As Thanksgiving approaches, it is a time to focus on gratitude, or santosha! Gratitude has a way of opening the heart to compassion and love. Fostering gratitude in our lives can help us to feel happier and more spiritually balanced.
In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, we are introduced to The Eight Limbs of Yoga. The first two limbs are the yamas and niyamas, the ethical yoga guidelines to be practiced both on and off the yoga mat. Niyama, our observances, is the second of limb of yoga. Santosha, the yogic practice of cultivating contentment, is one of the niyamas.
In The Yoga Sutra II.42, Patanjali says “By contentment, supreme joy is gained.” Contentment means just to be as we are without going to outside things for our happiness. TKV Desikachar translates this Sutra as “The result of contentment is total happiness.” The happiness we get from acquiring posessions is only temporary. We need to continually find new possesions to sustain this sort of happiness. There is no end to it. But true contentment leads to total happiness and bliss.
Santosha is the experience of unconditional happiness, a state that allows us to find contentment in any situation. “If we depend on objects and activities for our happiness, like chocolate, shopping, napping, or even sticking to the poses we love most, we will constantly be searching outside of ourselves,” says Yoga Master Cindy Lee. Contentment, or unconditional happiness, is independence from external conditions.
Contentment is learning to embrace what is right in front of you and to stop yearning for what is missing. As the holidays approach, try to carry this principle of santosha into your life off of the mat. Allow yourself to experience true happiness, even as you are faced with challenges this holiday season. Remember that “by contentment, supreme joy is gained.”
Follow this simple meditation on gratitude this month to experience the truth of this Thanksgiving holiday season. Come into a comfortable seated posture, on the floor or in a chair. Close your eyes and allow yourself to relax by taking 10 slow, deep breaths. When you feel relaxed and comfortable, put your attention on your heart and for the next few minutes, think of all the things in your life that you could be grateful for. Just sit there quietly. As you think of all the things that you could be grateful for, experience the warmth that gratitude brings into your heart. There is so much to be grateful for and this feeling of gratitude brings even deeper feelings of love, compassion, and understanding into your heart. Sit quietly with these feelings for a few minutes, and when you’re ready, slowly open your eyes.