The 8 Limbs of Yoga - the Niyamas - Santosha

santosat anuttamah sukhalabhah
From contentment, unsurpassed happiness is gained
YS II, 42 translation by Alistair Shearer

Santosha.  Contentment.  How do we get to be happy in a lasting and meaningful way?  Patanjali draws a distinction between lasting happiness and temporary pleasure.  The yogis believe that we are unhappy because we are ignorant of our true nature, which is unbounded joy.  The practice of yoga therefore is not so much the attainment of contentment from somewhere else, but rather the rediscovery of the abiding contentment that already exists within you.  The peace and calm that you find in your yoga practice is always there – you have just forgotten how to access it.

 
Your yoga practice is therefore merely an unwrapping of yourself.  It’s getting back to that part of yourself that is essentially you.  The more you practice, the more you find that you are able to stay with that uncovered and content version of yourself for more of your day. 

Santosha feels like a calm and quiet happiness; it feels like peace.  For some people it means connection with God or spirit, for others it is love, gratitude or satisfaction with what is.   Whatever words you use to describe it, it is a deep and abiding contentment which surpasses fleeting flashes of pleasure.  So if pleasure is the happiness gained from a new pair of shoes or eating something good, then santosha is that wonderful feeling of being in exactly the right place at the right time, with everything is in its right place and nothing left wanting.

You can bring a sense of santosha to your yoga practice by practising being content with what is – yes there is effort, there is commitment and work, but there is also a sense of gratitude for that which you already have and that which you can already do.  We’ve probably all had days when we feel creaky and out of sorts, when we wish that we could perform a full back bend as apparently easily as someone else in class, or that our hips were more open, or that our mind would shut up and be still during meditation...  Bringing the concept of santosha to your practice means consciously bringing your mind back to what you have and being grateful for it.  Some days it might just be that you are grateful for finding the time/having the money/living somewhere that you can practice yoga; other days it will be that you are grateful for having had the courage to try that thing you never thought you’d do; or for finding a way in to a posture you have found challenging; or for finding the patience to sit quietly with your self in meditation.

Santosha means hoping only to uncover the best of yourself, not striving to be a different person than the one you are.  Somewhere between the start and the end of your practice, you will find it and although it might slip away from you occasionally, with consistent focus you can spend more of your time with a sense of santosha.

At the end of your practice, when you come round from savasana, or from meditation, it’s important not to rush back into the world.  Take your time so that you can blur the line between your practice and your life off your mat.  We use mudras (such as anjali mudra – placing the palms together at the heart) to symbolically seal in the good effects of our practice.  So when you finish your yoga practice, bring a sense of consciously keeping yourself open to the good feelings you have found in your practice - resist the putting back on of the tense, unsatisfied, impatient layers of being. 

Imagine it like a heavy, many layered coat that you shed during your practice – while we’re not paying attention life puts each layer back on, one at a time, so that we are soon walking around carrying a heavy load and feeling disconnected to the joy inside again.  But with conscious effort and by regularly returning to your practice, you can spend more time with fewer layers weighing you down.  Eventually, Patanjali promises us, you can spend your entire life in a state of joy.

"Joy is not in things; it is in us"
                                                                                                                                             Wagner

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