Grounding Into Gratitude: Practicing Santosha on and off the mat

Source: PSU Vanguard

Are we forever chasing rainbows?

Oftentimes, we think that if we get a promotion, get more money, lose weight, have better skin, get a bigger house, or get better with our asanas, we will be happier. We humans are in the constant chase for something that we don’t have, and once we do achieve what we wanted, we would aim for something else, something better. Psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill because we’re running after something only to end up in the same place- desiring more of what we don’t have. 

Santosha, the second of five niyamas, is the Sanskrit word for contentment, which, as stated in the Yoga Sūtra, “brings about unsurpassed joy.”  Niyamas are literally translated as positive duties or observances. Together with Yamas, these are recommended activities and habits to cultivate a healthy lifestyle, and spiritual enlightenment. Santosha tells us that we can only truly find happiness from within, and relying on external factors will never bring us peace. This niyama invites us to be content in the present, and know that we are complete and enough the way we are. This is not to say that we should never have desires or goals. The niyama is simply inviting us to stop wasting energy thinking about what we lack. Instead, we should enjoy the journey, live in the present, and be thankful for what we do have. Intrinsic happiness is unconditional. 

The secret to the law of attraction is to believe that we already have what we want. To manifest the best version of ourselves, we need to be grateful with ourselves and be happy where we are. Yoga is an amazing practice to work on changing our self-harming thought patterns for the better. 

 

How to practice santosha on the mat: 

  • Don’t compare yourself with other yogis. All of us have probably fallen prey to this: a difficult asana comes up in class which we’re not confident of doing; instead of practicing, we look around and compare ourselves with others. Or when we’re stuck in our phones, we tend to look at all these yogi Youtubers and sulk about not being as strong and flexible as them. Santosha tells us to shift the focus back to improving ourselves for the sake of personal growth instead of spending time wishing we had someone else’s physical abilities. Give yourself freedom to enjoy where you are in your practice.
  • Be compassionate to your body. We often forget how much our bodies provide for us: it gets us to walk, run, and perform our daily activities without much thinking. The fact that we can breathe, show up in our mat, and do asanas when we want to is amazing in itself. The least we can do is be thankful by not bringing physical harm to it and to stop saying hurtful words to it. 

Also understand that your body will be different each day depending on what you eat, how well you sleep, the quality of air you breathe, your mental state, etc. Some days you’re stronger, other days you’re very tight. Accept it for what it is at the present and know that your body will always evolve.  

  • Be present in your practice. What makes physical yoga distinct from other workouts is its mind-body-breath connection. It’s normal to get distracted with thoughts of the future or past when you’re practicing. When that happens, acknowledge the thought and try your best to bring yourself back to your movement through focusing on the breath. Being present makes your poses and breathwork more precise too. 
  • Always start and end your practice with namaste. Deciding to show up for yourself on the mat is an excellent practice of self-care. Acknowledge that you are alive, breathing, and your body can perform these asanas for you. That’s already a lot of things to be grateful for. 

 

How to practice santosha off the mat: 

 

  • Start and end your day with gratitude. In the morning, list three constant things in your life that you are grateful for. It could be the presence of your friends, family, a steady source of income, a roof on top of your head, a place to sleep, food to eat, a body that works hard for you, the fact that you’re still alive. When you start your day focusing on these things instead of what you don’t have, you will attract more things to be thankful for. At the end of the day, think about what happened in the day that you’re grateful for.

 

  • Let go of what you can’t control. Oftentimes, the source of discontentment is from things we can’t change or influence such as those that happened in the past or others’ opinions of us. Don’t sacrifice your bliss and headspace for these moments. Instead, focus on what you can directly control which ultimately is yourself- your breath, your attitude, your reaction to things. You can choose to be disappointed or accepting of events. 

 

  • Let go of expectations and perfection. Practice remaining calm in success or failure. Find ease in whatever you’re doing and completely enjoy the process. If you focus on the progress instead of the result, you are directed back to the present and appreciate how far you’ve come. Expectations often leave you frustrated with how far you need to go. Completely surrender to the moment and let life surprise you. 

