You must be wondering, how this small, adorable little creature could have helped me in understanding profound Yoga philosophy concepts. Yet, the beautiful thing is also that the path of knowing is subjective to the individual and how each theory is contextualized in the lives of the students. In mine, I found my dog to be the best embodiment of Santosha.
Santosha is one of the 5 Niyamas under the second limb of Raja Yoga. Niyama refers to an observation within and how one handles themselves within the inside world – the internal battle. By achieving the 5 niyamas, the individual is on their way to the highest moral character and ethcial conduct.
Another word for contentment, Santosha refers to that inner peace of mind that should not be relied on external circumstances, since these external factors are always changing in ways byond our control. This requires us to enjoy exactly what each day brings, to be satisfied with what we have. In other words, the action of seeking ceases. By elimination the action of seeking, one also clears out worries and burdens, which are deriaritives of seeking.
A simple definition illustrated by Master Paaulu defined contentment as being in the center of happy and sad.
Like in many other moral concepts in life, finding middle ground is always the preferred destination.
We can always practice Santosha in the beautiful and joyous experiences of our lives. For example, getting a pay raise, celebrating your birthday, receiving gifts from people, etc. However, Patanjali encourages us to be equally willing to embrace the difficult moments because when we can be contented in the midst of difficulty, we are truly set free.
A second part to this niyama also talks about the world’s evils and corruptions, such as achievements and acquisitions. Although material wealth and success are not evil, they can never in themselves provide contentment. Therefore, it is up to the beholder of these assessts to ensure that inner contentment still exists. Neverthless, these world possessions opens up the floodgates for worries and burdens to set in, and Santosha to fade away, which is why many teachers may warn against materialism.
No, Cyci was not this master guru who warned me against materialism. He was in my opinion, the living example of what is meant to be contented. Midway during my 200hr teacher-training programme, Cyci was diagnosed with heart and kidney failure. Since then, he had to be hospitalized. My daily routine consisted of yoga classes till 3pm, then driving to the hospital to visit him before returning in time for dinner, and a few hours for me to read and write.
Although the first few days of his hospitalization wasn’t very smooth (his creatine levels were going up, and he was starting to have fluid in the lungs), my little boy was still extremely bright and energetic. To me, he looked like he had a perpetual smile on his face. (Trust me, you’ll learn how to judge a happy dog from a miserable one once you’re in the place full of sick animals)
This pained me terribly.
I couldn’t see the correlation between his inner body and his outer mannerisms. It was as though he did not know what was going on inside him. All he did was to look forward to seeing his family coming to cuddle and baby talk him. His innocence to his impending fate was so overwhelming and puzzling. I thought, he was not ready to leave this humanly world at all, he is still too happy!
Take this analogy for example. An old 90-year-old man being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer versus a 10-year-old child being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Naturally, people feel more for the 10-year-old girl. But, why is this so?
My revelation came when I read deeper into Santosha. This 90-year-old man would evidently have had more possessions in the natural world – more success, more experience, more wealth compared to the 10-year-old girl. Therefore, people would have felt that death for the little girl was unjustified since she has yet to experience any of those of the man.
This emphasizes the fact that humans derive happiness from material and wordly possessions. One of the ultimate goals in life for many people would be material abundance and financial wealth. Like how a saying in Singapore goes about the 5Cs of life – Car, Cash, Condo, Credit Card and a Coutry Club membership.
Just like the 10-year-old girl, Cyci had none of these possessions. He didn’t care for any either, he never seeked. Despite his bobily weakness, his contentment freed him from all the unncessary worldy sufferings and explains his emotional brightness.
And when he leaves us, he leaves us pure, innocent, and untainted, with none of the world’s evil corrupting him.
As I write this article, Cyci has been discharged. He lies beside me right now, staring at me with his bright beady eyes. His heart weakens, his wheezing loudens, his kidneys slows…
Anyone can practice yoga. You just need a small amount of space and a strong desire for a healthier, more fulfilled life.
