“By contentment, supreme joy is gained”
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Sadhana Pada
Reflecting on the word ‘contentment’ immediately brings to my mind feelings of warmth, wellbeing, self-love and relaxation. The moments when I have felt content I have experienced a sense of ease and presence in my body and a deeper connection with the world around me.
Can you remember the last time you felt content?
Translated most accurately as contentment, Santosha is one of the ethics in the classical yoga system outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (AD 400). Santosha is an inner quality we can cultivate through our yoga practice that can help us transform negative emotions and live our lives with more joy and equanimity.
Sri Swami Satchidananda in his translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras teaches us that: “Contentment means just to be as we are without going to outside things for our happiness. If something comes, we let it come. If not, it doesn’t matter. Contentment means neither to like nor dislike.”
In modern consumer culture we are constantly bombarded with seductive and glamorous advertisements of products, people, and lifestyles aiming to foster within us a sense of lack and make us reliant on external things for satisfaction. They try to convince us that we need to have the latest gadget, car or fashion item to feel content and fulfilled.
However if we better understand the human mind and heart we can see that true contentment can never be gained through possessions. No matter how much one gets, he will always want more. When we truly understand this truth we will begin to cultivate a contentment which is not based on possessions, money or status.
Connecting with our true nature
For most of us, Swami Satchidananda’s description might be an aspirational goal, though fortunately through practicing yoga we can move closer to this.
Our yoga practice brings us back to our body and our breath. The mind likes to make things complicated and this complexity creates stress in the physical body, subtle body and mind. Through yoga practice, we release stress and tension in the body, bring stability to the mind and restore the free flow of prana throughout our whole system. We return to a natural state of relaxation. This relaxed state provides a glimpse of spaciousness and ease that yoga tells us is our true nature. Over time we can work to maintaining this connection with stillness and openness in our daily life.
At the root of cultivating contentment is an understanding that all things (apart from our true nature) are in a state of continual change and process, and therefore, to rely on external conditions for contentment will lead inevitably to disappointments.
This acknowledgement and reflection on impermanence can be a huge relief if you are experiencing difficulties. Whatever we are experiencing, no matter how stable it appears to be, it will not last.
“Everything –every tree, every blade of grass, all the animals, insects, human beings, buildings, the animate and the inanimate – is always changing, moment to moment. We don’t have to be mystics or physicists to know this. Yet at the level of personal experience, we resist this basic fact. It means that life isn’t always going to go our way. It means there’s loss as well as gain.” Pema Chodron
During yoga and meditation we are aware that our thoughts are continually arising and dissolving, and even when sometimes it may feel that we are stuck with a thought for what seems like forever, it does inevitably pass away.
Appreciation and Gratitude
If we do get stuck focussing on a sense of lack or dissatisfaction, turning our attention to the things in our life that bring us happiness can be a good antidote. Reflecting on friendship, family, nature, access to food and education, can shift our mental state and lift our energy. Try adding a short appreciation meditation at the start or end of your yoga practice.
Santosha as the Path
The 7th century book Yoga Vasistha tells us that cultivating Santosha alone can lead us to liberation.
“There are four soldiers who guard the road to moksa (liberation). They are Patience (or peace of mind), Atman (Self) Inquiry, Santosha (Contentment), and Association with the Wise. If you can succeed in making one of these a friend, then the others will be easy. That one will introduce you to the other three.” Yoga Vasistha, Book 1
Wishing you all well and may the practice of Santosha bring happiness and freedom!
Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda, Integral Yoga Publications, Buckingham Virginia, 1978.
Robert Whitley, Here’s Why Social Media Harms Your Teens Mental Health, Huffington Post CA, Sept 2016
Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You: A Guide To Fearlessness, Shambhala Publications, 2001
Yoga Vasistha, (Book 1) 3, 7th Century AD India
Photo Credits: FootMassagez, gothick_matt