"There is no end of craving. Hence contentment alone is
the best way to happiness. Therefore, acquire contentment."
The second Niyama is Santosha or living a contented life. It is easy to feel content for an evening or a day; you eat a satisfying meal or enjoy watching your favorite sports team win a big game. Santosha, however, speaks to a larger and broader fulfillment.
Gratitude is an apt beginning for a contented heart. Feeling truly grateful in a world that tells us we need more can be a daunting task. We need to buy more, do more, have more, and be more. But when does the quest for more end? At what point do we have enough? Looking at a friend who seemingly has everything (successful career, romantic spouse, manicured lawn, impeccable wardrobe, and/or spotless home) could send anyone reeling into an envious cycle of discontent. Practicing gratitude can put an end to the cycle and bring about a steady, peaceful heart. Appreciating the beauty in another's home, for instance, should not mean that we become dissatisfied with our own. Keeping a gratitude journal is one tool that can increase feelings of contentment. Each night write a list of three or more things for which you are thankful. It doesn't take long for this to become a habit and you will begin to feel grateful for people and things in your life more readily.
Emotions can play a huge role in contentment. When tossed by emotional tidal waves we can lose our balance. Arguments, insults, or drama all have the potential to throw our emotions off kilter. Acknowledging our feelings and recognizing them as neither right nor wrong is a powerful step toward emotional equilibrium. Naming feelings helps us to not over-identify with the emotion. "I am feeling angry" vs. "I am angry" is a pertinent distinction. Once we have honed the skill of being aware of and naming feelings we can progress to observing our own emotional climate without expectations. Notice how you are feeling, but do not judge yourself for having those emotions. Any reaction to stress, situations, and feelings is our own responsibility. Knowing that we are in control of our reactions can be very empowering. This control can also direct us toward contentment.
Practicing gratitude and maintaining emotional awareness are strategies for building contentment or Santosha in our lives. K. Pattabhi Jois said, "Practice and all is coming." Yoga both on and off the mat is just that: a practice. Namaste.
Note: For more information on naming feelings and nonviolent communication, please read Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg.