It is easy to observe, especially during the holidays, that humans have a tendency to search for happiness and joy through external experiences and material possessions. Families go into debt planning Holiday vacations and purchasing gifts for their loved ones. After the return flight is boarded, and the last gift unwrapped, they often settle back into a feeling of discontent, and the search for the next thing that will make life enjoyable continues. This cycle repeats itself throughout our lifetimes, with many of us spending years climbing the corporate ladder, hoping that the next promotion or salary increase will bring with it a sense of joy and inner peace.
Before I began practicing yoga, I often operated out of a fixed belief that if life were easier, if I had more money or another degree, or traveled abroad, I would somehow be more joyful or at peace, and less apt to be annoyed by the unending imperfection of my surroundings. I placed the responsibility for my happiness outside of myself. This was a direct result of the cultural expectations and social norms that were in place during my formative years. While it is not anyone’s fault that our society is in this vicious cycle of consumption and discontent, we do have an obligation to ourselves and future generations to interrupt it--- to spread the word that our joy and happiness comes from within! This is the greatest gift that my yoga practice has given me.
I strive to share with all of the students who attend my classes that contentment is a practice; it doesn’t just happen to you. In yoga, this concept is called santosha. Santosha is choosing peace over anger, contentment instead of frustration, and love in the presence of judgement. They are all states of being that we can choose, regardless of what is happening in our lives. This doesn’t mean that feeling anger, guilt, or frustration, is wrong; our bodies are meant to experience the entire spectrum of human emotion. We just don’t have to let our emotions rob us of our peaceful inner state. Some experiences in this life will knock us off center, for sure, but how long does it take to get back into balance? The longer a person practices santosha, the easier it is to recalibrate and come back into a state of peace and contentment.
Santosha is a practice that requires mindfulness, gratitude, and presence. When your emotions are getting the better of you, and you're feeling discontent, try these three practices to bring you back to center: First, notice the steady rise and fall of your breath and allow your mind to quiet down. Second, notice the air on your skin, the space between your fingers, and the beat of your heart. Third, and most importantly, write down what you are grateful for. These simple practices bring your awareness back to the present moment. It is here, in the now, where you will find contentment, peace, and joy.