This week we continue our exploration of the Niyamas, the second limb of yoga. The second niyama is santosha or contentment.
We can think of this as the great happiness that comes from being comfortable (or content) with who and where we are in life. If we do not start each day with a “must do” list or set of goals and expectations for living our lives that must be always adhered to, we free ourselves to enjoy the smallest things that can create joy. Contentment helps us receive life’s curve balls with greater equanimity, knowing that we have little control over much of what happens and accepting that can be freeing.
Last year I talked about slowing down during the pandemic, celebrating a slower pace, and finding santosha in the simple things. I find that as my pace has picked back up, I am back in the office and in a new job, I must make a concerted effort to find that santosha or peaceful contentment. I have made it a priority to continue to walk outside every day, taking moments to pause and gaze at the water, nature around me and some local wildlife! I try to savor my morning tea while still in bed, reading the news and perhaps hanging out with my cat. For me, the contentment that I have in these moments is my way of practicing santosha. It is a challenge, but I am trying.
Our Practice-Santosha on the Mat- Eka Pada Rajakapotasana-Pigeon Pose
In our asana practice we can achieve santosha by relaxing into a pose rather than straining or forcing ourselves into it. We can accept where our body is now and let go of images of how we think it “should” be. Since my hip surgery this has become a real challenge for me in my yoga practice. When I was truly “out of commission”, it did not bother me as I was not practicing at all. Now that I am back practicing, and finding that my body needs more modification, I am learning to be grateful for what I can do and am trying to accept where I am on the mat. I took a yoga class recently and met the santosha challenge head on as I tried poses like pigeon and cow face which are some of my favorites! Modification and Acceptance were my mantras! 😤😤😤✌️🕊️☮️
*this pic was pre-surgery 😂
I liked this article on the topic.
Although very challenging, Pigeon Pose has many health benefits. Physically, it stretches and opens the hips, stretches the thighs, glutes, piriformis and psoas muscles. Internally, it stimulates the abdominal organs and aids in digestion. It can work well to relieve sciatic and back pain and on a more emotional level it can help release built up emotions.
The pose can challenge our ability to be in an uncomfortable position/situation and challenges us to modify and adapt and accept.
As the pose is challenging, we approach it only after a series of more gentle hip openers. There are many options for doing this pose and the benefits are the same in any variation.
Starting in tabletop or down dog.
Extend the right leg back behind you and then bring the right knee to the right wrist. The shin can be perpendicular to the front edge of your mat or more parallel with the foot in towards the groin, start slow!
Balance your weight evenly between your right and left hips. Avoid having one hip higher than the other, or one hip in front of the other (putting a block or blanket/pillow under the hip of the bent leg can help).
Adjust the back leg so it is long and extended on the mat.
Try any modifications and variations; possibly staying up on hands or bring forearms to block or mat. In sleeping pigeon you fold forward from the waist, bringing your chest towards the knee and shin, coming down to the forearms or forehead.
Enjoy where you are, be content where you are, practicing santosha……
Meditation – Santosha
Some people thrive on drama, and if not drama, a frenetic pace. They may confuse contentment, santosha, with boredom or passivity. A life filled with drama may seem exciting, fiery; when every day is less aflame, some may equate that with a life lacking in passion, engagement or fullness. Boredom. By practicing santosha we can find that we can still love deeply, have goals, and live a varied life, without burning down the house or stirring the embers every time the fire dies down.
One way to practice santosha is to cultivate gratitude. As many of you know, I take time each time I practice yoga, to remind myself (and my students) to think of one thing that they are grateful for. I work hard to not pay lip service to my answer each time, reflecting on my day or recent days when considering this. Sometimes it is as simple as my family, other days it might be the cardinal I just saw in my bird feeder or that all of the socks matched up when I folded the laundry….Many people find keeping a gratitude journal helpful. I will admit I do not keep one, but I think it is a beautiful habit.
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you”. – Lao Tzu
Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher about 500 BC who was the founder of Taoism. This philosophy and religion instructs believers on how to exist in harmony with the universe. I found the below article in National Geographic to be a good overview of Taoism.
Nurturing with Food – Creamy Vegan Cheese Sauce (on Pasta)
I think santosha or contentment would be best invoked with a wonderful comfort food. Having (mostly) given up dairy, there are times when I crave a creamy dish of macaroni and cheese or some other creamy, cheesy delight.
As I have discussed before, there is no actual cheese substitute that is as good tasting as cheese, or at least I have not found it. I have done many experiments trying to find recipes for sauces and spreads to fill the cheese void and have had some mediocre results. I have decided that a lot of things are simply better without the “cheese” if you are not having the real thing. For the times you just need some creamy cheesy-like sauce and do not eat dairy, this works. It keeps well in the refrigerator or freezer and you can thin it with vegetable broth or nondairy milk, use the thicker version as a dip or as queso on nachos. It also can be spiced and flavored many ways.
Full disclosure, if you have no issue with dairy and you love a creamy alfredo, this will not cut it. BUT it is pretty darn good. I had a craving for creamy pasta with frozen peas and had this sauce leftover from the other recipe…. I was incredibly happy!
See you on the mat!