The niyamas are a set of five self-discipline practices that make up the second limb in the 8 limbs of yoga. Santosha, or the practice of contentment, is the second of these five niyamas. In a world where it is easy to always want more and better, this principle reminds us not to seek what others have or compare ourselves to external ideals. Instead, it encourages us to practice acceptance and gratitude for what already exists in our lives at this moment.
Why Santosha is So Important
Santosha can appear in many different ways within our yoga practice and daily life. From accepting that our body may not be able to perform the full expression of a pose, to starting a gratitude practice each morning, santosha helps us stay connected to what we have rather than what we lack. The following is a look at why the principle of santosha is so important in yoga and everyday life.
Living by the principle of santosha is important to our yoga practice in that it helps us detach ourselves from the outcome. When we become overly focused on achieving a specific result, such as performing a handstand, we can feel disappointment in ourselves if we do not accomplish it. This can lead to dissatisfaction with our yoga practice and the journey that comes with it.
By detaching from the outcome, we are better able to lower our frustration level as we practice. It is easy to experience resentment within yoga when we are unable to perform a pose the way we think we should. Santosha teaches us that our current version of the pose, while imperfect, is exactly where we need to be. From that perspective, we can find contentment in the level of our practice as it is now and appreciate the way our body can perform a pose today.
When we let go of our expectations within our practice, we are also able to focus more on the feeling of a pose. When we become caught up in the way we think a pose should look, we become trapped in our thoughts. The contentment we feel when practicing santosha can help us get out of our heads and focus on the feeling of a pose rather than evaluating its appearance. In this way, we can learn more about ourselves by what comes up emotionally in a pose rather than fixating on what it looks like.
To bring the principle of santosha into your yoga practice:
- Set an intention. Before your practice, set an intention for how you will engage with it. Your intention could be to learn something new about yourself from a difficult pose or to listen to your body’s needs and adjust accordingly. Your intention can help you stay present with what happens in your practice rather than focusing on your expectations.
- Use a mantra. Repeating a mantra either before, during, or after your practice can help you stay connected to the idea of santosha. A simple reminder such as “this is what is happening now” or “I have what I need” can be powerful during a challenging practice. For additional mantra options that can help you embrace santosha, try some of these Sanskrit mantras for meditation.
- Practice Anjali mudra. Beginning and ending your practice with Anjali mudra can bring a greater sense of balance and contentment to your asana practice. By using this hand gesture, you are honoring and showing gratitude for your experience on the mat, no matter how it looks. Anjali mudra is performed by placing the hands in a prayer position at the heart center, and works well with a seated posture like easy pose (sukhasana) or a standing posture like mountain pose (tadasana).
In Everyday Life
Since santosha encourages us to be content with what we have at the moment, it is a natural companion to more mindfulness in our lives. The goal of mindfulness is to be actively focused on the present moment without judgment of what comes up. Being content and grateful with the here and now instead of worrying about the past or future is one of the best ways to bring more joy into your day.
As we find more happiness and contentment within each moment, we can also better apply ourselves to what is right before us whether in our careers or daily tasks. As the popular Neil Barringham quote says: “The grass is greener where you water it.” When we achieve santosha, we can focus our efforts on thriving where we are rather than always searching for something else.
Most importantly, in any area of life, santosha helps us develop a better relationship with ourselves. Instead of focusing on our imperfections as we so often do, we can be content with who we are and show gratitude for each experience that has made us who we are.
To practice santosha in your daily life:
- Start a gratitude journal. Setting aside time each day to write down what you are grateful for allows you to stay content with what you have rather than what you lack. Whether you write freestyle or with the use of a prompt, this practice is a simple way to honor the principle of santosha. Need help getting started? Check out these tips on how to start your gratitude journal.
- Be mindful. Because mindfulness and santosha go hand in hand by helping you stay in the present moment, finding mindfulness in each day is a great way to practice contentment. A mindful walk where you observe the sights and sounds around you, or paying more attention to the smell and taste of your food are both great ways to bring mindfulness to your day. These everyday mindful moments will help you find more ways to be present on a daily basis.
- Choose a “santosha signal.” As a reminder of the principle of santosha, choose an object or image that you see daily. It could be a piece of artwork in your home, your favorite coffee mug, or even a magnet on the fridge. When that object or image appears, take a moment to reflect on the idea of santosha and find contentment in the moment.