As I have been exploring the practical meaning of the niyamas (or character observances), it occurred to me that I am searching for improvement. This seeking is an important part of the yogic process – having the urge to grow and expand our experience is a good thing. But it can become an issue when our life’s happiness is based around it. One of the niyamas is ‘santosha’, commonly translated as contentment and it struck me that it would be interesting to write more about this: the ability to sit with what is, right here, right now, is an important part of the practice.
Learning to accept and appreciate what we already have is the key to contentment. Our natural inclination is to focus on what we don’t have, so it takes work to make the shift to focusing on what we do have. Stephen Cope discusses this further in ‘The Wisdom of Yoga’: “One of the most exciting discoveries in neuroscience in the past decade is that the brain is substantially modified through repeated experience… So repeated experience of states of happiness, loving kindness or compassion, for example, actually modify the physical structures of the brain, through repeated stimulation.” So the more we actively practice appreciation, the more natural it becomes for the brain to think this way.
One way to do this is to start a gratitude journal, writing out some of the things you have to be grateful for. I have been doing this for a while now, two or three times a week when I have the time, and it has helped me to view my day through a different lens. It forces me to think about all the good things that have happened (which I have often passed over or forgotten!) and as a result brings more appreciation and joy into my life.