On santosha

Author: Victoria Kempter, August 2018


I have a confession to make. In our final written exam at my Yoga Teacher Training, I finished best. I finished best because I’m a total geek when it comes to all things Yoga. But also because I got my friend’s help. There was one thing that had slipped my mind. One thing I could hear my teacher saying in my head over and over but it just wasn’t there to grasps. The translation of Santosha. So, just before we submitted the tests my friend whispered me the answer. Now, it will probably stick forever.

Santoṣha is one of the five Niyamas in Patanjali’s eight limbs of Yoga. These eight limbs, also known as Ashtanga (not to be confused with the physical practice of Ashtanga Yoga) are a main part of the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. The Sūtras are known to be the central written source of yoga. The traditional scriptures were compiled prior to 400 CE by Sage Patanjali and remain valid as the guiding thread –Sūtra translates to tread – in yoga up until the present day. They are considered a guideline for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline. Directing our attention towards our health, helping us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.

The eight limbs are composed of Yamas, moral commandments, Niyamas, spiritual observances, Asanas, the physical postures, Pranayama, life force extension, Pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, Dharana, concentration, Dhyana, meditation and lastly Samadhi, transcendence of the self. The first seven limbs are more or less designed to guide one to the state of Samadhi, which is, as said, not even a final destination but more of a state of ecstasy, an experience of bliss.

This may seem odd at first sight – how can two-thousand-year-old scriptures still influence not only Yoga practice but a modern Yogi’s lifestyle? Well, if one takes a closer look you reckon that most of the aspects are very applicable to modern life and even a helpful guide for many aspects of life. As an example let’s take a closer look at one of the Niyamas: Santosha.

The Niyamas guide self-discipline and spiritual observance – basically the handling of one’s self. To make things easier the Niyamas are broken up into five features: Saucha, clearness of mind, speech and body; Santosha, contentment, acceptance of others, oneself and of one’s circumstances; the tapas, austerity; Svadhyaya, study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self and Isvara pranidhana: surrender to Isvara (which is God, the Universe, Brahman or the True Self, Unchanging Reality).

Santosha, the second of the five, is one that crossed my path in conversations and contemplations many times, even before I got deeper knowledge about Yoga and it’s philosophies and long before the final exam. Contentment. What is contentment? It crossed my path mostly in relation to another word. Happiness. If you are content, there should be nothing keeping you from being happy. And vice versa, if you’re not content, it’s rather hard, if not impossible to be happy or even find happiness. And draw this circle complete: If you’re happy, it’s very likely you’re content – if you’re unhappy, you’re most probable discontent. If you look up (I recommend ecosia, for extra-good karma) the word „content“ and translate it into different languages, you’ll even find it to translate to happiness. It also translates to being glad, joyful, delighted and thrilled.

While this sounds all good and fun, we all know that most things in life are not that simple. How do I get to that state of contentment? How can I be content in a world that presents me with a billion reasons not to be every single day?

As I dug a little bit deeper into the literature about Santosha I stumbled upon another interesting thought. Firstly, the acceptance of others. Second, acceptance of one’s circumstances as they are in order to get past or change them. And lastly. optimism for the self.

I’m no Guru and no Master of Contentment either – far from being either, I guess. But I do live a fairly happy life and figured some small tricks to manifest Santosha in my daily life. And my first, and probably most obvious recommendation is:

Meditation. Not to sit still hours on end, but Meditation in any form it calls to you. While you meditate, recall the concepts of contentment and especially acceptance and what they mean to you.

What keeps you from accepting others? What keeps you from accepting yourself? What keeps you from accepting your circumstances? How could you work around these things? How could you find acceptance for them? What would change if you practiced more acceptance in your daily life?

You can chew on these questions while sitting in stillness. Maybe choose one or two or find new ones. Don’t get caught up in desperately trying to find solutions. Rather feel how the questions resonate in your body. What thoughts do they awaken? What do you feel? Where do you feel it? Listen to what is going on within you if you don’t push. I like to conclude my meditation by setting an intention, which brings me to my second recommendation on how to come to integrating Santosha into your daily life.

Intentions. I set intentions for days, weeks, month or single yoga practices. When I go on an adventure I would ask my friends, what their intention for the time ahead is. For me, an intention can serve as a guideline or constitute a mindset. So even if meditation for whatever reason is something you don’t resonate with, try to integrate setting an intention. Let this intention be contentment. Or, to get there: Acceptance.


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