Santosha is one of the niyamas, or self restraints, recommended by Patanjali in the yoga sutras.
Mastering the yamas, social ethics and niyamas is an integral part of the practice of yoga, and so far, one that I find myself continually practicing time and again. Santosha, or contentment, is a theme I return to often in my life and practice. I’ll think I have it vanquished, such as when I gave away or sold almost all of my belongings to move to another country, but then it will raise its head again. Simplicity and contentment is about more than simply what you own. It’s about desire and want. Desire, then, is not an easy monkey to remove from one’s back nor one’s mind.
“I can resist everything but temptation.” ~ Oscar Wilde
Want is such a primal need, right? Part of my practice in yoga, in meditation, and in life is to respond only to those desires that resonate on a more spiritual level or a fundamental level. But that’s easier said than done, because our mind will always, always, always find something to desire.
That something might be as innocuous as fresh coconut water when I see a vendor ride his cart past filled with young coconuts, or it might be as base and materialistic as a new car because it’s hot out and I don’t want to walk around town on just my two feet anymore.
I was most recently confronted with the inner tug of desire while in a beautiful new store in Managua featuring fashion from designers out of Spain. Anybody who knows me knows that I am not a designer-clothing type of girl, but these clothes were cute! And I would look so cute in them. But really in my heart of hearts, I do not need a $200 new dress and $100 new pair of shoes, nor do I really need the $10 Cordoba ice-cream that I treat myself to a few times a week—I don’t fool myself that I would suffer without orange and chocolate ice cream.
However, I have been enjoying just observing the way the energy of want manifests first in thoughts in my mind, then in emotions within my body.
In taking the seat of the observer, I’m able to watch desire spring forth as my hand reaches out to observe something shiny a bit closer. My mind begins to flash movies of myself with the object of my desires—wearing the designer dress, sipping on the coconut water, strutting in the shoes. I then construct a story to go with these images, and this story basically says that I will have happiness when I attain the object of my desires.
This story is false, though. Yes, I might look smashing in said dress and shoes, or the coconut water and ice cream will be delicious. Happiness, though, is a state of mind unattached to material objects. Happiness is a choice one makes in each moment when we’re able to come to consciousness within the present moment and appreciate all that is.
And in that appreciation for the present moment lies the opportunity for bliss. That contentment with the spot of sun shining on my arm, with the cool breeze blowing off the lake, and with the bombas exploding every five minutes, is what Patanjali wrote of when he suggests the practice of Santosha. This practice involves drawing the mind away from seeking satisfaction outside of itself and towards the knowledge that all of our needs are met in the present moment.
My first yoga teacher would set us down in a soft child’s pose in our practice and spin sweet words about being surrounded by an ocean of oxygen. She would encourage us to settle our hips to our heels and remind us that just as the air eternally provides us with the next breath and the next, so does the universe continually fulfill our needs. For me, the practice of Santosha is one of remembering that spiritual truth. Our needs are always fulfilled in that each moment provides for us an opportunity to deepen our awareness and root down in the present moment.
In April 2012, I stepped off a cliff. I sold or gifted my clothing, shoes, and furniture to move my life to Central America. I had a plan, but one that only looked ahead three months. I made a commitment to trust in the wisdom of Spirit to reveal the next step on my path when the time is right. I have found through intense practice of yoga and meditation that I’m unable to separate the outer from the inner. Each insight I gain from the world around me strengthens and confirms more compassion and understanding about the world within. As I explore and discover the world within and without, I am better able to understand the one human spirit that unites us all. Follow my blog to keep up with this journey as I learn about new culture, struggle to become fluent in Spanish language, and continue to practice and teach the life-affirming practice of yoga. Click here to connect with me for a yoga class, workshop, or retreat!
Assistant Editor: Malin Bergman
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