The next of the Yamas is Santosha and this is one that I have been thinking about a lot recently. It usually translates to mean contentment, but it's more than that: it's really a feeling of deep, deep gratitude within oneself for everything that one has. It's easy to confuse what one has with meaning what one possesses, I think, but Santosha of course, as with most of these kinds of things in yoga, goes beyond the material. When thought about in this light, in a more metaphysical way, Santosha is a feeling of contentment and gratitude for everything that life brings our way and all the lessons that are available to us from those experiences, all of the things which make up the rich fabric of life, from which we grow and learn and through which our experience of life becomes deeper and more meaningful .
It sounds incredibly idealistic doesn't it? Because it is an ideal! But let's bring it down to a practical level. Say, for example, you're having a bad day and nothing seems to be going the way that you think it should. You slept through your alarm clock, you missed a really important work meeting and deadline and as a result you have hours of extra work and have to make apologies to people, The cash machine swallowed your ATM card when you went to get some money out to pay your rent and now you have to phone up the bank and sit and listen to endless lists of menu options and it's going to take five days to get your bank card back. Your account is frozen. You had a really upsetting argument with one of your best friends and that could be the end of a lifelong friendship. You get home to find that there's no hot water because the boiler is broken and a plumber can't come out for two days and you can't pay them anyway because your bank account is frozen. Any one of these things by itself would be crap, but the universe decides to throw it all at you all at once. What do you do?
Well, perhaps first of all you have a really good cry, swear quite a lot and allow yourself a little bit of feeling sorry for yourself because you're a human being.
And then you put Santosha into action. You breathe and you remind yourself that none of these things is life threatening and that there's a solution to each one and that In order for each of these things to have happened there is an underlying circumstance which is taken for granted such as having a job, having friends, having a house to live in and the ability to pay rent etc. You take a big old step back and refresh your perspective with a healthy dose of acceptance and gratitude. It seems a bit trite perhaps, but the thing is that it really works. If you bring this sense of deeper appreciation of all that you have to your life, it really keeps you grounded and rooted in reality. You can truly face literally almost anything with this mindset, whether it's a minor annoyance or a major challenge.
Coming from that place of acceptance means it doesn't get inside you and bring out all those corrosive feelings and qualities, which we all have to a degree, but which actually make bad situations worse, not better, such as anger, fear, frustration to name a few. It's not that it's bad to have those feelings even; it is perfectly natural. But to allow them to consume and drive life only leads to more of the same. And they are distractions when you think about how much of a miracle it is that we exist here now in this time and space at all. Taking a cosmic perspective is nothing short of transformational.
So Santosha indicates that one of the keys to a happy life is not what you've got so much, or even what happens around you, as how you view and respond to it. One thing for certain is that everybody in this world has problems and faces challenges whether rich or poor and it seems to be that the most content people are those that can accept life just as it is and go from there. This is not to be confused with spiritual bypassing - feel the feelings! Just don't fall into the trap of wallowing. Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.
The next time life feels overwhelmingly negative, why not sit down and write out what is bothering you and then write out what you are grateful for starting with all the things you perhaps take for granted. Simple things: air; water; sunshine; colours; smells; whatever. It won’t fix any of the bad shit, but it will make it a lot easier to stay sane and grounded as you walk through it. That's a promise.
And in our yoga asana practice we put this into action at the beginning of every class with breathing and coming into our bodies in the space, checking in with ourselves physically and emotionally, finding the starting point, that still place of acceptance and appreciation of our body and what it can do, how it moves, the limitations it may have and yet, despite that, everything it does for us and everything that we have to be grateful for. Over time, this practice fans out, multiplies, seeps into the fabric of your life and being. Honestly, it truly does. Hope to see you on the mat some time soon.
Namaste, stay safe and well xx