Have you ever done the splits (aka hanumanasana) on a piece of driftwood? Yeah, so it wasn’t the best idea, nor the most comfortable place I’ve ever practiced this pose. But it was a pretty scene along my hike, so I went ahead. And it actually turns out to be nicely symbolic of the idea behind this awesome quote from Walt Whitman. “Happiness, not in another place, but this place…. not for another hour, but this hour”. To me, this quote echoes of santosha, one of my favorite of the niyamas from yoga philosophy, which help guide us in developing healthy attitudes and thought patterns to support us both on and off of our yoga mats. Santosha means contentment, and the idea is that we must strive to find some level of contentment in all circumstances, irrespective of how uncomfortable or difficult those circumstances might be. Yoga teaches us to practice finding ease and contentment in the most uncomfortable positions, like this one, hanumanasana, or some other crowd favorites like utkatasana (sometimes called chair pose) or navasana (boat pose).
As with most things in yoga asana practice, the practice of santosha on the mat is a little microcosm preparing us for santosha off the mat, in real life. Finding contentment in the midst of physical struggle (like screaming hamstrings or quivering quadriceps) trains us to more easily be able to find contentment when challenging situations arise off of the mat. And I think this is why santosha speaks to me so much. As cancer survivors, we have many uncomfortable or challenging moments, like the physical challenge of healing from surgery or radiation, coping with long term effects of those treatments, waiting patiently for chemo side effects to subside, the PTSD- like fear of going in for follow up testing, and even the tragic loss of one of our warrior brothers or sisters. While there is obviously no magic trick that will make all of these challenging moments go away, nor make navigating them easy peasy, a little practice in santosha can make them less painful and more manageable, thus opening up some space for more enjoyable emotions to arise.
Just as we learn to do on our mat while the teacher is counting breaths so slowly that it seems like we’ll just die here in boat pose, we relax our minds (maybe even smile a little at how damn slow her breathing is!), tune in to our own breath, and bear with it. And so often, we find out that we can stick with it longer than we thought! We discover that we have those same tools at our disposal when life throws us a really challenging situation. We can relax our minds, tune in to our breath, and hang in there, happily encountering that deep well of calm strength that we didn’t know was there. Obviously some life challenges are profound and completely overwhelming, making even the calmest, coolest spirits get flustered. That is life and it is ok. But perhaps those are the times that this practice is most important. So that, instead of falling completely and irreversibly to pieces, we eventually… no matter how long it takes…. come back to our breath, drop in to that calm peaceful mind, and again find our strength and determination to move forward. In this way, yoga empowers us, creating resilience, an inner confidence, and a knowing that, whatever arises, we can breathe through it. It’s really kindof a superpower. When we learn to tap in to this resilience and this ability to find contentment despite outer circumstances, our suffering shrinks and our joy and happiness grow.
So whatever challenge you might be going through today, instead of allowing yourself to stew in it and suffer, see if you can’t take a deep breath, smile to yourself and practice finding that little sliver of happiness…. in this place…. in this hour. You have the power. Keep practicing and see it grow even stronger.