Santosha (Gratitude & Contentment)

My favorite Niyama (set of ethical guidelines from the Yoga Sutras) is Santosha. The Niyamas act like a map to guide you on your life’s journey. The Niyamas are personal practices that relate to your internal world, your inner observances, how you relate to yourself.

Santosha translates to mean contentment. In order to be content and have gratitude, the guideline states to accept both past and present and make peace with it. (I didn’t say the Niyamas were easy) Being grateful for everything in life. Not waiting more or even wishing things were different.

Yoga challenges us not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. To be our best selves…to live our best lives.

I started on a gratitude journey last May. I downloaded a cell phone app to track things I was grateful for each day. It started out very general with things that I definintely do not take for granted, but things that were expected to be on the list. Health, Home, Food, Safety, Family/Friends

Months later and there have been interesting things that I have noted along the way. My lists became much more specific and counted small moments that normally would have been completely bypassed in a given day. The sparkle on snow that looked like glitter in the moonlight. The taste of the first sip of coffee in the morning in my favorite coffee mug (Halloween type skull with the word poison across it). Our lives are full of these small moments. That is what yoga is for me off the mat (one of many things). To have my eyes open to see these moments that otherwise just blur into the background of the day.

“Giving and receiving is the law of life. When we give with love and accept with deepest gratitude, our souls rejoice”

— Debasish Mridh

Recently gratitude shifted yet again. Gratitude as not just being something that I receive (things that I have, given to me, etc) but also gratitude for things that I can personally give to or do for others.

I began to write down that I was grateful that I love, have the capacity to love. That I can give comfort. Even that I can give my mom some yoga moves and shapes that help her asthma feel better during the cold winter days. Helping her means the world to me. Especially with a shortage of students to teach right now as an independent teacher. I remind myself that I started teaching since it would be worth it if I could help just one person. I have 5 students right now and I am humbled and grateful for each one of them.

Being content and grateful with what I have, what I can give, has been a life lesson for me. One that I remind myself daily. It is still a practice for me. I am perfectly imperfect and there are many rainy days where it is SO difficult to write in my gratitude list. But those are the days I need it the most.

My hope is that you find a journal, cell phone app, etc that helps you to track and store these gems in life. Give it a try, you never know what you will find.

The Buddhists speak of developing an abiding calm. A centeredness that is unshakeable. Like a tall tree so rooted in the earth that great winds cannot topple it. This for me is the image of contentment. It means not riding the waves of the ups and downs of life. It means that we not only agree to what is in the moment, but we actually welcome it. Staying in our calm center, practicing gratitude and nonseeking. This moment right now is complete, there is nothing missing. Life is complete the way it comes to us in each moment. Understanding this, we sink into Santosha.

— Deborah Adele “The Yamas & Niyamas”

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

  • This Pranayama (breath control) entails inhaling in one nostril and exhaling out the opposite nostril.  I will be describing the moon-piercing breath (Chandra Bhedana) since I have found it to be the most calming version. It considers your left side of your body, the Yin, which is the restful and cooling side.  The opposite is the right side of your body, the Yang, which is the active and hotter side.  All your inhales will occur via your left nostril.  All your exhales will be done in your right nostril.  If you like a visual, the breath goes in and out in a clockwise fashion.      
  • Have a tissue ready since this tends to clear out sinus blockages and can help during allergy season.  This is a relaxing breath to do before a big meeting or something you know that elevates your stress levels.  It is also a nice one to do right before going to sleep.
  • Steps to perform this breath:
    • Take either hand and curl in your first and middle fingers into your palm.  Bring your thumb to the outside of one of your nostrils.  Your ring and pinkie fingers will be on the outside of your other nostril. 
    • Block your right nostril, inhale left.
    • Block your left nostril, exhale right.
    • Continue this breath for one to three minutes.  Each breath should be slow, controlled and deep. 

Mind Body Connection – Respecting your Edge

In yoga we are taught to get into a pose as deep as “our edge”.  This means that you get to a level where you feel sensation and not pain.  So if you are in a forward fold, you feel the stretch in the back of your legs but not to the point of pain.  If you have major discomfort in a pose, you cannot breath properly and relax into it.  Any strain and you are not able to experience the pose’s benefits, you are only adding tension.

Now I would like to take this “respecting edge” concept one step further.  There is a mind body connection in yoga that can be applied to everything off of our mat as well.  Your body will always give you feedback and tell you exactly what you need.  It is our responsibility to respect our inner knowledge by listening and then reacting.

It is also about tuning into your body and ignoring what everyone else is doing around you.  No comparisons.  Just being positive and proud of what you can do.  Putting yourself first and taking care of you before anything else.  Self-care time is never selfish.  It is beyond important.  You cannot run a car on an empty tank of gas.

Here are some examples:

  • I respect the amount I can get done in a day.  As we all know, some days are better than others.  Depends on how much activity you did the day before, the weather, amount of sleep, what you ate, etc.  I respect my edge and know I cannot handle it all.  This leads to me saying no or maybe later to invitations.  I listen to my body’s cues on when I need a break or a little alone time.
  • I was in spin class today and I recalled my state of mind in a cycle class years ago.  I was very negative and felt that if I could not keep up with the teacher, that just meant I was weak or out of shape.  I would push myself too hard and end up getting burnt out.  Today’s internal dialogue was much different.  I just focused on me and my bike.  I did the best I could and was extremely proud of myself for respecting my body and its limits.