One of my favorite instructors has a license plate on her vehicle that says “SANTOSHA”. The title of the bimonthly newsletter that is put out by the studio where I earned my 500 CYT training is called “SANTOSHA”. The literal English translation is “contentment”. Over the years, I’ve discussed with some people the difference between “happiness” and “contentment”. I think that happiness is a state of being positive, of being ‘okay’, of a sense of peace at the core. Contentment is the ability to remain in the middle of the continuum of emotions regardless of which way the waves batter us. Being able to have no preference for what is occurring in the presence is the state of santosha.

In yoga, there is the practice of ‘witness consciousness’. This is the ability to view the ebb and flow of life and circumstances as if watching a movie. When we realize we are not the actors on the stage, that life moves through us, that we all have part of ourselves that remains the changeless form of the universe, then we can reside in santosha. For those that can inhabit that place of existence full-time, I congratulate you. I, however, continue to tap into and be in contact with that human part of myself. Do I have moments, hours, days of santosha? Absolutely. But the more I am aware of how my preferences pull me from this silent, watchful center, the more I can let go of ‘things’.

These things that used to pull me on occasion, and that I still see pull others, are all the little, and some big, things that offer up irritations and annoyances. Traffic and the way people drive. Think of the drivers that flip people off or honk or do other hostile acts while behind the wheel. This is an example of NOT being in a witness state and taking everything personally and allowing what others do and say to affect our way of being. A long line at the bank or grocery store, paying more for gas, a glitch in technology, a friend who is always late, people who lack manners, people who talk loudly on cell phones in public places, language used by teenagers in public places, people who litter, people who mistreat animals or their children or their bodies by smoking and drinking and taking drugs, religious zealots, the news, certain actors, particular restaurants and how they serve food or treat customers, parents, family members, etc., etc., etc. The buttons we humans are born with and refine throughout our lives so that others can push them repeatedly like a girl scout desperate to sell her last box of thin mints pushes repeatedly on our doorbell, these preferences for or against something has the effect of whipping us away from santosha.

When we are practicing santosha, there is no fear, no worry to get somewhere, no anxiousness of what might or might not be happening in the present or in the future. Santosha can only exist in the present. It doesn’t require any desire for change or any doing. At any given moment, if we have the thought that things should be different from how they are, then it closes off the opportunity for happiness to be recognized. The only place that santosha can be experienced is in the now.

A feeling of I’m not good enough will lock the door against santosha. If we have the feeling in the present, then we end up carrying that feeling into the future, and so santosha cannot exist there either. Instead, to practice santosha, it takes a lot to arrive at the present moment. Only in the absence of fear and anxiety and in the presence of love and trust can we experience santosha. With this love and trust comes compassion for the world and all who inhabit it, rather than frustration and anger with the world. My question has always been, regardless of which yama or niyama I might be studying, is can one exist in that space always? I don’t believe so. I think we can live more artfully, have more peace and calmness in our lives, be less moved from that center of the emotional continuum by practicing certain tools and techniques of yoga, but because we are still human, and humans are messy, I think we spend time away from that witness.

Some people are not interested in living any differently than how they currently are, and that’s okay. Others attempt to fix and manipulate so they can be okay with the outside world, and that’s fine, too. For me, and anyone who asks me about it, I choose santosha. There is more misery in the world than any one person could list. I choose to not add to that by being present, releasing the desire for things to be different in the moment than how they are, and then I can act accordingly with compassion for myself and others.

How do you practice santosha? Leave a comment if you’ve found a way to exist in “contentment”. I’ve written about santosha in a poem project I compiled after completing my training. View a few of the poems on my website: