Contentment. More than any other yama, niyama, and perhaps any other yoga practice, Santosa is what a majority of people turned to yoga for, believe the purpose of yoga to be, or both.  Backed by the misleading equation:  end result of class = end result of yoga (a glorious perpetual savasana) and false advertising yoga buzzwords like ‘bliss’ and ‘nirvana’, it’s easy to understand why one of the most common things people new to yoga tell me is “Wow, yoga is hard!” Any yogi worth her/his salt will tell you yoga is hard, always been hard, always will be. It’s not for the faint of heart, it’s not the easy path.  All of those amazing beautiful stress-free epxeriences are the perks, not the purpose, of yoga.

That being said, I love the rare blissful savasana experience, where not only do ten minutes pass timelessly, bodilessly and worry-free, but I feel that it was ten minutes baking in a shifted perspective that I can’t help but emanate to others as I leave the yoga room.  The trouble with that being taken for the goal of yoga is that you wind up with a lot of people like:

I’ve met them, you’ve met them – more often than not in a yoga studio and more often than not they don’t even realize they’re forcing it. Because they do a lot of yoga – a lot – and yoga makes you peaceful, happy, serene and stress-free. Yoga makes you smile all the time, to all people. Right? I’m not just being sarcastic. I was right there with them/you.  For years. The term “spiritual bypassing” was coined in part as a response to this.

It’s only when we start to work with Santosa as a practice, and not a goal, that it becomes possible to actually be content.

“You don’t practice to get enlightened. You practice because you already are.” Dogen

Contentment comes from the word content – to contain.  The source of santosa is realizing that we already contain all we need to be happy.


We’ve all had those moments, when we look around at the people we’re with, the sunset, the drink, the wide open space, close knit forest, or deep ocean and think “There’s no where else I’d rather be in this moment. Nothing is missing.”  Santosa is the art of making those “Nothing missing” moments intentional, rather than the happy collaboration of fate they normally are.

The caveat is we are striving all the time for contentment and happiness. It’s pretty much an American way of life.  We just generally seek it in forms that won’t actually bring us contentment. That’s because we base it on our experiences in the past of contentment, and all the external sources that were around us. We keep trying to gather people around, or move to live by the ocean, or buy more of that drink.  Mentally and physically we are going forward, backwards, and more often than not, in circles trying to “get” our way to contentment.

there__s_a_sunset_inside_me_i_guess_by_incandescentinsanity-d508l1xSantosa, however, is sourced within – not with out.  Those external components struck something inside us that allowed us to be in touch with our “nothing missing” experience.  That experience is always within us, we just have to train ourselves to pay attention to it on our own, without the external stimulus.

We have to follow Dogen’s advice; “Don’t go forward, don’t go backward, don’t stay in the middle.”  As a practice now, or at the start of your next yoga class, close your eyes.  Say to yourself “Nothing is missing. My life contains, in this moment, all I need to be content and happy.”  When the “After I get the new job.” or “When I have a bigger apartment” or “Once my bank account is…”  etc. show up, acknowledge them, but let them go, and return to the “mantra” above.  Continue to do so until you feel that subtle shift within – one to contentment.  To believing the mantra, not just saying it. It’s a shift in perspective.

Besides, as Rodney Yee says “Beyond the brick wall, is another brick wall.”

Craving and Contentment

The warning sign for this work is getting caught up in negotiating your cravings.  Generally, craving for something is one of the biggest challenges to contentment.  You can be walking along in your “Nothing Missing” state of mind, and suddenly smell that extra cup of coffee wafting by, see the best pair of yoga pants ever, read about the newest version of your technology, or whatever your “thing” is – and you’re caught in wanting it.  And the majority of our good feelings that come from satisfying these cravings is that for one moment – nothing is missing – our craving has been satisfied. It’s a huge factor in habits and cravings.

Our inclination, based on the tools of psychology and philosophy handed down to us via actual people or our culture – is to delve into the craving. Where did it come from? Why would it make me happy? Is there enough in my bank account for it? What do I need to do to get enough? What will he/she say when he/she knows I bought it?  And we wrestle with it from lots of angles until we either go for it or not.  While some insights can arise from this practice, it’s not the long-term answer.

The yogi switches perspective and focuses on the craving, and not the object of craving. You turn the full gaze of your awareness to the craving, how it makes the physical body feel – tightness, breathing, temperature, etc.  You notice the emotional responses. You stay with the depth of the craving, until it passes.  The drama of the object itself is not invested in.

To work with this in yoga class try out the intention, every time you’re in a pose:

Don’t chase after the next pose, ponder the last, or cling around this one.
Breathe into what’s left.

I used to think content was the worst thing to be – to no longer dream, or try or reach.  I confused cultivating a certain kind of inner state with what I would be doing with my external life.  As if to be content all the time meant to be “finished” with acting.  Actually, what winds up happening is that the content inner state infuses all outward actions, and you are better able to dream, try and reach.

