In one of the shlokas of the Yoga sutras, the secret of happiness is given: “From contentment, unsurpassed happiness is gained.” This Sloka is dedicated to Santosha (the second principle of Niyama). Its meaning is very simple: contentment is the key that unlocks the possibility of enduring happiness. In this article, I want to introduce you to Santosha and share with you how you can start practicing it today!
Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a collection of 196 Sanskrit sutras on the theory and practice of yoga. It describes the goals of yoga and the principles of techniques needed to achieve them.
The two first stages that the Sutras describe are the principles of Yama and Niyama.
Yama is a set of ethical norms that teach us to communicate with others in the right way.
There are five Yamas:
- Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings.
- Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood.
- Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing.
- Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity, marital fidelity, or sexual restraint.
- Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): non-avarice, non-possessiveness.
Niyama is the step of forming self-discipline and uplifting spirituality.
Five Niyamas are:
- Saucha (शौच): purity, clearness of mind, speech, and body.
- Santosha (सन्तोष): contentment, acceptance of others, and of one’s circumstances as they are, optimism for self.
- Tapas (तपस): austerity, self-discipline, persistent meditation, perseverance.
- Svadhyaya (स्वाध्याय): the study of self, self-reflection, introspection of self’s thoughts, speeches, and actions.
- Ishvara Pranidhana (ईश्वरप्रणिधान): contemplation of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality), attunement to the supreme consciousness.
All these principles are interdependent. If you break one of the Yamas or Niyamas, you are bound to break the others. And if you improve in the practice of one principle, then the practice of other yamas and niyamas will also be improved.
For example, if you violate Satya by allowing yourself to lie, you will not be able to practice Ahimsa. Or if you do not observe the principle of Saucha and pollute your body and mind, it will be difficult for you to practice Brahmacharya.
What Is Santosha?
From Sanskrit, “santosha” is translated as “contentment, satisfaction“.
The best definition of Santosha is given by Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. He said that it means to remain calm and contented, accepting all the sorrows and pleasures caused by events in connection with the change of time and place.
Santosha is a kind of starting point, because yoga begins with accepting yourself as you are. Santosha requires simply accepting the fact that you are not worse or better than others, and the life circumstances you are dealing with at the moment are perfect for your development.
When we are jealous and think that we don’t have enough, we lose our vital energy. Oppositely, acceptance and satisfaction with what we have gives us energy, removes mental tension, and helps us to focus on internal work instead of external expressions of success. The real Santosha always comes from within, not from external factors.
We all need to understand that being a human is a huge gift from God. Once you truly understand this, you will have no choice rather than enjoying every moment of your life. Every moment of life is precious. And when we are able to realize this, we become happy and joy becomes a normal state for us.
Santosha is happiness that comes from within. It is not about having something but about being happy with what you have. Once you are satisfied, half your stress will disappear and half your illusions will go away.
Whether we are rich or poor, whether fortune smiles on us or not, whether we are famous or unrecognized, we should never feel discouraged.
When you practice Santosha, you accept the world around you and you also accept yourself.
Santosha And Other Principles
If you practice Santosha diligently, then all the other yamas and niyamas will also be covered by you.
When you accept your body, when you are satisfied with your limit of flexibility (Santosha), you will not break Ahimsa by trying to harm yourself.
You will have to be honest with yourself to accept yourself, and this is Asteya.
If you practice Santosha, you will not violate the Ahimsa in relation to other people, because you will not want to try to change someone (even with the best intentions), you will accept any person as they are.
You will not be dominated by lust and passion, because it is enough for you that God has already given you, and this is the fulfillment of Brahmacharya.
By accepting your financial situation, you will not envy the achievements of other people and their prosperity, and therefore, you will perform Aparigraha.
If you accept with gratitude everything that God gives you, then you praise Him for every little thing, and this is Isvara Pranidhana practice.
Gratitude Is Key
But it’s easy to say: “Be satisfied with what you have” but it is much more difficult to really practice it. How can we be happy if we are always lacking something? We want material goods, health, better Government, better laws, more awareness in the world, etc. As a result, all our “wants” create a feeling of discontent all the time.
This is a very dangerous feeling because it takes our energy and creates a destructive mood. By creating all these “wants” you surround your spirit with very negative energy. As a result, deep inside you always feel unsatisfied and the fulfillment of all the other yamas and niyamas becomes very difficult, almost impossible.
