The next limb we'll explore, is the first tenet of the Niyamas... Santosa.
Santosa is translated as contentment, contentment in the unchanging aspects of our lives. With so many crises and challenges happening in our world these days, it can be very easy to swing back and forth (especially if you scroll through Facebook!) between depression and elation... sometimes in the matter of only minutes. This can become an unhealthy cycle that in some ways the brain and body gets addicted to, so much so, that you continue to do it day in and day out until at some point a level of apathy starts to settle in.
The question then becomes, how do you cultivate Santosa when you feel happy one day then challenged the next; or when you feel like the things you love are falling through your fingers or stay connected to your worth when when media is constantly advertising the 'next best thing'?
When cultivating Santosa off the mat, you are in some ways becoming single focused on your essence — remembering at the core who you are, what you care about, and what is important to you. Rather than following every emotion that arises and falls, you are relying on something deeper, unchanging, and rich in character. Have you ever said to yourself, "when I get this thing, then I'll be happy" only to find out that when you got the THING that was supposed to make bring you lifelong happiness only resulted in momentary joy?
Ugh! The frustration, depression and the seeking for the next thing happens and the cycles begins all over again...
The truth of the matter is that emotions can be short-lived and if we were to follow every emotion down the proverbial 'rabbit hole' we'd be diving into holes all day long, only to be climbing right back out to dive into another one. Emotions come and go and so do things.
To cultivate Santosa is to connect to that unwavering part of your Self. It's contentment with what you have, how you have it, and when you have it (meaning now). The best time to start this practice is this moment, then the next moment, and the moment thereafter. It's a practice. The more clarity you can come to on what's important to you and who you are in this world, the less influenced you'll be by the media, or external stimulants of happiness.
True contentment is the kind of satisfaction that remains long after the elation has subsided.
I also want to mention here that Santosa is not acceptance of the downright terrible things that are happening in the world. The complex issues our world is facing are important to address and to stay present with, and it's my belief that Santosa can assist in dealing with these challenges with a state of presence. The clarity of mind that can come from contentment allows you to see what's happening from an equanimous state that not only supports you in staying awake, but also allows you to utilize your executive function of your brain more fully.
When cultivating Santosa on the mat, you can start by honoring your body and practice for where it is today. It can be all too easy (and I think we've all done it) to look around the room to see how someone else is in a pose and we say to ourselves "I wish I could do that." Likely there is always going to be another yogi in the studio who can do the pose at a more advanced level than you. The work then is to come to a place within yourself where you give gratitude and accept where you're at in your practice today and perhaps even come to a place of deep love that your body is capable of getting on the mat to practice some yoga — shifting your focus back inward and honoring your practice as yours.
The practice you engage in on the mat will inform the practice you engage in off the mat — like an experiment that you try over and over again that eventually becomes a way of life. The more you give yourself space to honor the inner voice, to cultivate a feeling of contentment with yourself despite external circumstances, the more Santosa will permeate your senses, heart, and mind on and off the mat.
The full translation of Santosa in the Yoga Sutras states: Contentment leads to unsurpassed joy.
May this practice permeate every cell of your being and Santosa be the key to your true happiness.