Santosha is the second Niyama, or virtuous habit, which is the 2nd of the 8 limbs of yoga. It means contentment regardless or circumstances and its practice cultivates a joyful and serene mind that is free from craving.
From an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained. – Yoga Sutra 2.42
Santosha is such a powerful state of mind because it facilitates all of the other yama and niyama. One who is free from wanting ever more is less likely to steal (asteya), hoard (aparigraha) or use things to excess (bramacharya). Being accepting of ourselves, others we meet, and our circumstances, we feel no need to lie (satya) or cause harm (ahimsa). When we don’t expend all our energy pursuing the things we think we want or trying to change others or our uncontrollable circumstances, we have more space to look inward, know ourselves and direct our attention toward the greater good.
It is quite a skill to be able to accept whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. When we open to experience, rather than denying it or pushing it away, we are more capable of responding with wisdom. We learn to be satisfied with no more and no less than what we really need. We cease to be distracted by appearances and that which is impermanent, instead taking comfort in what is already here within each of us – that which is eternal.
He whose mind is calm, who is endowed with the “Four Means” of salvation, who is free from defects and impurities can realise the Self intuitively through meditation… Shanti (quiescence of mind), Santosha (contentment), Satsanga (association with wise teachers) and Vichara (self enquiry) are the four sentinels (the Four Means) who guard the gates of Moksha (liberation). If you make friendship with them, you will easily enter the kingdom of Moksha. Even if you keep company with one of them, he will surely introduce you to his other three companions. – Yoga Vasishtha
Being content regardless of circumstances doesn’t mean we passively resign ourselves to mistreatment. Rather, it means we are better able to see things as they are, abiding calmly with whatever arises with an open mind. It is from this vantage point that we are better able to respond. How can we respond wisely when we the mind is agitated, driven by afflictive emotions such as passion and aggression, distracted by efforts to grasp and avoid, or blinded by denial?
In practicing santosha in our daily lives we can:
- notice when we are judging and comparing and instead do our best to adopt beginner’s mind, seeing each experience as new and unique – an opportunity for learning.
- experiment with letting go of likes and dislikes, allowing ourselves to truly be with what is here now regardless of our preferences.
- adopt an attitude of gratitude, giving more attention to the beneficial or useful things we receive every day from others and our environment.
- remind ourselves that all things are ever-changing and impermanent, so we can savor each moment knowing it is all that we really have and it is enough.