Last night, at his workshop at Willow Street Yoga, Todd Norian discussed the niyama samtosha — contentment. “Perfect,” I thought, because I had been contemplating the practice of samtosha all day. When I had sat to meditate in the morning yesterday, it was hard for me to stay with my mantra or any sense of peacefulness, light, or delight. Thoughts of the horrendous repercussions of the Supreme Court’s decision on campaign finance kept arising. Time to get back to the foundations of practicing! As I began walking to work (past the Capitol), I brought myself back to the practice of samtosha, which I find one of the most useful practices for me.
Samtosha is the second of the niyamas set forth in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The yamas and niyamas are ethical precepts for living and for practicing. In Patanjali’s eight-limbed, dualistic path of raja yoga, they precede the practices of asana (the physical postures), pranayama (breathing), and the various stages of meditation, which culminate in samadhi (equinimity or bliss). When I am struggling with what I witness in the outside world, I always come back to the practice of samtosha. Some people may be naturally lighter-hearted than others, but contentment is indeed a practice, and it is a foundational practice.
When I practice contentment, I remember to be grateful for all that I have. When I fully practice contentment, instead of becoming bleak and cynical (it is easy enough for me), I not only feel more naturally cheerful, but find I have have more strength to continue acting in accordance with my beliefs, even when I am confused, alarmed, outraged, and disgusted by what is going on outside. When practicing contentment, I try to find my own light, I seek the love and company of friends, I join with like-minded persons to be moved to work for change, even if I do not trust it will make any visible change to anyone other than me.
FYI, Todd Norian will be at Willow Street Yoga Center all weekend. If you are local and reading this in time, try to come for some of the weekend. He is wonderful.