Santosa: Taking the Time to Be Content
Published on: November 06, 2020
Yogini and doula Anfisa Grigorova shows us how to feel fulfilled by taking a moment to acknowledge and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
By Anfisa Grigorova
How often do phrases like this appear in your head— “Once I get …, it will be better”, “as soon as I become…I’ll be happier’, “If I only did this, then that…”? Whether it is about studying, appearing for a job interview, raising children, or looking at yourself in a mirror, there are always one or two things that could ‘be better’. The mind is always ready to notice what is wrong and what can be improved. Perhaps because this is its nature, or maybe it was trained that way since our childhood. This kind of mind frame can make life very exhausting and always keeps us a few steps away from feeling fulfilled. Just like the donkey who runs after the carrot, we tend to think that reward and satisfaction lie somewhere in the future.
Imagine, if instead of dwelling on how you can ‘do better,’ you consciously create contentment in your life with everything you already have now? This may sound impractical in the frame of modern reality as life is always moving ahead. However, there should be times in life when we can pause and take a moment to just breathe. In yoga, there is a whole concept about this called ‘Santosa.’
For most people the world of yoga means physical exercise, breathing and meditation. However, there are more practices in yoga from which to get benefits from, for not only the body, but also for emotional and psychological health. Santosa, pronounced ‘santosha,’ is one of the many self-observance principles in yoga. ‘San’ means ‘entirely,’ ‘tosha’ means ‘contentment’ or ‘acceptance.’ Put together, it can be loosely defined as ‘being happy with what we have.’ Just like we practice any yoga asana (pose), we can also practice this concept.
Less than 50 years ago students could not start practicing asanas or meditation before they mastered Santosa and other important yoga teachings. Philosophy and moral codes were considered to be more important than physical exercise, and this order was practiced to protect students from frustration, overwork, anxiety and other harmful emotional and physical repercussions in the yogic path. It can be thought of as the work ethic or etiquette developed and practiced in martial arts. Today we see less and less of these rules being applied and practiced, and the lack of it often does not serve us well. Anyone who has ever been to a yoga class can relate to this.
For instance, imagine you are working hard on a posture, and cannot help taking a look around the room to see whether you are doing ‘better’ than others. The comparison can bring frustration in anyone or even hurt their ego. This is certainly not what is hoped to be achieved in a yoga lesson. The same thing can happen off the mat. Let me illustrate with a personal example.
I have a friend who is amazing at making plans and attaining goals. I notice that often next to her, I find myself questioning my own competence in my head— “Look, how easily she does it. If you would only try harder, you can be just like that!”. Perhaps each of us has his or her own story where “I can do better if only…”. And maybe it is true, but this toxic thinking does not get us anywhere. Nobody is inspired by comparison or guilt.
If you can relate to all of the above, I invite you to practice Santosa, the yoga for our minds and emotions. It can be even more helpful in times of uncertainty— like we are in now— to create resilience, awareness and enjoyment of simple things.
Exercise 1: Present de-tense
Sit comfortably with your eyes closed, and take three deep breaths. Open your eyes and look around. As your gaze slides slowly around the room, name the objects you see without any judgment or analysis— “a chair, a lamp, a tree, a window, crumbs, a coffee stain, a curtain…”. It may sound silly, but within three minutes this exercise will calm the mind and nervous system. Combine with it a nice, deep breathing pattern, and you will get better results.
Exercise 2: Decluttering emotional load
Every day we experience a fair amount of emotions. A poem by Rumi describes it well:
“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness…”
The practice of sorting and noticing emotions can be very helpful, even when we deal with strong ones. For this exercise you need to find five minutes in a quiet surrounding. Take a piece of paper and ask yourself, “what am I feeling right now?”. Write down all the emotions that come to your consciousness. When going over your list, try to identify where you feel these emotions in your body. Maybe ‘fear’ is hiding in the stomach, ‘anger’ in the temples, ‘joy’ is spread around the chest. There is no right answer. The most important thing is being aware of your unique sensations and insights during the experience.
Exercise 3: Gratitude to yourself and others.
“Send some gratitude to your body for everything it allows you to do. And don’t forget to thank yourself for all the efforts you put in today, on and off the mat.”
These are the words I use at the end of almost every yoga class I teach. There is never too much appreciation when it comes to the things that we tend to take for granted.
Name five things you are grateful for and five people you are grateful to. This exercise can be done in your mind, written down, or even shared with your family at the end of the day. It generates a lot of positive, uplifting energy. In just three minutes it can take you from feeling disappointed and tired to being glad and content. Apart from this, there is also some magic associated with gratitude. Do you remember the fascinating study of water crystals and emotions by Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto? He discovered that among all other positive feelings, gratitude helped to create the most beautifully structured and clear crystals. This is an interesting fact for us humans who are made of up to 60% water.
So by now you may have realized that Santosa is a yogic practice for reframing your vision. Sometimes the mind is skeptical of this approach and this is normal. Pick the exercise you liked the most, and give it a try for a few days. As with the headstand pose, it might not come to you right away, but accepting slow progress is also a part of Santosa.
Images by Jen Theodore and Andre Furtado on Unsplash.
About the Author
Anfisa Grigorova, originally from Russia, is a professional teacher who used to run a small kindergarten in Vietnam where she lived before moving to Thailand with her husband, Albert. She has always been fascinated by the human body and mind, and thus got into the path of yoga. In 2015, she started supporting women during pregnancy and postpartum by teaching therapeutic yoga. Shortly afterwards she became a birth doula. For more information please visit https://doulagentlerocking.com.
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