Posted on August 16, 2016
I recently had the pleasure of spending an afternoon in the company of Stephanie Snyder and a room full of folks eager to join her for an exploration of santosha. Literally translated as ‘contentment’ or ‘satisfaction’, santosha emerges in yoga philosophy as an ethical concept synonymous with serenity, equanimity, or being at peace with one’s circumstances. It is one of the Niyamas, or observances, outlined in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.
The topic up for review in Snyder’s workshop was the complicated way in which santosha and its counterpart behaviors (ease, acceptance, non-grasping, occupying the present moment) often prove so elusive in modern society. One simple observation shared that afternoon struck me on a particularly deep level and I have returned to it again and again.
Remarking on the threads of discontentment and frustration so present in everyday (privileged, fast paced, overscheduled) modern life, Snyder remarked: “You are not stuck in traffic. You are the traffic.”
How wildly true. So many of us who seek sanctuary in the practice of yoga are simultaneously blessed with resource, opportunity, and choice. We’re surrounded by rich, layered scenery – often hard to grasp from the windows of our fast moving cars. The crowded journey exhausts and depletes us, so we pull off the road when we can and land on our mats. Yet if we aren’t mindful, the addition of yoga to our lives becomes yet another outfit to grab, another experience by which to self-define, another thing we must ‘get to’.
“This practice,” Snyder cautioned, “is a gift. How lucky we are to have it. We are blessed to be able to practice yoga.” Here, here. And yet, for me, the challenge of sticking to consistent practice amidst the distractions of daily life can prompt such appreciation to evaporate. How easily (and without awareness) I can allow the simple joys of finding time for yoga, remembering to breathe, and sitting to meditate to passively migrate into the realm of demanding tasks. And all of a sudden, there I am: stuck in traffic.
There isn’t much about being a yoga teacher that protects me from falling into this pattern. In fact, chances are that those of us who pursue yoga most aggressively do so in part out of an acknowledgment that we need help and seek relief from this predisposition. We are just as human, just as fallible, just as habit-driven as everyone else in the room. And if we occupy the role of teacher authentically, then we allow for our blemishes and challenges to be seen. We sit in the front of the yoga room alive in the words of Baba Hari Dass that we must “teach to learn.”
All of us grapple with the inherent and delicate interplay between the mind and the self, ego and consciousness, individuality and universality. Those of us with an active spiritual practice (be it yoga or another) might engage in that wrestling with our eyes slightly wider. And if we’re lucky, we find space and presence in either occasional or frequent moments of seeing our place in traffic for the choice that it is, and our yoga for the gift it is. And in those moments, we find that santosha isn’t so elusive after all. We might just touch it, feel its warmth grace our skin, and smile.