I realized it’s a process of becoming more and more fully present.  To fully know who you are, in each moment, is content. To see others, and not try to change them, is content.  Those are far-reaching goals, and Santosa brings us closer and closer


“People are drawn to yoga, they come to the studio, they practice because they are suffering, because they have recognized some form of this in their lives.”

Perhaps you have come across a similar quote, generally in the opening to a yoga text of some kind.  It has been the only consistent thing I have come upon in yoga that creates a feeling of alienation. It was simply not true for me. To this day I can’t exactly say why I started doing yoga, but it definitely was not for having recognized suffering in my life. To the contrary, I began it during some of the least suffering moments I’ve had in my adult life. However, I have heard countless stories of people for whom this quote speaks the exact truth. So for some, yoga calls as an answer to suffering, for others, it is a path to reveal the nature of suffering that exists in our life. In the end, or rather I imagine, what is only the beginning, we have this concept of suffering, of dukha.

To say that dukha is the underlying nature of our life, is not to say we exist in perpetual gloom. We all smile, laugh, experience elation, and other aspects of sukha, the flip side of the coin. The key is in recognizing we are on a cycle that vacillates continually between sukha and dukha, within an asana class, within a day, week, year, and sometimes, within only a few minutes. We feel varying degrees of control over which part of the cycle we’re on. Yoga, and Buddhism too for that matter, offer paths to gaining first awareness of this cycle, and then ways to approach sukha and dukha in order to experience life more intentionally and fully.

I find that sukha (good, happy, sweet, joy, etc.) usually gets the attention of the pair, and wanted to spend some time with dukha this month.

I would like to consider two definitions (outside of the traditional “suffering”) for dukha, and in doing so, find some constructive, concrete ways of directly addressing something we have all, as yogis, by some means, recognized to be part of our reality.*

The missing piece

This is a concept introduced to me both by Sharon and David at Jivamukti Training, but also in podcasts by Michael StoneDukha can also be translated as “lack”. This is manifested in our impetus towards achieving things, buying things, changing things, or otherwise altering our current state, which is lacking, in order to achieve happiness. All we need is that better paying job, that home with another room, a partner with a different quirk, a friend that’s around more, another hobby, those new yoga pants, etc. Any time we reach out beyond our current situation as the place where sukha is located, we are setting ourselves in the direct path of dukha.

The mis-aligned wheel

I was first presented with this definition in a writing by Frank Boccio in Michael Stone’s Freeing the Body, Freeing the MindDukha, before being appropriated by Buddhism and Yoga, was first used to describe the state of a mis-aligned wheel axle on an oxcart.  Frank asks us to imagine how a ride in such a cart would be uncomfortable and jarring. Much akin to the ride we are taking through life – although the sweet moments are there, there is under each of those moments, dukha, waiting for the next bump in the road. This manifests every time we move out of the present moment, refusing to see the bumps or the misaligned wheel. Instead we turn to the past, and berate ourselves for not seeing the bump, berate the person(s) we feel caused the bump to exist, or towards the future where we plot ways the avoid all future bumps, or steer clear of situations or people that would cause them, all in the name of ensuring sukha.  Either way puts us once again in the path of dukha, because all of those things are impossible.

The work

First, notice these cycles and thought patterns (citta vritti) that you run in. Be aware of the feelings of lack, and the movements into the past and future. This is always the starting point for work on the yogic path. Awareness. It is the greatest tool to bringing about any evolution of consciousness.

Second, start to re-align with the truth of the present moment. There is a teaching that says it best:

Don’t go forward, don’t go back, don’t stand still

Don’t go into the future, nor the past, nor hide out in the present until everything passes. Nor move forward towards sukha/dukha, nor away from sukha/dukha, nor revel in sukha/dukha. Find the fourth option.

Third, which also can be a result of the work of the first two stages, realize that nothing is missing. Give yourself a few moments of really feeling that nothing is missing. That you, and everything in your life, is complete and full just as it is now. Repeat, and gradually the truth of it arises.

The Tao


Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.

What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
Your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
You will always keep your balance.

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
That arise from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self,
What do we have to fear?

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
Then you can care for all things.


If you don’t realize the source,
You stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
You naturally become tolerant,
Disinterested, amused,
Kindhearted as a grandmother,
Dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
You can deal with whatever life brings you,
And when death comes, you are ready.


Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

The Master sees things as they are,
Without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
And resides at the center of the circle.
~Translations by Stephen Mitchell

Above all this is work to be fully present and deeply in life. It is not an escape, nor encouragement towards an unfeeling existence.  It is a path towards a life of feeling fully awake, immersed, and aware of life.

*It is also quite possible that you have not quite reached that juncture, and the idea of suffering as the underlying quality of life is off-putting, to say the least. And that is a place I can certainly recognize, having been there myself.