Santosha

I can’t believe it’s been more than 2 weeks since my last post. In that time, I’ve thought of other ways to practice shaucha or cleanliness: using a tongue scrapper and a neti pot.

Tongue scrapping is something I do with vigor every day. I bought a simple tongue scrapper in India for about 3 cents–it’s a piece of metal shaped in a U. I hold on to the two prongs and drag the “U” part over my tongue, back to front. It’s heaven. Oh, sure, the stuff that I scrape off looks disgusting (usually some kind of yellow-brown mucus-y liquid), but I’m really getting my mouth clean. My teachers in India used to tell us that by using a tongue scrapper, we’re cleaning off all the bacteria that’s accumulated in our mouths while we slept, and it really does feel this way. So, next time you’re at Whole Foods, buy a $20 tongue scrapper. Or, buy a much cheaper one in India–they’re called “zippy” or “chippy” in Hindi. Oh: tongue scrap and THEN brush.

Now…the neti pot. It seems like everyone in the Whole Foods/Wild Oats/Organic/Yoga/Bring-My-Own-Bag/Metal Water Bottle/Subaru crowd already knows about the neti pot, so I won’t dwell on it here. As my teachers in India said, “we eat through our mouth 3 times a day and we clean our mouth 2, maybe 3, times a day. We eat through our nose all day long. We never clean our nose.”

The neti pot is like, well, a douche for your nose and sinuses. Warm water, sea salt, and a little bit of eucalyptus oil afterward will work wonders for your sinuses and your spirits. Compared to tongue scrapping, though, using the neti pot is wicked labor intensive. It takes me about 20 minutes or so mainly because I must make sure to get all of the water out of my system. Vigorous, side-to-side, kapalabhati breathing (or forceful exhaling) is the best way I know of to expel all that water from your nasal cavity. Also…one final note and then I’ll move on to Santosha….avoid using the neti pot right before bed. According to Indian lore, if you don’t get all the water out of your head and then lie down on your pillow, you might get an ear infection.

So….stay clean! Use a tongue scrapper and a neti pot.

Ugh, I can’t believe it’s taken me almost 4oo words to get to my topic today: Santosha, the second niyama or observance in the yogic system. Santosha (which, I seem to remember is pronounced “santosh”–silent “a”) means contentment. In many ways, this observance or niyama is the cornerstone of any yoga practice. And, in my book, it is the hardest aspect of a yoga practice. Standing on my head is easier than cultivating and maintaining a sense of contentment.

As the adage goes, “this moment’s pleasure is the next moment’s pain.” Have that second pint of beer or that chocolate cupcake now and feel the ache later–the headache or bellyache. But in the moment, we feel convinced that that cupcake or beer will feel so good. And maybe it does–but I think that “good feeling” we think we’re experiencing with the cupcake or beer is really just a kind of numbness.

By “numbness,” I don’t mean non-feeling; I actually mean something more like forced feeling. American culture seems to glorify constant intense feeling: we spend our lives roller-coastering from intense feeling to intense feeling. Consumerism is predicated upon this type of behavior: you buy one thing and it makes you “happy” or kinda high for a while, then you get used to or accustomed to your purchase, so then you need to buy something else to bring you that rush again. Ditto for cupcakes and beer in our culture.

Santosha or contentment is life on level ground. We get off the roller coaster when we decide to be at peace with how things are. Instead of having what we want, we want what we have (in this way, santosha ties in nicely with aparigraha). Yes, this is tricky not only because it runs completely counter to the dominant culture, but because it’s just tricky. None of us want to be doormats and sometimes that’s how we (and I mean “I”) view this concept. If I’m “content,”….then I’ll stick with a dead-end job or a dead-end relationship? No, no, no!

We can be “content” and make changes in our life. Being content is NOT the same thing as being stuck. Being content IS the same thing as responding to life’s challenges with wisdom and compassion. Practicing santosha is very similar, I think, to practicing non-attachment. Maintaining a balanced state of mind in the face of so much stress and (mis)information is the practice of both being content and not attaching or grasping at thoughts and things.

I have a translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood (Vedanta Press, 1953) that has a great quote in the commentary on Sutra 1.15: “non-attachment is the exercise of discrimination” (29). I like the concept of discrimination because it helps me unify santosha with my own Western desire to take the bull by the horns. I can be content and take action if I practice discrimination or discernment. If I make decisions from a place of wisdom and compassion (as opposed to making decisions out of greed or shame or woundedness or panic), then I can rest assured that my decisions will cause the least amount of harm to myself or others.

Well, contentment is a complicated subject in my book. I know there’s more–much more–I could say about it, but this post is already close to 1,000 words. So, I will close here with another quote from the Sutras: “There is no failure as long as we continue to make an effort” (Prabhavanada & Isherwood 65).

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Santosha

  1. julia

    thanks for sharing about santosha. It is very helpful for me to read this at this very moment.

    also, I’m snooping around your amazing blog as I consider starting my own.

  2. I feel so much happier now I udntersand all this. Thanks!

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