Santosha – The Second Niyama: Meaning & Ways to Practice

santosha - 2nd niyama
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We humans as a civilization have stooped severely low in terms of ethics and morals. We are riddled with corruption and ripe with greed. As a result, we have mindlessly divided our societies into factions of privileged and under-privileged. And we have over-exploited the natural resources to the brink of exhaustion. The root cause of this vicious cycle of corruption is an innate sense of lacking deep within us; A failure to appreciate what we have, and endlessly craving for more.

The single-stop solution to all such evils is self-contentment. Contentment is an art that teaches you to appreciate whatever you have and be content with it. Yoga as a way of lifestyle includes contentment in its basic form i.e. Santosha.

In terms of practice, Santosha shares a direct relationship with our sense of desire. The practice of Santosha is controlling your desires, and the state of Santosha is the lack of desires. Thus this yogic practice mostly focuses on training our mind to stay unwavering by the distractions of desire. And when the training of Santosha is completed, the mind becomes an unmovable rock in the face of desires.

“There is contentment and tranquility when the flame of the spirit does not waver in the wind of desire.”
~ BKS Iyengar.

What is Santosha?

Santosha is the second Niyama which in the most practical sense is conscious cultivation of an approach that teaches you to accept the current situation with contentment.

The Sanskrit word “Santosha” is derived by adding the prefix “Sam” (meaning completely,) to the root word “Tosha” (meaning Contentment.) Thus in a literal sense, Santosha means “complete contentment” or “absolute contentment”. Some other Sanskrit words used synonymously with Santosha are Tushti, Santushti, and Tripti.

Santosha as a concept presumes that our inner workings of contentment and satisfaction can be consciously regulated, irrespective of the outer scenarios. 

The issue is, however, the concept of Santosha is strikingly in contrast with the current trends of greed and corruption. Our wants have grown endless and become complex. Thus following Santosha has become increasingly difficult. But the reality is, Santosha is the only gateway between our never-ending search for happiness and true inner joy. 

Although one must not confuse the accepting nature of Santosha, with blind acceptance. The practice doesn’t advocate accepting and the rotting elements of our existence. The harmful elements of our existence must be resolved, but the resolvent initiates only with meaningful acceptance of the situation. 

Does contentment means NO action at all?

The idea of contentment can sometimes lead to laziness and lack of ambition.

A moral foundation guided by the Yamas and Niyamas will allow a practical evaluation of the reality, which will further help to distinguish between meaningful acceptance and blind acceptance. One might say that blind acceptance results from the superficial evaluation of reality. Whereas meaningful acceptance results from a further in-depth evaluation of the same reality. 

For example, greed exists in society extensively, thus accepting the existence of greed as something inevitable and letting it be, is blind existence. Whereas evaluating the existing greed moral strict moral perspective, and discovering that the reason for greed is baseless, is meaningful acceptance.

In yoga, while practicing asana, we often find ourselves getting impatient and pushing mind and body beyond their limits. Unfortunately, that causes harm or himsa. This is an apt opportunity to practice Sanotsha. 

We must look at our asana practice and appreciate where we are at, and what all our body has achieved. Be content with our progress and not risk injury, yet, push to improve areas that can be comfortably improved. Thus in physical yoga practice, Santosha maintains this fine equilibrium between acceptance and advancement.

This equilibrium must be sought in the general sense, in life, while observing Santosha. We must be content and satisfied with our physical state and materialistic possessions, yet harmlessly push to extend our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Virtues complementing Santosha

All the Yamas and Niyamas are inter-connected and they contribute to each other. However, two Yamas, in particular, share a very direct relation with Santosha, Asteya, and Aparigraha. Asteya is the virtue that builds a non-stealing or non-covetous attitude. The root cause behind stealing is greed, which is again a direct result of a primal sense of inner lacking. This sense of inner lacking can also be interpreted as a lack of contentment. Thus Asteya and Santosha, in terms of practice, directly influence and benefit each other.

