As part of the centering practice at the beginning of class, I say "Let go of your day. Let go of any conversations you've had or events that occurred. Let go of your plans for the future. Let go of your to-do lists and anticipation of what’s to come. Be here now."
In full disclosure, my mind often thinks about the future. I plan, dream, think ahead, and make to-do lists. Take for example, my current to-do list: write a blog post, study anatomy, plan a beach trip, meditate, practice backbends, make sauerkraut, study the yoga sutras, go hiking, go biking, get in the water, take more yoga classes, make an acupuncture appointment, learn Spanish, pursue more training, enroll in a mentorship program, study Sanskrit, travel, read the stack of books on my night stand, go here, go there...
As you can see, this list is pretty exhaustive and will take quite a bit of time to complete, if ever. Knowing this, I become impatient. I tell myself there is not enough time in the day to do all the things I want to do. I forget to take in and appreciate the things around me. My mind is in a future world that does not exist yet. I am not living in the present.
Santosha is the Sanskrit word for contentment or satisfaction. It’s accepting where you are while knowing there is room to grow. It’s recognizing that you may not meet your ideal right now and being OK with that. Santosha is about being patient and grateful for journey.
The truth is, I do everything on my to-do list plenty.
Embracing santosha, I tell myself I am doing exactly what I need to be doing exactly when I do it. I remind myself I exist where I am and will continue to do what I can.
Taking this idea to the yoga mat, sometimes I have grand visions of doing Pincha Mayurasana (forearm balance) or Sirsana (headstand) drop backs or some other elaborate pose (insert your wish list pose here). I practice and practice and while frustration may creep in, ultimately, I am satisfied with my efforts. I am content using the wall for support or doing a modified variation for now.
To be clear, santosha does not mean giving up. Contentment is not about throwing your hands in the air saying, “oh well!” I remember one student came to class with very tight hamstrings. Forward folds were a challenge for her. She started with her hands on the chair, then worked to hands on blocks, and gradually over time she was able to come into the full pose. Never did she once say, “I have tight hamstrings. I can’t do forward folds.” Every step of the way, she appreciated the progress she made.
Santosha is not complacency or tolerance of unhealthy or unsafe situations. Personally, I am disheartened by many of the decisions our current political leaders are making. I could choose to sit back and say, “I hate politics, but there is nothing I can do about it.” Instead, I appreciate the progress that has been made to date. I engage in the democratic process, get involved in my community, and am hopeful.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by everything you want to do, take a deep breath. You’ve come so far. Look at all you’ve done! Can you be at peace with where you are? Can you be satisfied with your experience? Can you accept this present moment and look forward to what’s to come? This is the practice of santosha.
Newland, E. Santosha - Contentment, 2014 https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/santosha-contentment
Fahri, D. Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit, 2000.