Contentment and Yoga

By Laura Hansen.

The code of yoga is codified in ancient Indian Scriptures called the Varaha Upanishads. The code includes correct actions or practices that lead to enlightenment (Patanjali, 1999). Prior to the practice of Asana, are the practices of the Yamas and Niyamas which serve as an ethical code and foundation for the practice of yoga. There are five personal practices or Niyamas, the second Niyama is Santosha or contentment.

child's pose

Contentment is the ability to be satisfied with what is. Contentment means not wanting more, other, or less but accepting gratefully yourself and your environment. Finding contentment means practicing many of the other yamas and niyamas. Contentment is easy after a yoga class, or when things are going well. Santosha is more difficult to practice when life is more challenging. Additional practices that have helped me to find contentment more often involve:

  1. Knowing what reality is – the yoga sutras tell us that much of what we see and believe is an illusion (Maya). We believe things about ourselves and the world around us that simply are not true. When evidence is presented that doesn’t agree with our version of reality, we can become very upset. For example, I may believe that I am a very good mother. If my child then tells me I am a bad mother, I become upset because I don’t want to hear a version of reality that is not the same as my version of reality. The practice of meditation and observation has helped me have a more realistic view of myself and the world. Contentment means accepting what is, not what we want to believe. For myself, I am not the best mother in the world nor the worst mother in the world. I didn’t always do the best I could, but I often did the best I could.
  2. Only once we really admit to the truth of our reality can we begin to accept that reality. For example, I am nearly 50 years old and this causes me to be discontent. I often imagine that I am still a teenager, I look in the mirror, experience the disconnect that comes from lying to myself, and then feel upset which starts a negative thought chain: I look old, I’m going to need new knees, I’m going to need a facelift, who is going to ... STOP. This is where I have to intervene in negative thoughts and move to acceptance. I am getting older but I still feel good and I am grateful to feel as alive as I do. Contentment means moving from negative to positive thoughts, to practicing gratitude.
  3. Gratitude is a very important practice that can contribute to greater contentment. When I am not happy with myself or my reality, I often write a gratitude list. What am I grateful for today?

Creating a gratitude list is a good way or anyone to become more content.

I incorporate contentment into my yoga practice by being grateful for yoga, being grateful to the teacher and the other students, and by being grateful to my body for what I can do. I also incorporate contentment into my yoga practice by not asking my body to do things that it cannot. I make an effort to be honest with myself about what I can and cannot do, and to enjoy the asanas I can practice.

Contentment is a place between the ears, a place where for this moment, nothing needs to change. Early in the practice of contentment, complete peace of mind is short lived. We may experience Santosha for a few minutes and then remember something upsetting. Through continued practice, Santosha can last longer and longer until the practitioner enjoys hours and days of blissful existence.


Patanjali, Edited by Satchidananda, S. (1999). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga.

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