SANTOSHA (contentment, ease, grace)
by Amanda Snow
Don't block the bliss! Practice Santosha, the nectar of Yoga that draws many practitioners back to the mat over and over again. The reason Santosha is one of my very favorite Niyama of Yoga is that, aside from it being a contract with oneself, Santosha can exist as a physical sensation that is produced within the body and the psyche post practice. Among other benefits, Santosha, like its definition in Hindi, resets the nervous system and produces a feeling of calm and contentment with what is. In a broader perspective, it means doing your best and accepting the results of your efforts.
As humans we often strive and yearn to create a better existence for ourselves and our loved ones, but at times we work against our desires, consciously or unconsciously, due to past limiting beliefs we carry in our bodies. However, when we taste the nectar of Santosha, we bring ourselves back to a state of peace. As we know in today’s often demanding and busy lifestyle, our emotions are always ebbing and flowing. The practice of Santosha is one way to pause and bring contentment to yourself every day; make it your daily discipline. We all show up to the mat in a variety of physical and emotional states, and through practicing Yoga at least one time a day, we get to balance and connect ourselves to spirit, and the soothing feeling of Santosha is our reward.
Life usually doesn’t give us more than we can handle. When we are on the edge, usually that is when we are flooded by divine light and a reprieve is granted in some shape or size. Actively working with Santosha will serve you and your loved ones. Cultivating contentment with what you have instead of always grasping for more will serve the quality of your relationships. Constantly pushing and striving for more can deplete us and make us unhappy. It also adds a lot of pressure to our psyche to perform and increases our doing energy versus our being energy.
How do we duplicate the feeling of Santosha and still reach our higher ground when we are not in class, when life starts to get a little dicey and we feel stressed? Let’s start looking at that question by first going over some of the many benefits that Yoga offers us, as it’s something we can do at home, on the road, or even while driving our car. Yoga’s benefits are not just about the lengthening and the strengthening of muscles or tightening our butt and abs through poses, but it is also a practice in breath and mind control. Yoga enables us to flip the switch on our autonomic nervous system, to drop our body into a relaxation response and achieve calm and even bliss, in any situation or environment. This reminds me of a story to share with you to get this point across even more.
1996, Philadephia, PA
On a cold wintry day, I woke up in a funk. I went to Yoga class where I reached a deep state of calm and released my stressful feelings. The bliss of Santosha continued to run up and down my body, so in that ecstatic, newly found state, I opted to ditch my daily planner. Instead of complaining about the cold rain and running home, I literally danced in the downpour. I felt alive. I was in an altered yet grounded state. I realized that day that like snakes who shed their skin when they are ready, I wanted to master that quality, so I could learn to invoke that feeling at will. You can do this, too, by remembering some of the ideas below.
Incorporate Santosha into Your Daily Life
#1. Go outside and look up. Notice the skyline and the clouds. We are blessed here in Marin with epic, expansive views of the "Sleeping Lady" or Mt. Tamalpais. Just the sheer nature of the sky and its vastness of open space or "Akasha" can expand your infinite perspective on life and remind you that all is well. Get outside even if it means skipping listening to that podcast or chit-chatting with others. Allow yourself to be moved by the wonder of nature and her healing effects on your soul. You can experience and keep the state of Santosha by disconnecting from electronics and daily planners and instead getting out and walking in nature.
#2. Get into hot water. Submerging the body into hot water can quickly invoke a sense of Santosha or calm.
#3. Claim your solitude. To find Santosha, you must be okay with, and practice, being alone. It is essential to find Santosha within yourself. If it does not come naturally to you, find ways to get comfortable spending time alone. Start small. Take that precious, transitional time post practice to be with yourself versus hopping on the phone immediately or racing to an appointment. Savor your practice a bit. Give yourself permission to not get social after Savasana and cocoon in your own personal energy. Have a journal in your car to write down any thoughts or feelings that may have surfaced. It can be one word to describe your essence post practice or simply jotting down an experience that surfaced during your asana practice. It can bring that feeling of Santosha back.
#4. Remember you have the ability to take lemons and make lemonade. You may not love everything that is transpiring in your life, but despite this you still can see the silver lining or take a lesson from any situation. We have to get really good at safeguarding our happiness, to protect it like a valuable piece of jewelry. Similar to the ocean, our lives have cycles and tides, ebbs and flows of contentment and dis-ease. Sometimes you get that epic pink sunset that drops your jaw and sometimes you are stepping around the plastic packaging that is washing up on the shore. Regardless, there is usually one thing that transpired that has a piece of Santosha in it. Some days you have to pull out the magnifying glass to find it, but when it is uncovered, your body and your mind will respond to your ability to unearth and extract the good. Precious jewels are often found buried deep within the earth. The spiritual extraction is a tool for the modern-day yogi.
We can also work with Santosha in two angles:
1. Use the physical practice of Yoga so that you can upgrade your energy anatomy system. Clear the gunk through movement and pranayama so that you can return to your original nature, which is one of bliss and joy.
2. After you have achieved some varying states of Santosha, do your best to preserve that feeling no matter what is happening outside of you. Use your energetic boundaries and protection so you can hold onto the energy you generated. Energy leaks happen, so when you lose your Santosha, recognize that and remember you can choose to return to Santosha. You are so powerful that you can choose to the let things roll like water off a duck’s back.
When you are extra stressed, you might double up on Yoga classes or practice a few favorite poses at home to imprint your day with your morning practice and then clear the decks with your evening practice.
Journal and ask this question.
1. Can I be content with the decisions I have made for myself thus far?
2. Do I have enough self-trust available to me so that I can relax and be free and find Santosha each and every day, even briefly and even on the particularly hard days?
Incorporate Santosha into Your Yoga Practice
Each Niyama has a pose (asana) and hand gestures or shapes (mudras) associated with it as well as a mantra (sanskrit phrases or prayers). Try practicing the pose or the mudra while thinking about Santosha or while repeating or chanting the mantra.
The asana associated with Santosha is Bridge or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana.
To come into Bridge, lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your arms alongside your body on the floor with your palms on the floor. Try to brush your heels with your fingertips. On an inhalation, ground down into the four corners of your feet and shoulders while lifting your hips toward the sky. Glutes and hamstrings will be active, but try not to clench these muscles. Interlace your fingers under your hips with straight arms and shimmy your shoulders under your torso to lift your heart higher. Reach your sitting bones toward the backs of your knees. Keep the back of your head on the floor with relaxation and ease; gaze along your nose or down over your cheekbones. Stay here for 5-8 breaths or up to 30-60 seconds. Come out of Bridge pose the same way you entered. Release your fingers, shimmy your shoulders out from underneath your torso, and slowly lower your hips back to the floor. Extend one leg at a time entering into Savasana or continuing into additional asanas as part of your practice.
The mudra associated with Saucha is Jnana Mudra.
One of the more frequently seen mudras in our modern yoga practice is Jnana Mudra. With relaxed palms, tuck the tip of your index fingers (your fingernail) underneath your thumbs. Your pinkie, ring and middle fingers relax in extension. Jnana Mudra is a gesture of wisdom. With your hands in Jnana Mudra feel contentment, ease,and grace – Santosha – as your mind calms and your breath deepens.
The mantra associated with Santosha is “Om shanti shanti shanti.”
As you chant the mantra for peace (shanti), Om shanti shanti shanti, remember the wisdom and calmness that are born out of peace and equanimity.
Enjoy the feeling of Santosha as often as you can. You deserve it. Next month we’ll cover the third Niyama of Tapas or “inner fire.”
Copyright 2019, Metta Yoga LLC