Philosophy Series: How to Practise Contentment

Niyama: Santosha

Meaning: Contentment

This post is being published ahead of this week’s classes in Earlsfield which will be looking at Santosha – translated from the Sanskrit as contentment. The ‘sutra’ reads (in Sanskrit) “True joy arrives through contentment”.*

You often hear people talk of wanting to be happy and self-help courses or books designed to make you ‘happy’, often employing lots of positive thinking and “good vibes”.

But, is constant happiness really such a useful goal? Or indeed is it even possible?

Life is inevitably going to be full of trials, challenges, disappointments, as well as joy and times of jubilation. We shouldn’t necessarily always try to bury or shut out the dark and miserable moments as they can play a role in making us truly appreciate the glorious and uplifting times.

Yoga can provide us with many tools with which we can better navigate the highs and lows.

Yoga also teaches us – via this concept of Santosha – that “true joy” is finding a sense of deep-seated contentment that can gently ebb below the surface of our day-to-day ups and downs.

Contentment is about accepting where you are right now, while knowing that this moment will evolve and change.

It is about being happy the sun has appeared for a couple of hours while knowing it could be cloudy again by the evening.

It is about being content you turned up to a yoga class and managed to put the right foot in front of the left, while knowing that next week you might be able to master that arm balance you’ve been practising or equally fall over and land on your bottom. It challenges you to find contentment with either outcome.  

Contentment can be misinterpreted as “settling”, “ceasing to strive” or having no ambition or goals. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can set a goal – but equally enjoy where you are now in the process.

Most of us like to appear busy as though having lots of emails, meetings and places to be which may help make us feel validated and perhaps distract ourselves from thinking or exploring other emotions you don’t want to deal with right now.

Santosha can also invite us to stop for moment – perhaps gain some perspective. Sit on a park bench and stare at the sky for a few minutes.

There is also much discussion about “self-optimisation” in the current wellness and health world. Again, self-improvement and self-inquiry are not ‘bad’ things at all – but the concept of Santosha helps balance out the draining endeavour of trying to be a better, brighter, more efficient you. It calls for you to also find a degree of self-acceptance. A feeling of peace and comfort within your own skin. It says: “you are enough as you are”. That is something I am sure we would all benefit from.

There are many ways with which you can explore this idea of contentment – here are two suggestions.

  • Use of mantra/meditation. During your yoga or meditation practice – you could use the mantra “I am enough”. Repeating it in your head or bring your mind back to it when you find yourself struggling in a pose or you start criticising yourself. I’ve used this in my pregnancy yoga classes as a tool to help women manage their expectations/anxieties.
  • Gratitude. You don’t have to run out to Paperchase and get yourself a “Gratitude Diary” (but who doesn’t love new stationery to make them feel like there are doing something ‘good’) but sometimes it can be useful to mentally list/write down two or three things that you are grateful for. When I was little this was called “count your blessings” [without the #blessed thankfully].

This is the latest in a series of Yoga Philosophy blogs that I’ve put together to support this term’s yoga course examining Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas at Jiva Health in Earlsfield. The previous article is here.

We are only a few weeks away until the end of this term – but you are welcome to pay for drop-in classes. Contact Jiva directly for more information.

Resources & Background Reading:

*Living the Sutras – Kelly DiNardo & Amy Pearce-Hayden

*The Yogi Assignment – Kino MacGregor

Leisure by William Davies is such a great poem that perfectly illustrates the idea of a contented life and enjoying everything you have right now. If you have a minute, read it here.


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