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Contentment…but not in our practice?

Today I got am email from my friend Norman in response to my post about my learnings from the 30 Day Yoga Challenge.

I wrote:

The word in sanskrit for contentment, or satisfaction is santosha. One of the niyamas, santosha is about being satisfied with things exactly as they are; not requiring any more or any less, instead, maintaining that everything is exactly as it should be… It’s so easy to find fault in ourselves and others, and often much more challenging to accept wholeheartedly what is. This is true whether contemplating the asana practice, assessing how well one has done one’s job, accepting the opportunities available at any given time, or one’s limitations. We are all doing the best we can given our current life situations, and, try as we may, it is impossible and debilitating to compare ourselves to anyone else. We are all unique.

To which he responded:

I’ve recently read ‘Sivananda Buried Yoga’ where the author – Yogi Mammoyanand – says this: “Contentment is a virtue when it is applied to material greed. The niyama of contentment does not actually apply to the spiritual desires of the aspirant. To ascend in the realms of spirituality, contentment is only a hindrance. A yogi should always remind himself “neti-neti” (this is not yet it, this is not yet it)’”.

While I haven’t yet read Sivananda Buried Yoga (though did just purchase it on Amazon, so expect a review soon), I can’t help but imagine that contentment on the mat and from a spiritual perspective would be a effective tool to stay in an uplifted, present state of mind – a state of needing nothing.

In my own practice I have certainly benefitted from the reminder that going deeper into an asana won’t necessarily make me a happier, more blissful being. The concept of santosha has also aided me tremendously in unconditional self-acceptance. That is not to say that I’ve become complacent, it’s just to say that in a culture so rife with expectation, self-critique and judgement, the idea that we can embrace fully who we are, and how we practice on and off the mat is refreshing and beneficial to many.

Perhaps being content with things as they are slows down or even grinds to a halt svadyaya the fourth of the niyamas, meaning self-reflection or self study. It may even present an obstacle to the practice of faith and devotion, the fifth niyama, ishwara pranidhanad. My interpretation, however, is that because santosha supersedes svadyaya and ishwara pranidhanad in the list of niyamas, it is given that santosha is present when practicing both self-study and devotional faith, much the same way that ahimsa (non-harming) is present when practicing satya (truthfulness). Is it Just a case of semantics, or is the spiritual practice of yoga meant to keep one in a state of non-attainment (Neti, Neti). Or perhaps non-attainment is the true state of santosha- ruling out all conscious observation and still being content. What is your interpretation?

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