By Shameem Akthar
Santosha is a state of constant awareness involving much more than merely letting go, says Shameem Akthar
Shameem Akthar has trained as yoga Acharya with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and is a master-trainer in neuro-linguistic psychology.
Santosha, a state of contentment. How can one learn that through one’s body? Yoga says it is possible with a continued state of awareness while practicing. Some poses are naturally said to invite a state of submission and letting go. However, santosha is more than letting go. It is a state of constant awareness where other mental states, which seem to be more natural to us – such as anxiety, excessive or wrong effort, straining, distraction, agitation, sadness, are constantly pushed aside. This can happen even while trying a pose. Most of us bring our dominant pattern of being into our practice. For instance, a person who likes to achieve a pose or even one with low self-esteem may do a pose well but will feel dissatisfied. Originally, this sort of reflexive thinking may have helped us deal with our progress in our careers or lives. But on the mat, if we try to be aware of that and keep it aside and see where we want to reach in that particular pose we will progress better. We will then become completely aware of our body and realize where we must tighten a muscle group and relax the others, and suddenly the pose will be achieved faster. This sort of complete awareness of the body’s strengths, its weaknesses, its pain triggers and the unnecessary contractions that we initiate in ourselves, can be the most relaxing way to reach a pose. The beautiful part of this is that we feel content. Even better, we may have reached further than we expected.
Our capacity to reach this sort of total awareness in a pose can create the yogic state of santosha in a sustained manner. We will realize when we practice with such an approach, it becomes a matter of principle in our daily lives too.
On the physical level, to be able to do it requires a few things. We must learn to do poses in such a way that we are able to hold them for long. Prone poses are ideal as start-up poses since they will settle the agitation of the mind, by initiating natural deep breathing.
Several variations of these poses can be tried. When trying to build your sadhana or practice with the purpose of cultivating santosha you must do only a few poses but stick to them, to build stamina and create a state of stillness in the pose. This may require a few months of daily practice.
A good way to check your santosha quotient is to start with meditative poses like the crocodile pose. Usually, the restless or overachievers will not be able to be still even in this simple pose. Trying to notice this aspect about yourself could be a great way to deal with it, on the mat.
Lie on your stomach. Bring the feet together. Those with knee problems or lower back issues may keep the legs spread a foot or so apart. Keep the back of the feet on the ground. Cup your jaw with both palms, raising the head. Shut your eyes. You may stay in it initially for 30 seconds, to increase the duration steadily to two minutes, over a few weeks.
It is de-stressing. It initiates deep breathing, relieving tension in the entire back, and initiating natural healing by triggering the repairing parasympathetic nervous system. It can help control lower back problems, kidney ailments, and respiratory problems.
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