Similar is the case with Aparigraha, which means non- possessiveness. Aparigraha refers to detachment from materialistic, physical, emotional and intellectual possessions. Once again we form a relationship of possession, with things, people, emotions or thoughts, on which we develop a sense of dependency. This sense of dependency too, develops from an internal lack of contentment. Being unable to remain happy with what you have, you depend on another source for your happiness. Thus the practices of Aparigraha and Santosha are mutually beneficial.

How to practice Santosha?

developing asteya
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The practices of Santosha can be broken down into different categories, but they will still all be aligned with the basic idea of appreciating whatever we have. Practicing Santosha is going to be difficult, and will need a lot of conscious effort. And this practice of conscious effort will in fact prepare your mind for learning austerity, the next Niyama, Tapas.

  • Be thankful – Learn to be thankful for whatever you have. In terms of physical health, financial possessions, relationships, emotional interactions, and intellectual abilities. 
  • Appreciate nature – We survive because nature provides for us. Learn to appreciate the natural resources of the earth and the value of other living beings alongside us.
  • Contribute more – In a world driven by revenue, personal gains, and success, try to bring a change by introducing the bliss of charity and contribution to society. Let yours be the hand that heals your surroundings.
  • Live in the present – In order to appreciate what you have, you will need to focus on the present. The past is full of attachments and the future is full of desires, if you get tied up in either of the two, the present will forever elude you.
  • Make a gratitude list – Write down all the things in your life, for which you feel gratitude. This will trigger a subconscious reminder of awareness. 
  • Involve in nature-interactions – Nature is too huge and extensive, but you can select a few specific nature-related activities and make them a part of your life regularly.
  • Practice Santosha on Mat – Don’t hurry to perfect your asana. Be content with the level your mind and body have reached, and slowly work for progress.

Benefits of Practicing Santosha

Santosha is your sure shot passage to spiritualism. The Indian Epic Mahabharata states that “Santosha is the highest heaven, Santosha is the highest bliss.” Thus attainment of Brahman can be considered as the ultimate benefit of Santosha, although on the pursuit of Santosha one picks up a few other benefits:

  • Well-being of all creations – A self-content mind is not greedy and naturally doesn’t harm its surroundings
  • Environmental sustainability – A self-content mind lacks greed and the need to possess. Thus it doesn’t strive to mindlessly consume earth’s resources.
  • The mind is without fear – Fear develops from the lack of losing. And lack of loss develops from attachment. As self-contentment is achieved the sense of attachment fades and with it all fear.
  • Freedom from stress and Anxiety – With no greed and corruption, the mind is free from all negative thoughts and emotions, which are the leading causes of stress and anxiety.
  • A liberated mind – A liberated mind is one that is perfectly conscious and aware of reality. In the pursuit of self-contentment, one will have to assess and evaluate reality many times. By the time one achieves Santosha, reality will be perfectly clear. 
  • Increased nervous functions – The evaluation of reality and persistent rejection of desires will demand a good deal of concentration, focus, and cognition. Improving on these qualities will consequently enhance the overall nervous functioning.
  • Bodily improvements – Stress and nervous limitations trigger many biochemical and neuroendocrine abnormalities. Which further disturbs many biological functions in our body. Santosha eliminates most stress and nerve-related physical abnormalities.

Scriptural Reference

Upanishads of Hinduism relate Santosha with self-realization and inner joy. It states that happiness is accidental, thus the wise do not long for it. The wise long for Santosha, which is the state free of all earthly attachments and unified with universal consciousness.

Hinduism as a religion also incorporates the concept of Santosha in its belief system. In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Sri Krishna states that Santosha is one of his own divine traits that manifest in humans, and humans who exhibit this trait are very dear to the Lord himself.

Bhagavad Gita also states that a man who persistently rejects desires will attain peace. In Manu Smriti, it is found that Santosha is the root cause of happiness. And the opposite of Santosha is the root cause of unhappiness. Thus it can be interpreted that to most people happiness is fleeting, because they have failed to achieve complete inner contentment. Once Santosha is achieved, happiness becomes everlasting. 

Hinduism in aggregate also suggests that Santosha is about continuously maintaining the inner contentment, irrespective of the outer fluctuations. And it always maintains inner calm in both happiness and sorrow.

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