Whilst the common perception in the west of yoga is centered on physical practice, there is much more going on. Occasionally, when teaching classes, I will dip into the more philosophical aspects, as these are more relevant today than we may think.
Whatever your philosophical leanings, ‘contentment’ crops up at some point. Within yoga, this is described as ‘santosha’ one of the 5 ‘niyamas’. The ‘niyamas’ are constructive tools we can use to cultivate happiness, let’s face it, we are all searching for happiness but mostly we look in the wrong places. Marcus Aurelius wrote in his meditations, “the happiness in your life is dependent upon the quality of your thoughts”.
So santosha is delight, joy and the experience of acceptance of life, of ourselves and whatever hand we have been dealt. The practice of santosha is to look at ourselves and find peace and acceptance, which is far harder when we have been brought up to compete, compare and strive for more, to bring happiness?
In a yoga class, or practice, santosha is about accepting our perceived limitations and actually celebrating them! We are all unique and uniquely brilliant at what we do, there is no comparison with others when we practice yoga.
Moving thorough the yoga postures and holding the postures with a sense of contentment and acceptance of any constraints allows us to recalibrate our minds and say to ourselves, ‘this is enough, accept this and see the good and benefit in this.’
When we apply this process consistently and continually throughout our yoga practice, this has a profound affect on our mind. It is the same as when we are managing the physical stress with the breath, we develop inherent coping mechanisms for life in general, especially away from the mat.
So when my students are practicing the movement and holds, I prompt them to feel what the body is telling them, perhaps back off a little or do a little less but still be ok with the effort and execution. They should be fulfilling their own unique requirements of the posture, not trying to achieve the unachievable, be content with the body they have – take a breath and accept.
This is quite a powerful technique to develop and this skill of self-acceptance is something that can unquestionably help improve people’s lives.
A great quote from BKS Iyengar, one of the latter-day pioneers of yoga:
“the brain is the hardest part of the body to adjust in postures”
I really feel that the wider aspects of yoga, not commonly known, are worth further thought and will continue to dip into the niyamas and yamas through my classes, as they are as relevant today, as they have ever been.
If this resonates, perhaps try a yoga class, on-line or when restrictions are lifted, to explore this marvellous practice to see how it might help in your life.