In this article we look at simple but effective techniques to help you remember this important aspect of yogic philosophy, contentment or santosha.
Did you know that physical yoga that we practice in the west is just one part of the overall objective of a spiritual pathway to enlightenment? The Asanas or poses are just one aspect of ‘The 8 Limbs of Yoga’, a moral guide that comes from the summary of the Yoga Sutras by a sage called Patanjali, written some 3,000 years ago.
The first two limbs are known as the ‘Yamas’ (moral conduct towards others) and the ‘Niyamas’ (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 Niyama, roughly translating as ‘contentment’ and it highlights the need for acceptance and simple appreciation of what we have.
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 suggestions from our Studio Manager and Yoga teacher Melanie Hiblen to help you on your journey towards 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. 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. There is always something to be thankful for; loved ones, a fridge full of food, a tap full of clean water, shoes on your feet, the sun on your face; your eyesight, your teeth! 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 yoga, is to prepare the body for stillness in order to meditate and from meditation, it’s said we can connect to the divine, or God, or the universe or Bliss. This takes huge discipline and practice in training the mind to be still to see what’s behind your mind. To accept that you are not your mind!
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.
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 over running. 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 inhale lengthening and smoothing, each exhale softening and surrendering.
Take time to notice how you feel and give 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. If you struggle to stay focused, try looking for a meditation app on your phone or attending meditation or yoga classes, all of which will aid you in finding the mental stillness that your soul is craving.
It’s pretty difficult sometimes to feel gratitude or begin meditation when there is negativity in your circumstances. It’s also difficult when you have a million things to do and people demanding your time. But only you can make it happen and the best way is to start small. Like 30 seconds small. If you can commit just 30 seconds today to closing your eyes, sitting still and just breathing then you have started your journey. Maybe tomorrow you’ll have 1 minute, maybe you’ll have 30 seconds. Don’t ever judge yourself for trying to reach a goal, no matter how small the effort seems because something is always better than nothing.
If you’re feeling down about your life, meditation gives you the mental break from your own thoughts. It’s not about judging your experience; It’s about finding the calm inside of yourself and learning that you have access to this at any time. This knowledge that you have this place to go to inside, that is always present 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.
4. Prioritising 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? 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 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 we want quickly fades and is only replaced by the next thing?
‘Aparigraha’ or non-attachment is important in remaining level headed and balanced about what you really need in life, helping you to realise when you have enough. When we rely on external things to bring us happiness and freedom, we are actually binding ourselves to a life of discontentment.
5. Do Yoga!
Use your yoga practice to practice Santosha. We need not worry about what anyone else is doing in the room, even if they are able to ‘achieve’ poses and you can not. 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 self observation combined with non-judgement we begin to recognise where we could make our lives easier and what we’re holding on to that we simply do not need. So in terms of Santosha, we can practice just being content that we made it on to our mat. That we have the time to express self love in this healthy and beneficial way and 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.
At Mary Ann Weeks Aveda Wellbeing Studio on Guildford High Street, we have over 20 yoga and pilates classes each week with dedicated professional and caring teachers. Because our studio is small, there is plenty of opportunity for personal development, community and questions. Our teachers always have time and are devoted to helping you reach your own aims. Try a class from our timetable www.maryannweeks.co.uk/studio-timetables
So there we have it; 5 tips to practice Santosha. We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and look forward to warmly welcoming you soon.