Santosha translates to contentment. It is the second of 5 Niyamas (observances relating to the internal world, to ourselves) Patanjali teaches in the Yoga Sutras. Sutra 2.42 Samtosad Anuttamah Sukha Labhah.
By contentment, supreme joy is obtained. Contentment means just to be as we are without going to outside things for our happiness. If something comes, we let it come. It not, it doesn’t matter.
Sutra commentary by Sri Swami Satchindananda
A few ways to describe the state of contentment (copied from my yoga teacher training journal notes):
- Satisfaction within the container of one’s immediate experience
- Seeing things without the pull of expectation
- Living the best we can until we are able to better our situation
- Ability to be in a difficult situation and have a semblance of contentment
- Practicing patience, acceptance, and hopefulness
- (and then my take on a definition) Wanting what you already have, not what you don’t
Santosha is not a practice just reserved for the yogi, you can find the spiritual principle of contentment in all the world religions and schools of spiritual thought. I guess we humans need frequent reminders to accept things as they are.
As a rule, man’s a fool. When it’s hot, he wants it cool. And when it’s cool, he wants it hot. Always wanting what is not.
Acceptance is a beautiful and freeing experience. It is, I believe, an active decision that an individual makes to bring them further into harmony with their day-to-day life. Things are as they are, after all, so it makes sense to work with our reality instead of against it. Go with the flow, life’s downs allow us to appreciate the ups. The ups teach us the fleeting nature of all material objects and conditions as they will, without fail, be gone before we know it. Practicing contentment does not mean we have to be emotionless, however. We are not stone-faced Buddhas, never flinching or reacting. We are not like the ancient yogis, out in the woods or on a mountain top meditating in solitude. We live in the world. Emotions are normal and set us apart as humans. I believe we need to cry, laugh, yell, or frown at times. But, instead of allowing emotion to overcome your behavior and going to extremes (yogis don’t really do extremes), contentment means we experience the sadness, happiness, frustration, or disappointment and then come back to a bigger picture- accepting whatever brought the emotion and moving on. Contentment also doesn’t mean remaining in an unhealthy situation, such as staying in an abusive relationship or being a drug addict without getting help, just because that is your situation at the moment and you think you should be happy with it. You can accept where you are, while striving to better your circumstances. Take the necessary steps to do so- all the while being present and accepting of the journey. In my yoga classes this week, we focused on the transitions between the poses, being present and aware of how we feel during each breath/movement/step within the spaces between the individual postures. The transitions represent change. We may find contentment and become comfortable with the yoga pose as we have practiced it a million times, but then the cue is to travel all the way to the back of the mat, for example, into a more challenging posture. What happens to your state of mind then? Can you remain content amidst change and challenge?
I asked 5 -year-old Elli Soleil what it means to be happy (she didn’t know what the word content means) and she replied, “to be happy means to be loving and grateful”.
He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.