Santosha is part of the self-regulation principles called Niyama, that flow from the eight-limbed path (Ashtanga) which includes the following:
Yama (moral codes)
Niyama (self-purification and study)
Pranayama (breath control)
Pratyahara (sense control)
Samadhi (absorption into the Universal)
Taken from the book by John Scott, Ashtanga Yoga: The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide to Dynamic Yoga. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000.
There are five Niyamas. Once I heard the Sanskrit word, Santosha, it immediately resonated with me. Rather, I should say, it planted itself inside my brain and throughout the rest of my yoga training that day, it occupied a large space in my mind.
I like the way the word sounds, “san-toe-sh-uh”. But the attraction to the word is much like an attraction to a person who has a quality you fully want to embrace–make your own. Santosha translates in English to “contentment”–a place I’ve visited throughout my life but always seem to struggle to return to. Like your favorite vacation spot, you relish it when you’re there but then soon find yourself saying, I just don’t spend enough time here. That’s Santosha for me.
Driven by ambitious goals and bouts with perfectionism, I find Santosha like that great escape that I keep meaning to get to as life and my Type A personality push on ahead.
Interestingly, yoga asanas (actual postures) and the meditational practice of yoga (mindful concentration, way of living) change my hurried lifestyle and transform the “push to achieve” to “being here”. I am here on my mat and life is, in that moment, as it should be. Transformation has a way of working through me when I am in the midst of a deep hot sweat–beads dripping off my brow, biceps, chest. Breath guiding me through postures and revealing the beautiful spirit of the body to endure, stretch, grow, and be. Could this be the reason why yoga has endured and spread to the Western culture–to people who often know no other way than to go, go, go?
Is Santosha the goal that which we unknowingly find on our mats? It’s hard to say because, from day to day, the way the body responds to the postures changes. My mind creeps into some of my practices and Santosha is long forgotten. But then that rhythmic breath reveals the way–the way to find serenity–the way to find contentment–the way to find Santosha.
So with contentment in mind, I post this photo of an attempt at side crow (Parsva Bakasana) on a forest-like path. At first, my critical eye. told meit could be better…my leg higher, my core engaged more. Ahh, but Santosha…content with where I am now… is that gentle teacher, helping mark the path of the trail through the forest with kind reminders that all in nature is as it should be…including me.