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Santosha: Contentment

Updated: Apr 21

Santosha is a quality we can work towards through yoga practice. It doesn't require any fancy poses, and we can use it 'off the mat' to find a little more ease and fulfillment in daily life.

A woman in a black robe holding anjali mudra or prayer hands, with trees in the background
Spending time in nature is great for cultivating contentment

What does Santosha mean?

Usually translated as "contentment", santosha (pronounced san-toe-shah) comes from two sanskrit words: Sam meaning complete and tosha meaning contentment or satisfaction. Almost 2000 years ago, ancient yogi Patanjali composed the Yoga Sutras, which contain 195 principles that yoga practitioners still find valuable today. Within the sutras there are five recommendations for inner conduct (often referred to as Niyamas), of which Santosha is one.

What are the benefits of Santosha?

Feeling more content, more often allows us to appreciate what we have and experience gratitude. Being content means we worry less and are able to be more present with ourselves and with others, having a deeper and more fulfilling experience of life.

How many people do you know who never stop to experience the joy of what and who they have in their lives because they're always struggling to do better or have more? Are you one of these people? I think we all have at least a bit of this within us.

Modern life seems to teach us that we must have more, want more, buy more in order to be happy or content. It seems Patanjali recognized a similar pattern. He told us we might escape the trap by cultivating inner contentment.

It seems logical to worry that if you're more content with where you are, you'll stop striving to grow. This is partly right; you'll stop struggling. But in many ways you will grow more, because you won't be so worried about failing or comparing yourself to others or making yourself look successful. You'll grow in the areas that genuinely mean something to you.

Being more content might actually mean you are able to do a better job with the things you choose to do. Feeling content, calm and an acceptance of things for what they are can actually reinforce the parasympathetic state of the nervous system (AKA "rest and digest"), in which we are much more able to think and act rationally (as opposed to when we're in "fight or flight" mode).

Santosha as part of yoga practice

Remembering that yoga practice can be as simple as standing or sitting mindfully can help you to find contentment during your practice. Every time you notice your breath or observe the sensations in your body, there is the chance to be in the present moment and find contentment.

Letting go of assumptions about how we should look or what our body should be able to do (which, I admit, is a job in itself!) can help us to be more content on the mat.

Realising and accepting that your posture practice might change as you do- for example, with injury, fitness level, age or pregnancy. It's not a one-way journey with perfection at the end.

When it comes to asana, there are many poses that I cannot achieve - for example, side splits, I just don't think my body is made for it- but I have accepted that my yoga practice is no poorer than anyone else's because of this. I'm no longer struggling to achieve something that I don't really need, and I direct my energies into more fulfilling areas of my practice.

In true yogic style, letting go can sometimes mean it comes right to you.

Years ago I thought, I'll never do a headstand. I had weak, hypermobile shoulders, heavy legs and a terror of hurting myself and having no-one around to help me.

So I gave up. Completely.

I thought, I'll never headstand, and that's fine. It's not required. I saw other people doing headstand in class and thought how beautiful it was, whilst I happily practiced dolphin pose or another substitution. I did other things. I went to the gym. I didn't even think about it.

About three years later I was somehow persuaded by friends to try out a tripod headstand, and to my amazement I could *almost* get into the pose. So I carried on doing the other things, but occasionally retried the headstand. And another year or so on I am now slightly obsessed with headstands and do them all the time.

I was content with where I was, with the things I could do, and that helped me grow toward the thing I thought was impossible. I'm no happier now I can headstand, but I do understand more of the power of santosha.

Applying santosha in daily life

Being content with where we are and what we have now doesn't mean denying feelings of FOMO, inadequacy, failure or worry about how we look to others. Santosha requires us to recognise, accept and sit with these feelings, to understand why we might have them, before we can let them go and find our contentment.

To apply santosha in daily life, notice when you feel dissatisfied, when you feel you need to achieve or own something and really examine why. Be mindful of your thoughts.

If you can, try to let it go. If you are drawn into acting on dissatisfaction or discontent you will often find that whatever you do, it doesn't make you any more content.

Cultivating contentment both on and off the yoga mat means developing self-awareness, an ability to accept things as they are and an understanding that things will not always be as they are now. This calms the nervous system and has tremendous benefits for our mental and physical health. Spending time in nature, with animals, with loved ones, moving our bodies, creating art or music are all ways that we can begin to come back to ourselves and start to cultivate contentment.

Through practices like mindfulness, meditation and yoga asana we can all work a bit closer towards being content.

Santosha is the class theme for September 2023. Come and experience cultivating contentment through yoga practice by clicking the button below and booking on in-person in Leeds, or book online for a 1-1 or small group class.

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