Contentment (Santosha)

This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop at the Asheville Yoga Center, taught by Shala Worsley. The title of the workshop was “Juicy Assists and Advanced Teaching Techniques”…the title was what drew me at first, but when I read the workshop description, I was intrigued even more. We’d be focusing on using massage-based assisting techniques to help our students achieve that “feel good” aspect to a variety of poses. So the focus is really on helping the students feel good and “juicy”, rather than feeling like they’re being “fixed” in their poses. Assisting and adjusting students is something I have never really been comfortable with, as I’m always terrified I’ll hurt someone (I was adjusted in a pose almost 8 years ago, and I STILL have knee issues from it). When I attend classes, the teachers are always adjusting and assisting, and they seem so natural doing it, so at ease. I love getting adjusted/assisted, and I’ve longed for quite some time to feel comfortable being the adjustor/assistor. So I sucked it up, swallowed my insecurity, and jumped in head first. It was the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time, let me tell you!

All weekend, I got the chance to work on a variety of bodies, getting feedback along the way about what felt good, what didn’t, getting ideas from watching the others doing assists/adjustments. My own body was compressed and kneaded to the point where I walked out of there today feeling like a wet noodle. I was completely exhausted but invigorated by all I learned from everyone.

Part of the workshop included learning some advanced teaching techniques, and the exercise we did to end today was one that really resonated with me, and I wanted to share it here. We had to structure a class around the theme of contentment (santosha, in Sanskrit). In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali states in sutra 2.42, “By contentment, supreme joy is gained.” Hmmm…how to structure a class around that….tough stuff!

It was suggested that we journal first, defining what contentment means to us. We only had a few minutes to journal, but here’s what I wrote:

“Contentment, to me, means being at peace with where I am in the present moment. If I’m not questioning my decisions, if I’m even able to make a decision and stick to it, then I’m content. If I’m not worrying about what people think of me, then I am content. If I’m able to respond to situations with a smile instead of anger or sadness, then I am content. If I’m able to love without judgment, and accept someone or something for who or what they are, without expectations, then I am content. And then…then I feel the joy of life.”

So many times, I go to a yoga class as a student and find myself getting frustrated when I can’t get into a pose the way I think I should. Or I’ll look around the room at all the flexible people, or the super strong people, and find myself wishing I could look like they do. Or I’ll key in on how wonderful a teacher is and wonder if I’m as good when I’m teaching my classes.

Those kinds of thoughts mean that I am not content. And I have those kinds of thoughts not just with my yoga, but with my running, with my professional career, my parenting skills, my friendships and other relationships. After doing this exercise today, I realize that the majority of the time, I’m ruining my ability to experience the joy of life. I’m not happy with what I have, because I am always wanting more or wanting something different.

So as I structured my class around the theme of contentment, I wanted to come up with a mantra. Some short phrase that I could repeat during the class that would remind people to be content with what IS at this very moment. So my mantra became, “Smile, accept what is, and feel the joy.” Simple words, right?

But ask yourself this. Last time you were in a yoga class, did you feel content? Did you accept where your body happened to be in each pose you did, or did you push yourself to do more than you should have? Conversely, did you back off out of fear, and end up walking away wishing you’d done more? More likely than not, you experienced contentment with some of your poses but not all of them. Which means you weren’t able to achieve the supreme joy that comes when we are truly content.

My goal right now is to repeat my mantra to myself both on and off my mat. If I repeat those words often enough, eventually I will believe them. And if I believe them, then maybe I can start to accept where I am in any situation presented to me and find that inner smile. God is with me all the time, so I need to trust that He would never put me in a situation I can’t handle successfully. I just need to stop reaching for the outcome that I think is the right one, and accept what outcome is given to me. It won’t be easy, but I’ve already seen the start.

As I said earlier, I’ve never been comfortable with adjusting or assisting students. And if I’m not comfortable, it definitely comes through in my touch…they can sense my fear, which does no one any good. But after 2.5 days of doing this, and getting honest feedback from the people I adjusted and assisted, I have a new confidence in myself. By the end of the weekend, I was adjusting without hesitation, and several people said they could tell a difference between the way my touch felt today compared to Friday evening.

My next task is to try and take this off the mat and into the other areas of my life where I lack contentment. I know I can do it. I just need to keep reminding myself that wherever I am at, I’m in the perfect place for me, at that given moment. Then…then I will feel the joy of life.

Categories Yoga

3 thoughts on “Contentment (Santosha)

  1. Thanks for sharing this! It’s sad that many people think only the super flexible wearing lots of lycra are the “good” yogis. I had so many teachers in India who looked like nothing but were such wonderful sources of insight! It’s hard to practice non-attachment, no matter if it’s to your body, success or failure. I personally think what shows on the mat is just external, much more important is what’s happening inside, where the real change takes place. It’s hard to be confronted with overly judgemental people who take what we look like as the basis of their verdict….
    Namaste! 🙂


  2. Hi there, and thank you for the feedback. I agree with you that it is really hard to practice with non-attachment….it’s something I’ve been working on since I began practicing yoga in 1999. But on the days when I am able to really focus on me, and what my mind and body are feeling, those are the days I walk off my mat with a complete feeling of bliss. 🙂


  3. OH your blog is sooo good! Very open and honest, and I LOVE THAT!!! I will be digesting all I’ve read here tonight for some time to come, I think….

    I got your request to be added to my reader list, but I cannot allow any more readers without paying. 😦



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