In order to overcome this pernicious condition, some masters recommend practicing “gratitude.”
The feeling of gratitude is opposite to discontent. If you fill yourself with gratitude, you will automatically get rid of discontent.
They say that everything you don’t value/take for granted will be taken away from you. Therefore, if you don’t want to lose what you already have, start to appreciate the little that you have already been given, be grateful for every little thing, and you will multiply what you are grateful for.
We are given an amazing life. We are given an ideal human body with arms and legs. We are able to see, hear, touch. Realize that this is a priceless gift! We have huge opportunities to express ourselves.
No matter what position you are in, you always have the opportunity to be grateful for something. Learn to feel gratitude for every breath you take. Just pause for a second and realize the value of the air that fills up your lungs with every inhale. When you practice pranayama, you can vividly feel the immense value of this Gift — the ability to breathe. When you perform asanas, be aware of the joy of movement, the gift of feeling your body.
How To Practice Santosha?
To practice Santosha, you need to fully accept not only what you consider being positive, pleasant, and good, but also everything else that God gives you. Yes, I am talking about all that we consider being negative and undesired, such as pain, life challenges, losses, diseases, difficulties, and hardships.
At first glance, it seems impossible to be grateful for a sudden injury or financial loss. But if your attention is focused on your inner world and not on the outside circumstances, you will be able to manifest the Santosha principle even in the most tragic situations.
Realize that any illness is a reaction of your body to your inadequate interaction with the world. It is a signal that you are doing something wrong. Realize that it is a life lesson that you gratefully accept.
Sometimes our unexpected arrival in a hospital bed is an opportunity to stop, take the necessary pause, rethink the accumulated experience, and sometimes it is a protection or warning, a sign of fate that we gratefully accept.
Any trouble in the financial sphere of life should be also treated as a lesson, like training in not being attached to the material possessions of the outside world.
When you have serious problems, think about what opportunities this situation gives you. Always try to find something positive in every situation you are facing in life and accept it with gratitude.
This skill of seeing the positive even in the unpleasant can be developed.
Our daily life constantly throws up situations in which we can practice Santosha. Every negative situation you face trains your patience and allows you to work out part of your negative karma.
Some masters recommend performing the following exercise. If you suddenly track a negative emotion, rejection of a situation or a person, then immediately find 10 things about this situation that you can be grateful for. The same with people. If you’re dealing with negative people, try to look at them through the prism of curiosity: “What is this person trying to teach me? Patience? Non-judgment? Non-attachment?” Train yourself to notice lessons for your spiritual development in every situation you’re dealing with!
Other Practices For Santosha
There are different asanas that aim to help you to develop modesty, optimism, and learn to be grateful for everything you have in your life. The regular practice of these asanas brings joy, ease, and harmony. Thus they also help you in your Santosha practice.
Uttanasana is a standing forward bend. The pose is entered from the standing position of Tadasana, bending forward at the hips until the palms can be placed on the floor, ultimately behind the heels.
- Lower-back injury
- Hamstring tear
- Glaucoma, detached retina
Ustrasana (or Ushtrasana), also known as Camel Pose, is a kneeling back-bending asana. This asana is a deep backward bend from a kneeling position. The completed pose has the hands on the heels. The backs of the feet may be flat on the floor, or the toes may be tucked under for a slightly less strong backbend.
- High or low blood pressure
- Serious low back or neck injury
Urdhva Dhanurasana is an upward bow pose. This is a challenging yet powerful pose that stimulates your nervous system, opens your heart, and can leave you glowing with energy and vitality for the rest of the day.
- Back injury
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Heart problems
- High or low blood pressure
#2 Jnana mudra
The word ‘Jnana’ means knowledge or wisdom and ‘mudra’ means sign or gesture. Jnana mudra literally means the psychic gesture of knowledge or wisdom.
This mudra is used as a meditative gesture. Hence, when performing Jnana mudra, sit in any comfortable meditation asana like Padmasana, Sukhasana, Swastikasana, or Siddhasana.
Another practice you can perform for developing Santosha is mantra chanting. For this purpose, the best mantra to perform is Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.
Chant the mantra at the beginning and at the end of your yoga practice for three times. This is a mantra of peace and tranquility will set up your yoga practice, balance your mind, and will help you to feel inner peace, harmony, and deep gratitude.
Santosha practice is a potent tool you can use for developing your satisfaction with life and increasing your gratitude. It will help you to see the joy in simple things and enjoy life unconditionally.