I’ve just returned from leading a 4-day summer retreat that was all about cultivating
contentment. Santosha (sometimes spelled samtosha or santosa, as well as several other variations) is one of the niyamas or recommended habits and practices of yoga.
Santosha is described as a state that is essential for changing the future. Yep. I know. That seems contradictory, right? If we are content, why would we need to change anything?
It might be easy to misunderstand santosha as a need to remove all desires (which of course is a mysterious paradox: the desire to remove desire.) But I think it’s more helpful to think about santosha as a process of clarifying the difference between pursuit of cravings and pursuit of needs.
If we are always focused on what we don’t like in this exact second, or not exactly the way we want it in this moment, we are more likely to make rash decisions that are based on our immediate attractions and aversions. We go for quick fixes and we are less likely to make decisions that take into account the long view. Restorative yoga is the quintessential place for cultivating contentment. It can be so tempting to work to acquire postures, to own them, to be able to “do” them, which in the end isn’t so different from wanting to acquire stuff in an effort to be happy.
Don’t get me wrong here. I love doing crazy hand balances and working on achieving the almost unbelievable movements and shapes possible in body. There is something totally empowering and motivating about having a goal pose and then nailing it. But the real magic of yoga comes for me when I’m not working to achieve anything physical and instead working on being curious about and contented with whatever I encounter when I practice restorative poses.
Restorative poses give time and space to withdraw from the demands and the pressures to consume and achieve.
We get permission to land in a place where we don’t have to be motivated. This idea of being in a space where I lack motivation is an often uncomfortable one for me. Doesn’t that sound like a bad thing? I hear lack of motivation and I think lazy. But imagine, or perhaps even remember, a time when you were still and quiet in savasana and you noticed some sound but you thought to yourself, “I hear a sound. I don’t care about that sound and am not going to do anything about it.”
When we make space and give ourselves permission to abide in that place, we have an incredible amount of control. We are choosing for ourselves what is important and what deserves our attention without any pressure to have more or to do more.
Judith Hanson Lasater, says: “You can’t run after contentment. It has to find you. All you can do is try to create space for it.”
Just consider whether or not you making space for contentment in your life and in your yoga practice. It’s not easy but I think it’s worth it.