When I first began my practice, I was drawn to yoga as a way to keep my body supple and fit. However through the years, I had gained much more than what I initially wanted to achieve, in terms of spiritually and emotionally.
Yoga is not only about how well you do asana, how high you can jump, how far you can reach/stretch, how flexible you are, it is about bringing your mind and thoughts under control. If you can achieve that, then there is literally no limit to what you can do, since it is only our own illusions and preconceptions that hold us back and prevent us from fulfilling ourselves.
In order to bring your mind and thoughts under control, you must first still your mind to glimpse a state of inner peace.
In the Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga, one of the Niyama, Saucha, requires the cleanliness of the internal and external body. Purifying the mind is a difficult matter; it involves the clearing of old resentments, hurt, prejudice. Mental accumulation hinders clear thoughts and stops you from moving forward in life.
I was initially unable to still my mind because I had an extremely unresolved sorrow and regret that was continuously rewinding and repeating in my head. It took me a long while to respond to these strong emotions that I have. It not mean cowering away from life, but simply recognizing them and acknowledge the presence. Yoga allows me to see things as they really are without being hindered by associate thoughts, seeing things as they are rather than what it seems. It helps me to live in the here and now; I control my own mind and thoughts. With each action that I take, be it in the yoga asana, or just strolling in the park, I immerse myself with the action.
I once asked a friend what happiness meant to her, and she said buying the latest limited edition branded bag, she feels happy when everyone compliments it….Few months later when the bag is old and on one really bothers, will she still be happy?
It is stupid to search for happiness. I believe happiness and peace lies within, experience it.
The eight limbs are termed as such because of their equal importance. Referring to each pathway as a ‘limb’ signifies each stages importance in becoming a whole enlightened being. The purpose of living these eight limbs is to achieve Yoga as a state of being.
In the west people often begin with the third limb and practice asanas first, however it is more desirable to live all the yamas and niyamas prior to physical practice to purify the mind in preparation for asanas and meditation. The objective is not to suppress the desire to oppose the yamas and niyamas, but to stop the desire for such things. Only when the mind is pure can it be controlled and focused.
The yamas are considered ‘moral guidelines’, the word ‘restraint is not desirable as it suggests repression of traits which may bubble under the surface and eventually explode outwards. The yamas are also reminiscent of the guidelines we were taught as children, such as don’t tell lies, don’t hurt others, don’t steal etc. indicating the desire to return to a state of innocence that we had when we were young, before we were tarnished by Maya. Observance of these Yamas is from the navel (site of the Manipura Chakra) and help to attain a healthy mind and body and one must follow them without a desire for any end goals.
The five Yamas are:
a. Ahimsa: Non violence, non injury (this includes harm to ones self)
b. Satya: Truthfulness, non telling of lies. One must be careful not to always speak the truth as this can have a very powerful and directional effect
c. Brahmacharya: Chastity, sublimation of sexual energy. Harness this energy for creativity and discovery
d. Asteya: Non stealing, non covetedness, lack of jealousy
e. Aparigraha: Non acceptance of gifts or bribes. Observance of this yama gives you knowledge of past and future lives folding in front of you
The niyamas are actions you take in relation to yourself, and together with the yamas form a person of high moral character and ethics. Observation of all the yamas and niyamas purify and uplift the mind in preparation for deep meditation.
The five niyama are:
a. Saucha: purity (both internal and external, of the body and mind), this Niyama gives a person strong senses and joyful awareness
b. Santosha: Contentment in all things
c. Tapas: Auserity, a burning enthusiasm in everything you do, burns away impurities
d. Swadyhyaya: Study of religious scripture (and self study) allows one to commune with a desired deity
e . Ishwara-pranidha: Worship of the lord, surrender of the ego. This final niyama brings you Samadhi
Regardless of the practice of yoga or the adoption of a religion, following the guidelines of the yamas and niyamas will help every one of us to lead better lives and improve the lives of those around us. My personal aim is to strive everyday to become a better person and let go of my negative qualities in the hope I will improve myself each day.