What is Santosha


“There is no end of craving. Hence contentment alone is the best way to happiness. Therefore, acquire contentment”.

Swami Sivananda

The term Santosha means satisfaction and contentment. Santosha appears in Ashtanga Yoga (the eight limbed Yoga) as an element of the second limb – Niyama (the rules of conduct between man and himself). It is the second Niyama, and it describes a very important yogic feature. Often, we feel content when we succeed, profit from some venture, or when something joyful and pleasant happens to us. But such joy is not Santosha because it relies on external circumstances that are prone to change. Santosha is an internal kind of satisfaction that is not contingent upon any external circumstances. Therefore, some interpret the term Santosha to be “renunciation of the need to acquire” and not “contentment”.

Santosha is accepting ourselves and reality as it is (and not as we think it should be …). When we accept ourselves and cease to judge, when we are satisfied with what we have and do not want to change anything – that is when we experience Santosha. When we see the glass as half full rather than half empty, when we are grateful and thankful for all we have, instead of thinking about what else we need, we are in Santosha. It is a central yogic feature, because without Santosha we will never experience peace; we will always stay restless and search for something else. The road to Chittah Vritti Nirodah (quieting the vibrations of the mind) passes inevitably through Santosha.

Proper practice of asanas brings about Santosha. Iyengar writes in The Tree of Yoga: “When we are performing asanas we make the blood fall on every one of our cells like water onto a turbine, to release the hidden energy of our body and bring new light to the cells. When the light comes, we experience Santosha, contentment, which is the second principle of Niyama.” (The Tree of Yoga, The Trunk, P. 50) Once we come out of the pose we are satisfied and content. There is a sense of ease and relaxation and we are happy to just be, unconditionally. We do not need to justify our existence in perpetual doing – an experience of Santosha; When we repeat this experience every day, it becomes a second nature, and we build a habit.

One question that often arises in this context is: if  we are satisfied, what is it that motivates us to practice and perform? What makes us want to improve? This is a noteworthy question. We all know about the village idiot – he seems happy, but there is a kind of dumb idleness to his joy, not genuine peace and satisfaction. The question is then, what drives a satisfied, moderate person to want to change himself for the betterment of himself and his surroundings?

Here comes the important distinction between the terms of motivation and ambition – these two words indicate a motive for action, but we sense that there is a difference between them. What is this difference?

Iyengar writes in his book “Light on Ashtanga Yoga that: “It is impossible to do any action without aim, but it is possible to do it without ambition. Aim and ambition are not the same. Aim must be for the universal good, for universal use and utility, but ambition always has a selfish motive and purpose. The desires (vasanas) are eternal in us. Ambitions are the sprouts of vasanas”. (P. 15)

Therefore, Santosha, despite its importance, is not the end of the yogic path – another motive is required, an additional motivation for yogic action. This motive cannot be based on ego and the desire to quench passions. Santosha describes the emotional state of the yogi – he is not subject to doubt, nor is he consumed by remorse and guilt – but in his intellect he understands that perfection is far. That does not violate his peace of mind, but rather provides him with the ambition to practice and progress in order to change things within himself. The yogi is satisfied with what he has achieved, but knows that the road is still long and that in order to completely free himself from suffering and help others break free from their suffering, he needs to reach a higher level.

In The Tree of Yoga Iyengar writes: “Patanjali divides the five aspects of Niyama into two groups. On the one hand, Saucha and Santosha: physical health and happiness of mind. On the other, Tapas, Svadhyaya and Isvara-pranidhana, burning desire for spiritual development, self-study and surrender to God. The first part of Niyama, consisting of Saucha and Santosha, allows one to enjoy the pleasures of the world and be free from disease. The second part, consisting of Tapas, Svadhyaya and Isvara-pranidhana is known as auspicious yoga and enables one to reach the highest state, to be free, to be completely disassociated from the vehicles of the body and become one with the soul. Patanjali calls these two stages “Bhoga” and “Apavarga” respectively. Bhoga means to have pleasures without disease; Apavarga means freedom and beatitude” (The Tree of Yoga ‘East and West’ P. 13)

Bhoga is practicing for worldly pleasure. Practice gives energy, making us healthier and stronger, more peaceful and focused. These are all positive things, yet the question is: where do we channel this energy? There is nothing wrong with enjoying life, on the contrary, the ability to rejoice in what life offers us is very important (that is what we actually call Santosha) – but this is still not the end of the road, because life cannot always be pleasant. You cannot go through this life without experiencing a profit, but also a loss; success, but also failure; praise but also a disgrace; pleasure, but also sorrow. The yogic ideal of liberation takes us beyond these pairs of opposites. This requires a deep and thorough perception of life, so Santosha cannot not be the end of the yogic path.

But on that topic, perhaps next time…