 

  • Go outside and appreciate the world around you. If you’ve been taking the blue sky, tall trees, or building murals for granted, marvel at them today. Look at all their details and relish the fact that you get to live with all these beauty. Allow yourself to be moved by the wonder of nature. You can keep the state of Santosha by disconnecting from technology so you can really stay in the present.
  • Take yourself in on a date.  To find santosha, you must spend some time alone to truly rid yourself of external validation. You must be content and accept yourself for who you truly are. Yes, your relationships are important and without others, you probably won’t survive but you must be careful on making others the source of your happiness. Sustainable contentment only come from within.

Beyond Truthfulness: practicing Satya on and off the mat

Image Source: www.bindiyoga.ca

 

`Yamas` (moral discipline) are observances recommended by yogic philosophy and teaching as part of the eight-limbed path of yoga, developed by Patanjali. Unlike a commandment that has to be strictly followed, the five yamas are established for enthusiasts to develop a mindful and healthy lifestyle.

The second yama is called Satya. The Sanskrit word literally translates to fact, reality, or true nature in English. In its simplest form, satya means upholding the truth. Although the yama certainly encompasses honesty, it also includes integrity to ourselves, our lives, and our inner divine. The practice invites us to be our truest, most authentic selves. More than simply telling your truth, you have to also practice and live it. 

For instance, you can’t keep saying that you want a break but also accept overtime work from your office; or know deep down that you want to commit into a serious relationship but go on casual, meaningless dates.  These small contradictions keep us from manifesting what it is we really want. Satya encourages us to align our thoughts, words, and actions with our desires, while keeping them pure and harmless. 

Reflection piece: In what situations do you notice that your actions are in conflict with what you feel? Why? Who or what are you protecting?

Note: truth shouldn’t cause harm

This yama doesn’t invite us to be frank and forward in telling negative observations, no matter how truthful they are. Our ethical code doesn’t live in a bubble. There’s a reason why ahimsa (non-violence) is the first yama. It tells us that whatever we do should not cause harm to others. Hence, if telling your version of the truth will hurt others, you have to think twice whether your opinion matters. Practicing satya isn’t simply about blindly telling the truth regardless of the consequence. It’s making sure that you speak and act with thought and intention instead of just saying whatever is on your mind. 

 

How to practice satya on the mat

  • Set an intention in your practice. Your intention is the truth as to why you are on the mat today. It will direct your reality. Is your intention to get stronger? To get better sleep? To feel less stressed? Whenever you feel like you don’t want to practice, remind yourself of your intention to get on the mat. 
  • Listen to your physical body. Pain, discomfort, and injury are different languages that your body uses to communicate its truth. Don’t ignore that. If you’re feeling tired, or healing from an injury, don’t force yourself into doing another Chaturanga Dandanasana. It’s a violation of both satya and ahimsa
  • Rather than believing that you are not strong, flexible, or good enough, honor the reality of your body: it just needs practice. Everybody can improve through practice, and no one is an exception. 

 

How to practice satya off the mat

  • Do you feel that you are striving for things that you don’t actually want, but are conditioned by society, family, friends, or loved ones as things you should aspire to have? Ask the hard questions and be completely honest with yourself on whether you are living the life that aligns with your truth.  
  • Make sure that you speak to yourself and others with kindness and intention. Before speaking, ask yourself: is what I’m saying good, true, and beneficial? 
  • Speak up for yourself when your voice needs to be heard.
  • Shift from judgment to observation. For instance, instead of saying “I am fat”, say “My body doesn’t meet yet my standards but it can always improve.” In the first sentence, you are imposing your standards on the world by labeling yourself fat and calling it your reality; in the second, you are simply and clearly expressing your need (to be less fat) in the moment.

The Yamas and my Headstand Practice

I found Yoga Philosophy to be very abstract and difficult to understand when I first came across it during the YTT theory lessons. After thinking them through and reading more about them, I came to appreciate them more and see how they relate to our everyday lives and in my yoga practice.

