Santosha (san-TOE-shah) is literally translated as complete contentment. Personally, I find Santosha as similar to practicing the positive of Aparigraha (non-attachment) or gratitude within ourselves, as opposed to with our surroundings. If you are a new Yogi beginning your Yoga journey, it is important to bring this concept of Santosha in your Asana practice.
Many of you will be surprised to hear I could not touch my toes until I was 30 years old! This was not due to lack of effort… I was athletic throughout my youth, and performed various styles of dance throughout my life. However, despite me pushing myself during stretching especially in ballet class, my toes were always *just* beyond my reach. At 24, I sustained a sacral fracture and was basically couch-ridden for over a month. It was a very long and painful healing process, complete with super strong prescription painkillers that did nothing for my pain (ginger problems). After being told I would have pain throughout my life, I finally decided to try Yoga.
I am sure you Yogis either have heard or will hear in the Yoga community “Yoga is not about touching your toes, it is about what you learn on the way down.” I have to admit.. when I started getting serious about Yoga, for me it was VERY much about touching my toes. I compared myself to everyone else in the Yoga class who could easily touch their toes or fold into advanced versions of various poses, while I struggled to get half way into the “easy” version. I share this with you, because it is so common for newbies like me!
After continued classes at Yoga studios and home Asana practice, after about three years I could finally touch my toes! I did this not by bouncing or pushing myself in painful deep stretches like I had tried for about a decade in dance, but by gently holding poses while focusing on correct alignment, and breathing myself open. I also learned on the way down that I had been generally holding my breath while pushing myself throughout my dance stretches, completely counter to the way I typically breathed through movement in dance.
I had another lesson in Santosha at a Hot Yoga studio shortly after I began seriously practicing. I started regularly attending beginner classes at a Hot Yoga studio, and heard other students talking about a wonderful hot Vinyasa class held in the evenings. I felt confident after improving in my beginner classes, and decided to check it out. I walked in for the class and saw a few other students MEDITATING IN PERFECT HEAD STANDS in the Hot Yoga room. I was extremely impressed and intimidated. The class started, and it was a super challenging and dynamic “Warm” Vinyasa class that I could barely keep up with. I ended up spending about half the class in Child’s Pose recovering, and was slightly embarrassed at being the newbie in the room. However, 30 minutes of deep breathing in Child’s Pose in the Hot Yoga room may have been EXACTLY what I needed. This was the day I finally cured the nagging pain in my lower back from my sacral injury, from my story above. Also, at the end of class, one of the shirtless ripped Yogi guys who had been relaxing in an impressive handstand at the start of class told me he did the same thing his first class.
As we progress further into more advanced Asanas / Yoga poses, you will encounter some that you may never do. Some poses, such as Eka Pada Sirsasana / Leg Behind Head Pose or Kurmasana / Turtle Pose, are journeys in themselves. It is essential for Yogis to weave this concept of Santosha / contentment into our physical Asana practice. Do not compare yourself to others in the room, or even yourself from another day of practice. Be compassionate with yourself and your body, and be content with where you are today. Notice and appreciate where you are, and observe yourself rather than judge yourself as you gently move forward on your journey.
Today’s Daily Yogi Practice is to weave Santosha / contentment into your Asana or physical Yoga practice. Notice and appreciate where you are in your practice without judgement. If you are a new Yogi, maybe promise yourself to be gentle with your body, not comparing yourself to more flexible practitioners. More advanced Yogis also should be gentle with their bodies, and perhaps should revisit this concept of contentment with our journeys. Perhaps you have taken time off from practice.. release the guilt, spend a few minutes on your mat, and enjoy the time you make for yourself. Please keep in mind, exercising contentment in your Asana practice is essential to avoid injury!
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Do not push yourself to pain on your Yoga Journey! Many Yogis of all levels embrace all kinds of blocks and props. Do not hesitate to grab a couch pillow for extra support, a block for extra support or when you cannot reach the floor, or a strap for extra arm-reach and leverage.
Please comment to share how you bring contentment and acceptance to your Asana practice, or another aspect of your life today. Always remember, be kind!