As a deep-diving, high-flying, full-throttle feeling person, I will never forget what my yoga teacher Tias Little told me. We sat on rocks under the vast New Mexico sky, the red-sand desert stretching out in all directions: “Your asana is strong. Meditate. And cultivate Santosha.”
Santosha, “contentment,” is the second of Patanjali’s Niyamas, or observances, in the eight-limbed path of yoga, and is a necessary part of the yogic journey to self-realization and peace.
Derived from Saṃ (सं, सम्) and Tosha(तोष, तुष्), SaM, means "completely," and Tosha, "contentment" or "satisfaction.” Combined, the word Santosha translates to "completely content with, or satisfied with, accepting and comfortable."
It’s not angsty, nor is it greedy. Neither boring nor passive. Santosha is an inner state of joyful satisfaction with what is—what we have, and who we are. Right now. And moving forward from there. Santosha is serenity, not complacency.
It’s goals without attachment; desire without the barbwire. A mental and moral choice. It’s something we practice.
Try this. Make fists. Squeeze tight. Notice how no light gets through, and your knuckles are probably turning white. This is not Santosha. This is suffering. Now, open your palms. See the receptive vessels they become. Ready for action, yes, but also allowing for what is, and what is to come. This is Santosha.
Contentment. Acceptance. Ease…
But politics and complicated medical bills, work drama and NEVER ANY PARKING. What to do with all that nuclear waste? Sickness. High School. Hurricanes.
Yes, that’s why Santosha is not passive. It’s consciously active. Muscular. It takes grit and grace to practice equanimity. The breath helps. Asana helps. Mediation helps. Self-study helps. And chocolate helps. A lot.
I recently had a heated conversation with my insurance company who is refusing to see my Emergency Room visit—my eye was red, burning, swelling shut, and losing vision—as a “legitimate” emergency. I have one eye. Scary potential blindness, temporary or not, is legit.
My voice increasingly impassioned, tears pushing at the dam, I ended the call and put the phone on the ground. I did not chuck it into the nearby fence. I very much wanted to chuck it into the nearby fence. To break something! I credit my meditation practice for giving me the wherewithal to slow my reactivity, breathe, and put the phone down.
Should I be “content” with shoddy insurance practices? No, but Santosha is the invitation to not do stupid shit. Instead, find the breath, stabilize, and know this too is temporary and benign. And, yes, from that clearer, more cohesive place, we can take action.
(I resolved the problem over the next few days by getting back on the phone I did not chuck into the fence and formally requesting the insurance company review the claim.)
Santosha helps us navigate the fiery stuff, but what about the everyday malaise?
Sometimes we are neither high nor low, neither uncomfortable or comfortable. We’re not necessarily sad, but that ease of joy we might often know feels elusive. Nothing happened. We just woke up this way.
I used to freak out in this middle-earth, khaki-colored territory. But we don’t have to. We can trust our process. What is right now. And continue to open…to keep opening our hearts.
It’s this willingness to say open, to trust, to see beauty, to find gratitude in the day-to-day, moment-to-moment experience that will bring about Santosha.
Satisfaction. Allowing. Comfortable…
Here’s the pea under the shell: Challenge or being uncomfortable makes us aware of the times in our lives when we do feel ease. It’s the gift of contrast.
When I struggle with an arm balance, I find rest and reassurance in Downward Facing Dog. When I experience dissonance in a friendship, I’m grateful for the existing love and support in my life.
This acceptance of what is—while still training and growing—is a spiritual state necessary for optimism and, ultimately, peace.
So, we keep practicing.
So much love,
If you know someone who might appreciate a siren song to Santosha, please share.
 Monier Williams. Sanskrit English Dictionary, Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon, Germany.