Particularly, I found myself remembering some of the yamas (Ahimsa, Asteya, and Aparigraha) when I was trying (very hard) to practise my headstand.

Ahimsa – non-violence; to not hurt yourself and others with words or actions

  • I had difficulties in getting both legs up in headstand at first and felt a lot of my weight being pushed onto my head and neck, even though I tried my best to push into my shoulders. I was adamant on getting both legs up that I tried again and again, even when my neck and shoulders were getting sore. I ended up getting a sore neck the following day and I knew that I probably had pushed myself too hard.
  • Remembering ahimsa, we need to take care to not push ourselves over what we can take, and rest when it is needed.

Asteya – non-stealing; freeing oneself of jealous instincts

  • Besides the literal meaning of not committing theft, asteya also means to refrain from coveting others’ possessions, time, abilities etc.
  • In the past, it was common for me to look up from my mat to see how others were doing in a yoga class. Some of them could do advanced poses easily whereas I was struggling as I was not flexible or strong enough. As I grew older (and more mature haha) I began to understand that what others are doing does not matter to me in my own practice.
  • Even so, in trying to achieve headstand, I found myself thinking about how others seem to do it so effortlessly and wishing that I had that ability too. And then I remembered asteya – instead of focusing on my “lack”, I can shift my focus to gratitude. I am thankful that my body allows me to practise yoga and I know it is getting stronger and better every day. Also, as Master Paalu often tells us, we need to believe in ourselves and our capabilities, because it is in us!

Aparigraha – non-attachment; non-grasping; non-possessiveness

  • Aparigraha suggests that we do not accumulate more than we need. This can mean wealth or material goods, or in my interpretation in relation to yoga practice, we do not need to “accumulate asanas”, as if there’s a checklist for us to track how many poses we can do.
  • Greed and accumulation may stem from a fear of not having enough, or not being good enough.
  • Practising aparigraha may also mean reducing or removing the attachment you have to outcomes. Instead of focusing on the destination – a headstand, I can focus on the journey to achieving it. We have been taught in our training that asanas are just the final posture, the movements leading to that are what’s key. And when we have gotten our desired outcomes, we should not be too attached to it and instead remember the journey of getting there (you have worked hard!).

Thanks for reading and hope this will help you to reflect on how you have incorporated the yamas or the other limbs of yoga in your daily life or yoga practice too 🙂

How to include yoga in our daily routine – Part 1

For years, I have always felt good and at peace after each yoga practice and I think that is what yoga is about. It was only until this course that I realized there is much more than asanas! Hence, I would definitely like to add more yoga into my daily routine. But I am always tied for time, so I will implement it in the most easiest and sustainable way that suits my current lifestyle.
Here’s how. First of all, I will start with my thoughts. This requires no physical effort but more on awareness and mindfulness. Practice Yama at all times! This will be a guiding principle to make my daily decisions. Be it at work, at home, teaching kids or with friends.
Next will be food choices. I will be honest, it is impossible for me to avoid Rajasic and Tamasic food totally. However, I can definitely minimize them and choose more sattvic food not just for myself but also for my family.
Thirdly, I will be more mindful in my postures. For example, whenever I need to pick things up from the floor, instead of squatting down, I can bend from the hip, keeping back straight, to get a good stretch for the entire back and hamstring.
I will also take note of my standing posture. I have hyperextended knee and this probably explains my weak knee joint. Before this, I don’t even know knee can be hyperextended!
These are the few simple adjustments that I can add in my daily routine and I am confident I can practice this for a lifetime.

Raja Yoga- Yama

When I was first introduced to the eight limbs of raja yoga/ashtanga yoga in class, I found that the first limb, Yama, seems to be similar to the Ten Commandments. So I went to read up more about it.
Yama refers to the disappearance of all suppression. It describes five moral restrains that governs our interactions with other and they are Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha.

