Accessing Contentment in a Season of Uncertainty: The Niyama of Santosha

March 31, 2020

As a yoga nerd, I love talking about the vast wisdom this practice has to offer. And although the postures we do on the mat are powerful, yoga has so much to teach us beyond the physical. For me, yoga is truly a way of living. I ask myself regularly, How does [fill in whatever’s showing up in my life] relate to my yoga practice? This is a question that feels especially pressing in our current situation.

Within the eight limbs of yoga, we have what are known as the yamas and niyamas, or restraints and observances. One of the niyamas, santosha, is one I often turn to when life hands me something that is uncomfortable, such as a situation that’s completely out of my control. 

Santosha translates to “contentment.” I have heard this best described as “being able to hold two things equally and at once.” To me, this means accepting what is, while also knowing that things will eventually change. 

Santosha is not about relinquishing all desire for wanting things to change, but instead finding equanimity within the inevitable ebbs and flows of life. As a culture, we are constantly drawn toward what we like and avoid what we don’t like. Although that seems like an obvious inclination, it can also be a distraction from experiencing the reality of what is.

I have a friend who would get so excited for her staycations. Sure, the concept of a staycation implies relaxation, and this is a stressful time for everyone, whether we’re hunkering down at home with our kids, experiencing financial disruption, worried for aging family members, or working to get or stay well. But it’s also an opportunity to look within, practice presence and compassion, and pursue nourishing activities

This pandemic has a lot to teach us. As things shut down around us—schools, shops, restaurants, workplaces—we are forced to turn inward. How are our minds dealing with this predicament? You might find some critters scurrying around in there, trying to control this situation, freaking out and worrying to no end. Yet, what we are truly being asked to do is surrender, while at the same time trusting that even this shall pass. 

Santosha can remind us to root down into the present moment. Though we are living in a new era of uncertainty, of quarantines and travel restrictions and ever-changing news alerts, this can also be a time to build new habits, try new things. So go ahead—now that you’re staying home, make some space for daily meditation, pick up your journal or sketchbook, cook that recipe you haven’t had time to, catch up on some much-needed sleep. As we slow down and sit with santosha, we may find ourselves more able to stand firm in the knowledge that eventually a new season will be upon us. 

Samantha Cullen, RYT, is a certified yoga teacher and outdoor guide for Kripalu R&R Retreats and other Kripalu programs.

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