Last month I kicked off my 5-Part Niyamas Blog Series that explores the second limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga. If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m passionate about this 8-limbed path found in the Yoga Sūtra and I am excited to share with you the teachings and benefits of this way of life. In this series we explore each of the 5 personal practices within the niyamas that teach us to respect ourselves---mind, body and spirit.
The niyamas breakdown into five habits:
For each niyama I will provide a more detailed explanation of its intent and practical ways for you to practice them.
If you are new to my 5-Part Niyamas Series, I invite you to start with Part 1 which focused on the first niyama: saucha, the practice of purity.
Now on to Part 2 – Santosha, Contentment
Santosha is the Sanskrit word for contentment, which as stated in the Yoga Sūtra, “brings about unsurpassed joy.”
It is the practice of cultivating happiness from within, not from external satisfactions. It’s being content with what is in this moment. It’s knowing that we are whole and nothing is missing.
Intent & Benefits
Santosha is the feeling of contentment and gratitude. This niyama invites us to have a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity. It’s knowing that what we have, who we are and how we feel is already good enough. It asks us to be grateful for our life the way it is right now.
It’s okay to want to grow and expand, to buy new things, to want to look good, to be financially successful, to want……whatever! But when our desires are motivated by fear and/or greed we are rarely satisfied or truly content. It’s simply not feasible to sustain the feeling of contentment when we are seeking for joy outside of ourselves. In fact, we are only setting ourselves up for perpetual suffering. It is similar when we avoid people, things, or situations that we don’t like. How can we be content when we are in these uncomfortable situations? Being content is often challenging, especially when things are not going as we had hoped. How can we cultivate and maintain the feeling of contentment during good times and bad?
Santosha is knowing that we are progressing towards what we desire and are happy with progress we have made. We are focusing on what we want, not what we don’t want. When we focus on the negative that’s when we can feel discontentment and, subsequently, we unintentionally attract more of what we don’t want into our lives. The good news is that the opposite is true! When we focus on what brings us joy, more joy comes our way.
Ways to Practice Santosha
Be Thankful - Develop a daily practice of writing a list of the things you are grateful for. This practice guides you to focus on the good things in your life right now---instead of focusing on what you don’t have, or what isn’t working. This is a simple, yet powerful way to shift your mindset towards contentment.
This is also a helpful practice to do should you find yourself veering off course down a negative thought pattern. Stop what you’re doing, take 3 long, deep breaths and then mentally list 3 things you are grateful for. It will help get you back on track.
What’s really special about this gratitude practice is that once you start focusing on the positive things in your life more good things come your way!
Be Materialistic – This practice is a positive twist on materialism that I learned from yoga and meditation teacher and author, Michael Stone, in a great Ted Talk (click here to view the full Ted Talk) he gave on the concept of cultivating a “deeper love of the material.” We live in a materialistic society that is obsessed with the newest, the most innovative, the best of the best, more, more. In his talk, Michael suggests that we should be MORE materialistic in the sense that we should love our material world so much that we take better care of our material things. Not just our personal items, but also our trees, our oceans, our rivers and so on. When we have this deeper connection to life, we will be more inspired and motivated to take better care of our world. So, let’s be grateful for and content with what we have and take care of these things so that they last longer and that we can reduce waste. This cultivates contentment for what we have in our lives now.
To practice being “materialistic” (that sounds funny for me to say, but you know what I mean) really pay attention to how you treat your possessions. Start by identifying items in your home that need repair, cleaning or just a little TLC, and put an action plan together to get these items in tip-top shape. Also, see how long you can go without buying anything new to replace an older item. This may be a huge challenge for you early adopters who need the newest gadgets the moment they are released, but just give it a try for one week!
There are many ways to practice staying in the moment. I recommend starting with a small task for a short amount of time and working up to more complex tasks that take a longer period of time. Here are a few ideas for you to consider:
Enjoy your morning tea or coffee without doing anything else. Yes, you can do it! For 15 minutes or so simply enjoy your drink with no phone, newspaper, computer, to do lists or whatever you usually do during this time. If possible, drink it outside in your backyard, or your balcony and enjoy the surroundings, birds chirping, trees rustling in the wind, cool air on your skin, changing colors of the sky. Enjoy this quiet time just for you!
Next try being present with another activity for a longer period of time. Many of us have fairly long commutes to our place of work which is a good opportunity to practice being present. During your route to work don’t talk on the phone or listen to the radio. Just focus on the drive or walk to work and be aware of your surroundings.
For a bonus practice, identify areas of your life where you are feeling discontentment and commit to focusing on being present when dealing with that situation. See what comes up for you. For example, maybe you tend to avoid answering the phone when a certain family member calls---I’m guilty of that! As a bonus practice, you might consider proactively calling that person and being present when conversing with them. One tip that has helped me in the past is to go into the conversation without any expectations. More often than not, I have been pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
Your Individual PracticeNow, spend a few minutes developing your own santosha practice that you can commit to for at least one full week. I recommend that you include the following in your practice:
- Write a daily gratitude list,
- Select 1-2 specific ways you can practice being “materialistic,”
- Pick 1-2 ways to practice being more present in your life, and
- Identify one area in your life that you feel discomfort and practice being present.
Schedule all of these tasks in your calendar for the week to ensure you accomplish your individual practice plan. During your week journal about your experience practicing santosha. How did you feel after you completed each practice? Write down the specific benefits you experienced. For example, did it make you feel more content? What lessons did you learn? Consider if these practices would be helpful to continue. If the answer is no, are there others that you may want to try next?
I hope you enjoy this practice of santosha and that it helps you experience more contentment and happiness. In the next few weeks we will explore the third niyama, tapas, which is the practice of commitment.