  1. Ahimsa- “Non-violence”

A person who is firmly established in non-violence, all hostilities towards another will completely disappear, and suddenly love arises from the abandonment of violence. From a Christian perspective, this yama resonates strongly with Jesus’s greatest commandment- to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus did not harbor any hate or grudges on those who had betrayed him, yet He showed forgiveness. He repeatedly emphasized the need to forgive people, and to do good to everyone.

  1. Satya- “Truthfulness”

A person who firmly established in truthfulness, he will be living truth, he will be walking with truth and all actions will be aligned to truth. Being truthful in all things is of paramount importance in yoga but it must be balanced with Ahimsa. The commandment “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” mirrors Satya.

  1. Asteya- “Non-stealing, non-covertedness”

When a person is completely established in non-theft of other possessions, all treasures and ornaments appear and present itself to the person. This mirrors the commandment “You shall not steal” and “You shall not covet what belongs to your neighbour’s”.

  1. Brahmacharya- “Moderation”

Brahmacharya states that when we have control over our physical impulses of excess, we attain knowledge, vigor and increased energy. By practicing Brahmacharya, we can achieve balance, creating moderation in our daily activities. From a Christian perspective, the seventh commandment “You shall not commit adultery” doesn’t exactly mirror this. However, the commandment encompasses the human sexuality. The virtue of chastity comes under the fundamental virtue of abstinence and seeks to moderate the passions and appetites of the senses with reasons.

  1. Aparigraha- “Non-possessiveness”

The word “parigraha” is greed rooted in jealousy. Aparigraha encourages a simple and modest lifestyle. Being established in non-possessiveness, all the possibilities of how, why, where and when about the various existences are revealed to you. When you are not possessive of the body and mind, you comply with the present. Similarly, this mirrors the commandment “You shall not covet whatever that belongs to your neighbor”. The parable of the rich fool also underlines the danger of putting material possessions over God.
 
Happy Good Friday
Amanda
200 hours YTT Jan weekends

Yamas

Yamas

The first of the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga (or Raja) Yoga is the Yamas. The word Yama in Sanskrit translates in to English loosely to mean Restraint. Thus the first Limb of the practice of Ashtanga is to restraint in how you deal with the world outside of yourself. There are five Yamas, which are outlined below:

 

Ahimsa – Non-violence

Violence is not always literal, and so this must not be taken literally and in the traditional interpretation of the word. We can be violent in not taking action when we see or hear brutality and negativity in others, or push our emotions onto another. Forcing your opinion onto someone else is violent in the way you project your idea or lifestyle on another and expect them to change accordingly. Telling someone to believe something, act or speak a certain way, or go without something they personally need or desire is also violent. When we practice Ahimsa we acknowledge pain and suffering, desires and needs, opinions and beliefs. We appreciate the way things vary and where change and assistance are asked from you, the return is gentle and progress in to a new path is felt on a deeper level where it can be acknowledged fully.

 

Satya – Truthfulness

Lying comes as second nature to many people, not only lying to others but also lying to ourselves. Lying cannot be considered as just speaking the truth to others, but also being truthful in your actions. There is no way you can successfully show honesty towards others, if you are actions are filled with deceit and lies. By being truthful, we encourage it in those around us. By being truthful within your mind you are building a stronger identity for others to appreciate your actions.

 

Brahmacharya – Chastity

Chastity is not to ignore your sexual urges. Chastity is only to allow that you are not controlled and ruled by these urges. We are animals with base instincts to be secure, fed, watered and reproduce. When we indulge in our base instincts regularly we begin to be overcome by them and lose some control of how we manage the rest of our lives. The practice of Bramacharya is the practice of acknowledging that we have these urges and with-holding our minds from being taken over with the drive to fulfill these needs to a point where our Mind and Soul cannot function.

 

Asteya – Not Coveting

In life we should be at peace with the possessions and relationships that we create, attain and receive without desiring instead the relationships, possessions and successes of others around us. The ideal of what we need and what we are lacking is a creation of doubt and unhappiness within our minds. Peace and contentment will not be achieved while longing exists outside of our being for something that we do not have. It is so easy to miss life this way, and happiness for the success of another cannot be genuinely expressed whilst you feel this jealousy.

