yogic philosophy there’s a strong emphasis on remembering not to rely on ‘stuff’ to make us happy.
To practice aparigraha, simply try going without the next 5 non-essential items that you’re tempted to buy and see how it makes you feel. You might be surprised to find how easy it is to be as contented as you were before.
5. Go to a Yoga Class
Yoga is called a ‘practice’ for a reason, in that your practice has no end, no time limitations and no expectations. We are not just practicing the asanas (poses). We are practicing awareness; how we think, our reactions, our ego.
With this constant encouragement on self-observationcombined with non-judgement, we begin to recognise where we could make our lives easier and what we’re holding on to.
In terms of Santosha, we can practice just being content that we made it on to our mat.
Or that we have the time to express self-love in this healthy and beneficial way. Or even just that we have breath in our body to focus on and a chance to clear our minds from the chaos.
This is the key to a transformative practice; not pushing ourselves beyond our capacity but being patient and loving. Use your yoga practice to practice Santosha, not to worry about what anyone else is doing in the room (even if they are able to ‘achieve’ poses that you cannot).
Try to remember, it’s pretty difficult to find contentment when you are immersed in negative circumstances or surrounded by negative people. Look around at the key influences in your life and let go of the ones that aren’t positive.
We hope you’ve enjoyed these 5 tips to help you on your way to Santosha. We know how difficult it can be to make change when you have a million things to do and people demanding your time, but remember any progress is good progress and keep going.