Over the past year, we have been dipping in and out of yogic philosophy. Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, to be precise. The Eight Limbs of Yoga is an eight-fold path to achieving yoga.
First on this path is our very own code of ethics and morals, the yamas, which refer to the attitude we hold towards things and people outside of ourselves, our sense of integrity and how we behave in life.
The niyama’s extend the ethical ‘codes of conduct’ of the yama’s to our own internal environment. Practicing the niyama’s can help us to grow positively through self-discipline and inner strength.
Today, we will explore the second of the five niyama’s, having already covered the first, saucha, the purification of the body (both internally and externally) as well as the mind.
The second of the five niyama’s is santosha. Santosha loosely translates as ‘contentment’ which sounds easier to achieve than it actually is. In fact, we live in a society that is, by its nature, never content.
As Blindboy Boatclub often points out in his podcast, we are constantly being targeted by advertisers to buy products and services that will make us ’better versions of ourselves’ so, how can we truly say we can achieve any level of contentment when we are constantly being told we need more and more external factors to be happy?
Whether it be striving for promotion, working towards losing weight, hoping to meet the perfect partner or achieve a yoga posture you saw on Instagram last week, there is always some goal, some objective that remains slightly out of reach for us.
Having these goals and objectives that inspire us to grow, to expand our minds and to broaden our perspectives is not necessarily a bad thing but, if you can’t stop to smell the roses once in a while, what’s the point of it all?
The true meaning behind santosha is yes, have these goals and objectives to work towards while simultaneously accepting and appreciating where you are and how much you have achieved until now.
Santosha on the Mat
Not being content in your physical practice can lead to forcing and pushing the body into postures we are not yet ready for. The body will respond by protecting itself with rigidity and stiffness. The more you flow, content in your practice, the more the body will respond to this and your practice will grow organically.
Ask any yogi… whether they can do the splits or the perfect handstand every time, or whether they have just gotten their head around Trikonasana, there is always more to learn and explore in the physical practice of yoga, never-mind the philosophy, breathing practices and so on.
The reality is, you’ll never ‘know’ it ‘all’ so why not just enjoy the practice? Understanding your ability now, being thankful for what your body physically allows you to do and exploring what we yogi’s call your ‘edge’ and maybe… maybe… going a little past your ‘edge’ will lead to a sustainable yet satisfying practice.
Maybe next time you take a class or practice at home, take a moment to assess how far you’ve come since your first class and be thankful for that progress.
Begin to approach your time on the mat with a sense of curiosity and play. Become aware of the moment in a pose where your mind starts to over think and see if you can slow those thoughts and just breathe in the moment.
Santosha off the Mat
When we learn how to be content in our practice on the mat, we can bring this little life lesson with us into our daily lives. We can equate how we may strive to achieve a certain yoga pose with how we might strive to have the best-paid job or the nicest car.
This continuous striving to have something or be something is not about the achievement in itself but more about the feeling it gives us. We attach to that feeling and, when we experience it, we will do anything in our power to hold on to it.
Unfortunately, that feeling is destined to fade anyway… and we’ll be right back where we began… striving for the next need, want or desire to bring that same sense of satisfaction.
Striving leads to more striving. Searching leads to more searching. It’s endless. You will never be a better version of yourself in your own eyes if you engage in this behaviour so yes, have goals but do appreciate how amazing you are right now and how far you’ve come from who you were five, ten, fifteen years ago.
Just like in your practice, enjoy the moment while cultivating a sense of curiosity in your daily living. Begin to look at what interests you. Explore. Play. Discover what’s going on around you rather than ploughing forward to what’s ahead. Bask in the ‘nowness’ of it all.
The important thing to remember about santosha and, indeed the yamas and the niyamas from Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga is that these are more like guidelines rather than rigid rules.
In essence, when we choose to focus only on the future rather than enjoying what’s good about our current status, we are in danger of feeling incomplete.
This can drive us towards unhealthy behaviours that can be harmful to our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.
Take a look at your attitude towards yourself on and off the mat. Notice if you are showing any signs where you are not practising santosha. Don’t worry, you’re not alone!
Your awareness is the first step to a more content and healthy attitude to your practice and indeed, life.