Everyone wants to be happy. Why is it that so many people feel unhappy? There are many reasons why we may feel sad or unfulfilled. My experience shows that expectation is the most common reason for feeling down or unfulfilled. Western culture teaches us from an early age that reaching certain developmental and material milestones in our lives is essential. When we turn ____, we should have a job. We should get married and have x amount of children. When we reach ____, we should be able to retire comfortably. We may have reached these milestones but still feel dissatisfied. You can solve this problem by practicing Santosha, the yogaic principle of cultivating contentment.
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Santosha is the second of the niyamas of yoga. It’s the second limb. The niyamas are habits that can help us live more relaxed lives. The niyamas are saucha cleanliness, tapas enthusiasm and commitment, Madhya self-study and study inspirational texts, and Ishvara PRanidhana dedication to your practice to something greater than yourself.
The niyamas are the core of yoga, just like the yamas (moral/ethical precepts). Aspiring yogis were taught to practice the yamas, niyamas, and pranayama before learning asana and pranayama. After integrating the yamas/niyamas, students can move on to other limbs based on the wisdom gained from the first two.
Our lives can feel inadequate if we hold on to our cultural or social expectations. In some cases, our desire to make a difference in our lives can be a catalyst for positive changes. It’s okay to set goals.
We expect our lives to look like certain things. If they don’t, we will never be happy. Sometimes our achievements are even more impressive than we imagined, even though they might not look the same as our original vision. We often only appreciate our accomplishments if we hold on to our expectations.
It is okay to imagine how your life should look. However, it is essential to see how it turns out. This will help us cultivate Santosha.
Praying gratitude is one of the best ways to cultivate Santosha. It’s easier to find contentment when we are mindful of the blessings in our lives. Even in difficult times, there are still things to be thankful for: a roof over your head, clean water, nourishing food, or a friend or family member (human or not).
A friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer several years ago. She was a former cross-country skier and hiker, but she was also a biker. She could still find joy in a shared meal, the garden outside her windows, or the music she and her friends played in her bedroom. Although she suffered great pain, her gratitude for her close friends provided occasional relief from her suffering.
A gratitude diary is a common way to cultivate gratitude and santosha. It is elementary. Write down five things that you are grateful for each day. These could be small or large. It doesn’t matter if you try to think of different ideas daily. Reflect on each one for a few minutes or more and feel grateful.
SANTOSHA ABOUT THE YOGA MAT
Do yoga if you are reading this. If this is true, gratitude can be practiced for your body. Each person comes into this world with a different genetic makeup. Some people are taller than others. Some people are slimmer than others. Some people have darker skin and hair than others. Some people are more flexible than others. You get the idea. You have the gift of yoga, regardless of how you do it.
You don’t have to look exactly like the yoga photos on Instagram. The point is not about the performance. It is about how you feel when you practice. When we let go of worrying about how our poses look and instead focus on how practicing makes us think, we cultivate santosha.
Pay attention to how you feel when you are in a pose. Adjust your breathing to allow you to relax and breathe easily. Relaxation of effort is the traditional definition for mastery of asana practice.
Take a few deep breaths after you have completed each pose. You can gift yourself a 10 to 15-minute Savasana (Relaxation Pose). After Savasana, take a few minutes to relax and enjoy the rest of your practice.