Yamas in the 21st Century. Yama #7 Santosha – Contentment
Looking on instagram. Looking on Facebook. Looking at the gym. Looking at the promotion. Always looking and never really finding that thing you’re looking for. You can do anything you put your mind to right? I have had heated conversations with my in-laws about this concept as they strongly believe that you CAN’T be anything you want to be.
Way Harsh Ty! Doesn’t everyone believe that the only thing standing in your way is you? Perhaps I have said this from time to time and I definitely said it to the kids I used to teach in Hackney. But the reality of the situation is there is a lot more at play than just what you are in control of. There is economy, education, physical ability, disability, who you know and heck a whole bunch of luck.
In yoga then to practice santosha we need to stop the racing ahead with the presumption of where the yoga teacher will be taking the class next. This is especially true of people who have been practicing yoga for a long time. They are 3-5 steps ahead, racing through the poses as if there is a race and if finish before anyone else you win the prize of the most woke yogi in the room. Just to clarify there is no prize and certainly no race. There is also the constant comparison that we have to contend with. Let me let you into a little secret – there are some poses that your physical anatomy will prevent you from every achieving.
Just like there are some people who look, and might very well be, double jointed and like their bodies are made of rubber. Depending on a plethora of components (injury, joint shape, bone shape, muscle development, height, disease and past movements or lack of movements of your body) there is an infinite combination of poses that some people will achieve and find easy and some people will struggle to get close and find completely impossible. To compare to your neighbour is like comparing your voice or your fingerprint to theirs-ridiculous! Like I have said previously I struggle with backbends and if I looked into any class I will always be able to find someone who is back bending like they have just left the stage of cirque de soleil.
There is a LOT to a full wheel or other extreme back bend other than just the bending of the back. Your hips need to be open, quads stretched, opening in the shoulder and the chest, alongside strength in the back and the arms. I’m not going to be able to, safely that is, go from no back bending to whammo I’m in a full wheel. Progress takes time and you need to practice santosha while you work towards certain postures to make sure you aren’t rushing ahead of where you’re ready to be.
If you can practice santosha the journey can become a lot more enjoyable. You feel less stagnated and in turn can feel empowered. You are on your own journey of yoga, at a pace that works for you and doing it all safely. Taking time isn’t easy, slowing down isn’t easy, perhaps being the only one in the room not doing the pose isn’t easy BUT that’s what makes you stronger.
You can probably agree with and mentally understand the above but we STRUGGLE to stop the same type of comparison when it comes to social media. Somehow we see these images flicker across our screens and our brain automatically believes it deserves the same and if you don’t have it you can go into a tailspin of feeling unworthy and unimportant. Again what we do in our life has to have the right intention. When we are on social media there needs to be an intention to be content and an intention to protect ourselves from the side effects of comparison.
How do you get someone with an extreme Type A personality to practice Santosha when they interpret this as lazy and a lack of drive? Santosha does not mean be non-aspirational or stagnant with where you are and never strive for more. There are some people who are just naturally better at being content, being present and being grateful. There are others who will always struggle with this. Harriet, my wife, is one of them. She is always 10 steps ahead. Planning, cultivating and progressing. She never has moments of quiet; every book she reads is non-fiction and aimed at improving the self or business, she never just listens to music; she has an endless collection of podcasts designed to make you feel like you’re never doing enough and you can always do more lined up, and she can never do one thing at a time; multi-tasking takes on a whole other level with her as doing only 1 thing is not being efficient enough.
What does this do to our brain? When can we relax and allow our parasympathetic nervous system to switch on? It can’t is the answer. You end up suffering with anxiety in the worry that you’re never fully achieving or living up to your potential. It’s exhausting. The first step is to recognise this about yourself and then you can start to make steps to calm the sympathetic nervous system down and take a breather.
You can still be someone who has drive, a Type A personality and working towards progress whilst being content. We have a lot stacked against us before we can full reach contentment. If we lived in the countryside, with no TV, no social media and only a collection of people around us who were all pretty much equal to us we could perhaps find our path to santosha a lot easier. But that isn’t reality. We therefore need to constantly be assessing the things that create anxiety, comparison and unhappiness and try to work out ways to have them have a smaller impact on us. A digital detox, practising meta meditation (loving kindness), a gratitude journal are all great ways to tackle feelings of low self worth and lack of achievement.
Try these things out:
- Write down 20 things at the end of the day that you’re grateful for
- Write a list of people that cause you to compare or make you feel bad about yourself and then doing a loving kindness meditation with them in it
- Do the meta meditation attached at the end of this blog!
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