Santosha: Turning Acceptance Into Joy
Updated: Dec 19, 2018
In class this week, we are focusing on Santosha. In Sanskrit, Santosha means "contentment". It is described in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras as one of the ethical principles listed under the Niyamas in the Eight-Limbed Path towards enlightenment.
I chose to work with Santosha this week, since we are right in the midst of the chaotic holiday season. It is my hope that by uncovering and cultivating this sense of deep inner peace and tranquility in class, you will unlock the ability to access this same feeling off the mat. We're using a number of techniques to practice Santosha this week, so I wanted to take the opportunity to break them down a little further here, as well as provide some ideas for practicing Santosha on your own.
The Purpose of Santosha
It is important to understand that inner contentment does not come naturally. As humans our natural desire is quite the opposite. We have a primal drive to ensure that all of our basic needs are met, and thus we continuously strive to improve our current situation. Our society, in general, is blessed with abundance, but that doesn't mean that this drive for a better quality of life just vanishes because we have what we need. It is deeply rooted within each and every one of us, supported by out most basic survival instincts.
On the other hand, humans are conscious beings. We are have the ability to make choices, based on our observations and perceptions. We can look around ourselves, see that we have everything we need to survive, and choose to be content with things just as they are. We can choose to say "I am healthy, I am fed, I am clothed, I have a roof over my head, I am safe, and that is good enough because that is everything I need to survive".
But how many people do you know that actually think this way? In our goal-oriented society, we are constantly striving to achieve. Very rarely do we allow ourselves to just be, to acknowledge that our very existence is divine and beautiful, and that each and every one of us is whole and completely perfect just as we are.
Take a minute to think about that.
You are perfect just as you are in this moment. Your worth is not contingent upon your job, it's not contingent upon your relationship, it's not contingent upon your weight, it's not contingent upon your education, it's not contingent upon your material possessions. Your worth is not contingent upon the variety of shapes your body is able to make in a yoga class. Your worth isn't contingent upon anything. You are already worthy. If you're here, if you're alive and breathing, you are already worthy.
Santosha, is a state of mind; it is a choice. The choice to be content with things just as they are. Joy is born from contentment. If we choose to cultivate inner contentment, we do not need to go outside of ourselves to find happiness. When we find happiness within, we become unaffected by external gratification, and this is where the practice of yoga is taken to the next level.
The mind is unable to truly focus without being content. As you begin to travel deeper down the Eight-Limbed Path, this mental focus is absolutely crucial, thus the practice of Santosha helps lay the foundation for a strong and successful spiritual journey.
Santosha in Practice
There are a number of ways we are working with Santosha in class this week, and I encourage you to keep an open mind, see what you connect with, and start incorporating the pieces you like into your off-the-mat routine.
The holiday season is the perfect time to begin working with Santosha in real life. Between excessive consumerism associated with gift giving, sitcom-worthy encounters with semi-distant relatives at family gatherings, and the expectation to make life-changing improvements come January 1, there are a lot of very high expectations in a very short amount of time. In other words, there are a lot of opportunities to feel like you're falling short.
Try your best not to fall into this mindset!
Remember what we've worked on in class, and use these tools for support. Below, I'll break down each element of the practice, and explain how each piece contributes to cultivating inner contentment.
Theme & Intention
Santosha is the theme of this week's practice, therefore we are focusing on contentment, equanimity, peace, tranquility, and acceptance of things as they are.
The two intentions that I am suggesting are:
Creating a grounding, calming, and peaceful energy
Developing feelings of self-love, acceptance, and inner-contentment
As far as the physical portion of practice, we're specifically working into the front and back of the heart center (anahata chakra) and into the foundation of the body (muladhara chakra).
Muladhara Chakra (Root Chakra)
The root chakra is associated with our basic survival needs. By balancing this chakra, we become grounded in the fact that we are safe and secure, that we are provided for, and that all of our basic needs are met. Through connecting with the root chakra in a healthy and balanced way, we prepare ourselves to begin working with Santosha.
To do this, we:
Create a strong foundation (using techniques of pada bandha and hasta bandha that we discussed in class at the end of last month)
Work into the lower portion of the body (feet, legs, hips)
Practice some longer holds to develop a deep sense of strength and stability.
Anahata Chakra (Heart Chakra)
The heart chakra is connected to feelings of love, warmth, compassion, acceptance, positivity, and joy. It is the space where we can grow Santosha. With a balanced heart chakra, we hold a deep love for ourselves and for others; we can give love, accept love, and make choices from the perspective of love.
To do this, we:
Work to open the heart space (chest openers, and upper back openers)
Invite an element of self-compassion into the practice by using props and taking nourishing modifications (avoiding challenge poses)
Focus on expanding the chest in each pose
Guided Mantra Meditation
I'm adding a different element to practice this week with a short, guided mantra meditation. We use a few different mantras in connection with the breath, using each inhale to invite positivity, contentment, and joy in, and using each exhale to release negative thoughts and feelings. This exercise, with these specific mantras, allows us to familiarize ourselves with the act of practicing of Santosha.
The main mantras we use are:
(inhale) “I accept all aspects of my life, as they are, in this moment”
(exhale) “I release my attachment to the way I think things should be”
(inhale) “I accept my reality”
(exhale) “I release my attachments”
Utilizing essential oils to awaken the sense of smell is a way to highlight the intention of the practice. Our intention this week is supported by the following essential oils.
Cedarwood placed on the feet (sense of grounding)
Lavender placed on the temples (deeply calming)
Ylang Ylang placed near the heart (sense of love)
Relevant Sutras for Self-Study
2.28: The overall benefit of practicing the Eight-Limbed Path is discussed.
2.29: The Eight Limbs of Yoga are listed, Niyama is mentioned.
2.32: Niyama is explained, Santosha is mentioned.
2.42: The concept of Santosha is discussed.