We’re discussing the next concept today, one that is directly mentioned in the Yoga Sūtra by Sage Patanjali as a part of Ashtānga Yoga. (If you have missed my earlier articles about Yogic concepts, you can check them here. The article has further links to other Yogic concepts we have already discussed). Today’s concept is an interesting one, almost revolutionary in today’s times! Let us dive right in!
What does Santōsha mean?
A concept mentioned as one of the five Niyama, the second of the eightfold Ashtānga path, Santōsha is a beautiful, wholesome idea. The word means contentment or satisfaction, and that is why I called it revolutionary. How many of us are able to be content in today’s world? We’re forever hustling for more, different, new…aren’t we?
We’re constantly told to work to earn more money, own the latest gadgets and fashion, get that coveted promotion, and that we are failing if we do not do these things. We’re constantly running towards more consumption and even towards an, often unrealistic, idea of ourselves.
Santōsha asks us to stop running, to pause and reflect on what we are hustling for. What Santōsha says is that we should be content with ourselves, who we are, and what we are. It speaks about making a choice ourselves, choosing to work towards happiness.
Does Santōsha equal complacency?
Does that mean that we should accept ourselves and our situation and leave everything be? Does that mean that you should not try to better your situation in life, earn more money, or become a better person? It absolutely does not mean that! Santōsha DOES NOT mean complacency or laziness. So, what does being content mean in this context?
It’s a great question and one that I am frequently asked by students and friends when discussing this concept. It is a question I had as well when I first was introduced to this concept during my Yogic studies. Let me share my understanding of how this is not about being complacent and laidback but is a recipe for happiness.
Santōsha means contentment, which the Yoga Sūtra says leads to lasting happiness. But if it were to mean complacency, then you would probably be stuck with a body and mind, in a situation in life that is not at all desirable with no option but to just say, this is what it is! That cannot possibly be correct, can it?
What this concept says is that we have to continually work towards bettering our situation and ourselves as people. But during this process, at no point should be averse to ourselves or our situation. We should accept reality as it is and then work towards changing it for the better.
Let us try to understand this with an example. a few years ago, I gained a lot of weight. I was at the heaviest I had ever been, and I am someone who does not gain weight easily, so it was a very novel and surprising experience for me. I did not feel healthy and wanted to lose the extra weight I had put on. I have a weight range where I can breathe easily, do not face digestive issues, and generally feel light and healthy; that’s the weight range to which I wanted to go back. The weight gain was caused by a number of issues, including unhealthy routines, unhealthy food choices, severe digestive issues, and a lot of stress.
I first accepted the fact that I was heavier than was healthy for me and that I had to do something about it. I started working on the causes of my weight gain and slowly, in about a year, lost the extra weight. But at no point during the entire process, did I hate my body, berate myself, or punish myself in any way for the weight gain. I had to accept myself at every stage of the journey to manage my symptoms well and take care of not just my physical but also my mental health.
Santōsha played the part of reminding me that I still had a body that worked well. I was still capable of caring for myself. I was no more or less ME because of my weight fluctuations. I was capable of making the right choices for myself and being a better, happier person every day.
Santōsha helps me better choices for myself every day. It helps me accept myself the way I am while helping me work on being better, doing better. We have discussed acceptance and Vairāgya earlier, and these two concepts tie in very closely with Santōsha.
Without acceptance, we cannot be content. Without letting go of the baggage of expectations we put on our own backs, we cannot be satisfied with ourselves. Only when we accept ourselves and our situations, let go of unrealistic expectations and let ourselves breathe can we be content and work towards being better, being happier. What will you choose to do?
If you’d like to know more about these beautiful Yogic concepts and learn more about them and applying them to everyday life, please reach out to me and I will do my best to help you out!