“As long as we depend on objects and activities for our happiness—chocolate, shopping, napping, or even sticking to the poses we love most—we will constantly be searching outside of ourselves for happiness,” says Cyndi Lee, Yoga Journal contributor. Instead of using external conditions to create good vibes, the key is to find unconditional happiness. The first step towards contentment, or santosha, is to open up to all experiences and let go of our narrow definition of happiness. Santosha is the second of the niyamas, or moral restraints, which are outlined in classical yoga philosophy. The niyamas are guidelines that take a deep dive into our attitudes about life and how we feel about ourselves. This time of year is so focused on making new changes and jumpstarting New Year resolutions. Perhaps we should be focusing more on cultivating gratitude for what we already have and where we already are instead wishing for things we don’t have or daydreaming of the future.
Maybe you have spent the last few days hunkered down to avoid the snow and extreme temperatures. There tends to be a lot of negativity when our routines get interrupted or we are thrown out of our comfort zone. Our own perceptions create how we define discomfort and constriction and how we define freedom and happiness. No one can take the freedom of your own spirit away from you. Instead of viewing the weather as a hindrance, can you find some appreciation? Even if you are in an uncomfortable yoga posture or crammed in snowy, rush hour traffic, how can you find contentment from within? Practice remaining calm in both successes and failures. See if you can spend less time and energy focused on thoughts of liking or disliking what is.
Just as the physical yoga poses take practice, so does the experience of santosha. So if your teacher calls out your nemesis posture, notice where your mind goes. Many times the postures we resist the most, are the ones we really need. Instead of engaging negative thoughts towards the postures (or your teacher!) see if you can step back, practice santosha and find some inner calm to sit with what comes up. Work for a grounded foundation of contentment that can’t be shaken by the external activity. Even when you are uncomfortable, can you find peace or relaxation? Make the hard choice—stay present, hold the vision, and trust the process. If an affirmative mantra helps you practice santosha, repeat the following to yourself anytime you need:
I am content.
I am grateful for what I have and for what I do not have.
I learn from the joys and disappointments life brings me.
I honor the good in myself and others.
I refrain from criticism and fault finding.
I accept life just the way it is.
I enjoy life!