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Santosha. Practice of Gratitude and Acceptance

Santosha. Practice of Gratitude and Acceptance

One of the most revered books among the yoga practitioners is a very ancient book, ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’, that describes the 8 limbs of yoga. This book concisely depicts the principal aims of yoga and lays out the techniques necessary to achieve them.

The very first steps on the path of yoga are ten principles of Yama and Niyama that represent a series of ethical rules.

The five Yamas are:

Ahimsa - non-violence;

Satya - truthfulness, abstinence from lies;

Asteya - non-stealing;

Brahmacharya - sensual abstinence, continence;

Aparigraha - non-possessiveness, non-attachment.

The five Niyamas are:

Shaucha - internal and external purity;

Santosha - satisfaction, contentment;

Tapas - discipline, austerity;

Swadhyaya - pursuit of knowledge;

Ishvara Pranidhana - devotion and surrender to the Higher Being.

All the principles of Yamas and Niyama are interdependent. When one breaks one principle of Yama/Niyama, the other rules will be broken as well. When one improves the practice of one particular principle, the other principles will also be observed and strengthened.

For example, by breaking Satya (truthfulness), one will develop self-deception and will have troubles observing Ahimsa as he or she might fail to distinguish Tapas discipline from injuring the body during the physical asanas. Also, this self-deception will inhibit the self-control over the observation of other Yamas and Niyamas. If one breaks Shaucha and pollutes his or her body and consciousness, it will become difficult to observe the principles of Brahmacharya and Ishvara Pranidhana.

What is Santosha?

When you practice Santosha, you accept the world that surrounds you and, most importantly, you accept yourself. You become satisfied with your role in the society and your environment. If you diligently practice Santosha, then all of the Yama and Niyama principles will be observed.

When you accept your body and recognize your own limits of flexibility and physical strength, you will not break Ahimsa and will not injure yourself. Being honest and accepting yourself is practicing Asteya. If you are satisfied with yourself, you will be able to observe Ahimsa towards other people. This will happen because you will not want to change somebody (even from the best motives) and you will be able to accept people as they are. The desire for lust and passion will not control you as you will already be satisfied with what universe has given to you and this is the observation of Brahmacharya. By accepting your financial situation, you will not become jealous of the achievements and prosperity of other people, and therefore, you will observe Aparigraha. If you accept with gratitude everything that you are given by this world, then you praise the Higher Being for what you have and for who you are, and this is Ishvara Pranidhana. With this acceptance, it will be easy to manifest Tapas in studying the self and the universe (Swadhyaya).

Yet, it is easy to say ‘be happy with what is given to you!’, but it is very difficult to do this. How can we be satisfied if we are always missing something? If we never have enough? We want financial assets, healthy body, to live in a safe and prosperous country with friendly neighbors, and to finally learn how to do handstands! All the time we are experiencing some sort of discontent. This is a very dangerous emotion as it creates a destructive mood which makes the observation of other principles of Yama and Niyama difficult or almost impossible. The mind become possessed with envy (Asteya is broken), contaminated with the low vibrational desires (Brahmacharya is broken), which prevent thoughts of devotion and study of spiritual literature (Ishvara Pranidhana is broken) and finally the irritation arises (the consequence of breaking Ahimsa). In order to overcome this pernicious condition, some spiritual teachers advise to practice gratitude.

A feeling of gratitude, in essence, is opposite to the feeling of discontent. If you fill yourself with gratitude, then automatically you will be able to get rid of discontent. They say that everything that one doesn’t appreciated will be taken away. Start appreciating all the little things that you already have and you will multiply what you are grateful for. And there is a lot to be grateful for. We are given an incredible gift of life. We are given a fantastic human body with all its capabilities. We can see, hear, touch, smell and feel. We have priceless opportunities for development and self-realization. In whatever situation you are in, there is always something to be grateful for. Learn how to thank the world even for our breathing, understanding how valuable each breath of air is. When you hold the breath in pranayama practice on the mat, you will quickly appreciate the ability to breathe in full. When you perform asanas, you can experience the joy of movement, the gift of feeling your physical body.

How to practice Santosha

To practice Santosha, it is necessary to accept fully not only what appears to be good and pleasant, but also everything that surrounds us and everything that has been given to us. This means we need to accept things like diseases, difficulties and deprivations. At first glance, it might seem impossible to be grateful for a sudden injury or for a financial loss. However, if your attention is focused on your internal awareness and not on the external circumstances, then you will be able to observe Santosha even in the most tragic situations. You will be able to understand that any disease is the physical reaction to your inadequate interaction with the world. It is, ultimately, a signal that you are doing something wrong and is a lesson to be gratefully accepted. It might be that a sudden hospitalization is an opportunity to stop, take a necessary pause, rethink accumulated experiences, or even a protection or a warning sign you needed. This way you can treat any challenge as a lesson, as a training exercise of non-attachment to the external material benefits. When any serious problems come, reflect on the opportunities they grant you, try to find positive aspects and lessons in them, then gratefully accept the situation.

To see the positive even in the most unpleasant circumstances is a skill that can be developed. Our daily lives constantly provide situations in which we can practice Santosha. Somebody cuts you off in traffic or scolds you in a queue? Try to be grateful for this situation as it allows you to train patience and to thank these people who, with their actions, allowed you to work out some of your negative karma. There is a great exercise for this practice: if you suddenly track down a negative emotion inside yourself, for example, resentment towards someone, then immediately find 10 things for which you can be grateful in this situation. If you are very annoyed by someone and can not cope with this feeling, try to see this person as your close old friend through the lenses of love and compassion.

While practicing yoga on the mat, observe Santosha as well. Only when the difficult asanas are performed with gratitude and patience, Tapas are accumulated and the practice becomes a real austerity.

Thus, observe Santosha practice, the practice of acceptance and gratitude. Remember that by changing yourself, you change the whole world.

Vadim Levashov