 

Aparigraha – Without greed

The giving of something, whether it is a physical item, mental or emotional stimulation or simply some time and effort, without an expectation of anything in return, helps enrich the soul. True Aparigraha is the act of giving, not because we judge we are better than another so ‘it is our duty to help’, instead we give for the sake of giving and the way it makes ourselves feel. If the person in the supermarket is a little short of their change and you can provide this change, simply do. Don’t think or analyse or ignore. This is how we abstain from greed.

The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga: Yamas or Restraints (Number 3)

The first limb of Raja yoga is a set of Yamas or restraints. These can be seen as a form of guidance to the student to help them live a more focused and fruitful life. The third Yama is called Asteya, which is a guide to restrain from acts of theft or covetedness and refrain from jealousy. Asteya, meaning “do not steal” is a very wide ranging statement. We all think of stealing as maybe going into a shop and taking goods without payment or holding up a bank and taking money which isn’t ours. However, Asteya can come into much more day-to-day aspects of our lives and in ways we might not have thought about previously. Let’s look at some examples of how this can be seen. As an example, we are due to meet with a good friend and we have set a time of 6pm to meet at a location in town. According to Asteya we should do our utmost to be on time for this meeting as to be late is to be stealing time from our friend. In this instance stealing time results from wasting their time by not being punctual and having them doing nothing while they wait for us. Another area we can think about is by stealing our environment – a phrase that is hard to imagine but by polution and fouling up of our natural environment we are effectively stealing it from others to enjoy or from the natural inhabitants to live and survive. So, as we can see Asteya can guide us to prevent loss of many things that would otherwise be “stolen” from their owners. By and large, Asteya helps us to be respectful and courteous to our natural habitat and environment.

Following the yamas and niyamas

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.
 

Yamas

The Yamas and Niyamas form the first two “limbs” of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga.  They are the restraints and observances that are evident in our behavior and reflect our attitudes about ourselves.  They are a fundamental part of “yogic lifestyle.”
The yamas are the “restraints”.  It is important to note that one must restrain without suppression (rather covert the energy to something positive).  Suppression will lead to frustration and will have a negative effect on the mind as evident in the behavior.  For example, if I tell myself I cannot eat chocolate I will just want it more and more till I eventually eat it and probably too much!  This behavior may not be very destructive in itself, but my attitude is changed for the worst.  I will suffer feelings of loss of control, poor confidence and will mentally feel failure.  A better approach would be to ask myself why I am desiring the chocolate and work from the inside out.  This will take time but the result will be much better.  Pranayama, concentration and meditation would all be useful tools to help me change my behavior.
The yamas include:
1. Ahimsa–Non-violence in both thoughts and actions.  This includes thoughts and attitudes about oneself!  This is the reason yogis are vegetarians and refrain from eating an animal that must be killed for the purpose of consumption.
2.  Satya–Truthfulness.  This is reflected behaviorally in what we say–not telling lies and being pure in our speech.  If our speech is not pure, the mind will not be pure.
3.  Brahmacharya–sublimation of sexual energy.  This not only refers to sex itself but also to lust.  Wanting something so badly that it consumes our thoughts and drives our behavior will not lead to a calm mind.
4.  Asteya–non-stealing, lack of jealousy.  This means we are not to be distracted by what we don’t have.  Covetousness only leads to impure thoughts and discontent.  Being “non-stealing” means that if we want something it must come from pure motive and hard work.
5.  Aparigraha–non accepting of gifts or bribes.  This has to do with our motives.  Motives must be pure–if I am only acting to recieve some reward in return it is not pure and will hind my mind.  This includes self-bribery–“if I eat healthy all week I will buy myself some new shoes.”
The Yamas/restraints are the first step to purifying our minds and transforming ourselves through the practice of yoga.  I feel it is important to remember that it is a process and we must patiently transform from the inside out.  With a clear conscience and pure thoughts we will begin the pathway to peace.  Practicing the yamas will help anyone enjoy a better lifestyle whether or not they choose to continue further the practice of yoga.