One of the niyamas, or observances, of yoga is santosha. Santosha is a sanskrit word meaning contentment. The goal of the yogi is to practice santosha in all areas of their lives. One way to practice santosha is to be fully present in each moment which brings about this deep feeling of contentment. Contentment, or bliss, isn’t a fleeting thing; it’s in your core, no matter what’s happening in your life. Deepak Chopra differentiates between happiness and bliss, saying that happiness is always for a reason- it relates to something outside ourselves. Bliss is that feeling that all is the way it should be. We keep coming back to it no matter what’s happening. This isn’t to say that we don’t feel anger, frustration, sadness or any other feelings. We are human, so we feel a wide range of emotions. What we do with those emotions matters though. In her book Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life, Charlotte Bell says that what arises is not negotiable, but how we respond to it is. We can accept or resist. This sows the seeds for contentment or suffering. We often think that we’ll be happy when we have more money, get a better job, or find a relationship. Fulfilling these sorts of desires makes us feel happiness for a moment, but it doesn’t last. That’s because santosha or contentment doesn’t depend on external things, it comes from an internal response to our experiences. We always have a choice about how to respond to the situations that arise in our lives. I’ve been known to go to a very dark place when something very stressful is going on, but over the years I’ve become better at managing my own responses. And I’m sure that as I keep practicing santosha and keep living in the present, I will become more skilled. Because, really, in this moment, is there anything that I’m lacking?
When practicing asana we can also practice present moment awareness. Focusing our attention on the breath as we hold poses and appreciating that our bodies are able to do what they can right now helps. I often ask my classes if they can practice santosha while holding a difficult pose. It usually makes them smile, possibly because they can’t believe how insane I am to ask such a question. But when they smile maybe they find a little ease within that pose, maybe they can relax around the sensations that are coming up and know that this too will end. Remembering this while in asana helps to set the stage for our lives off the mat.