The Sanskrit word santosha can be divided into two parts: sam, meaning entirely or completely, and tosha, meaning acceptance, fulfillment, and contentment. When combined, they create a word that encompasses absolute contentment and acceptance. As the second Niyama, this contentment specifically addresses the contentment within the self.
Contentment, although a simple concept, I believe is one of the most difficult Niyamas to practice in the world we live in. In a world so identified with social media, we see the world through filters and photoshops. How can we begin to find contentment when we are forever comparing ourselves, and our reality, to someone else’s edited highlight reel?
The first step here is to disconnect with the idea that any of these concepts, such as beauty, income, age, intelligence, weight, etc. have a direct relationship to our happiness and self-worth.
In fact, when we begin to use these concepts as a measurement of contentment, they often have an inverse effect. By outsourcing our happiness, we give away our power. We interpret the world through the lens, “I can only be happy if…” This leaves us always chasing, always discontent, and rarely present to the miracle that is existence. We become so focused on the rain tomorrow that we forget to feel the sun tingling on our skin in this moment. Change is inevitable. We must find acceptance and love with what is, so that when change does occur, it does not leave us devastated, void of the pseudo identities we had come to build our house upon.
This being said, Santosha does not foster stagnancy. There is often misconception and confusion around this part of Santosha. Contentment is not laziness. All my type A friends can take a sigh of relief. It does not translate to avoiding hard work and practice. It is finding tranquility and acceptance in the discomforts of that practice.
When I began my yoga practice several years ago, all I wanted to do was a split. I was obsessed, driven by discontent in my practice. Driven by an ideal to look like a woman I had seen online. I didn’t realize behind that one photograph was a warm up, was years and hours of practice. One day, I pushed way to hard, far past my limit, and I damaged my hamstrings badly. I spent the next several years avoiding hamstring stretches because they were so uncomfortable, because they didn’t align with what I thought my practice had to look like. I was not content with where I was, so I avoided them, but this only made my hamstrings tighter, and so the cycle continued.
Over the past six months, I’ve began taking modifications and using props to stretch my hamstrings. I had no intention to do a split, because to be honest, I didn’t even consider it was in the ballpark anytime soon, but it was important for me to be good to my whole body. I found acceptance and contentment in my practice, even the hamstrings. Here is the crazy part: Last Sunday, I came into split for the first time. The funny thing is: it was by accident. I was in a yoga class, and I didn’t avoid the half splits like I may have in the past. I suddenly realized I had a lot more flexibility there.
In contentment and radical acceptance, we allow ourselves the freedom to give and receive love, gratitude, and all of the gifts of the universe unconditionally. We disconnect from these oppressive constructs of worthiness to realize we were and will always be enough. It is in that state that we begin to be able to unveil the light within us and to share it with others.