Santosha and Tapas: niyama arm wrestling ;)

Picture of a corridor in Tibet

Santosha is the second of the Niyamas of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. It roughly translates to contentment or satisfaction with the way things are. We can also look at it as not striving after worldly goods and instead focusing on what we already have. Tapas is the cultivation of strength of will and self-discipline to create change. By definition we could consider it to be opposed to santosha. On a simple level it is doing something that our minds are reluctant to do for the betterment of ourselves. When the will is diametrically opposed to something in our mind, the resulting fire will burn up our mental (and physical) impurities.  

I sometimes talk about these Niyamas during yoga classes, though probably not as much as their partner the Yamas. Those of you who know me will probably recognise that Tapas is not a problem for me. I have that one down. 🙂 This is a meandering post about my own experience with santosha, so I will be tagging this as a personal blog entry. For me it is something that I am constantly working with. I also find it quite difficult to get my head around, because it is difficult for my ego to accept.

As Swami Sri Kripalvanandaji said, ” When you pick one petal from the garland of yamas and niyamas, the entire garland will follow.”

Santosha and apathy

I find santosha incredibly difficult. I am always striving, trying to get better and trying to improve. As I mentioned earlier, it’s sister niyamatapas is much more my type of thing. Try to get me to be satisfied with where I am now and I will arm wrestle you until I can start trying to improve again. It is absolutely exhausting. If I am going to physically survive long enough to learn from this life, I feel that I need to slow this striving for self improvement. Is this something that I have in common with some of you reading this?

Something to try

Maybe we can try to relax and let the processes happen slowly. Use tapas to get things rolling and then let go of the outcome. I have heard this idea from many experienced teachers, guru and babaji. It could be a great sankalpa for my practise before I set off each day. Perhaps “I am letting go of the outcome of this practise” could really be a great way to begin. I am going to try it. This will enable me to work on santosha without falling into apathetic lethargy.

In closing

This was the subject of a long and inconclusive conversation I had with my meditation babaji in India. I could never quite get the ideas he was laying down. In the end he seemed to imply that I should just find a way to try santosha and then see how it goes.

In my daily practise I work on allowing it to become so regular, and routine that it does not require will or self-discipline to get to work. This is then both santosha and also aparigraha non-grasping, non-greedy (one of the yamas). Then I can more easily let go of the outcome.

Suffice it to say, i am still working on this one and, as long as I live for long enough, probably will be for many years to come. I do have these two tools to try – structured practise and sankalpa. I will let you know how it goes 🙂

Info on the post: I started writing this is July of this year and it was just a sketch of some ideas. In the end it took a long time to formulate my thoughts.

Santosha - a very difficult niyama.
Santosha

Yoga sutra 1.5

Girl in forest

“How do I stop my mind from spinning” said the mouse? “Don’t ask me. My mind is spinning too much to help you” said the other mouse. And fell over. 😉

The first few of Patanjali’s Sutras get us very excited as we are introduced to all of the wonders of practising yoga (1 – 1.4). We just cannot wait to get started. We now know that yoga is about stopping the mind (1.2) in order to allow our eternal, authentic spirit (soul) to be free (1.3) otherwise it will be forever churning, fooled into thinking that it is as confused and chained to the mind (1.4).  But again, how do we stop our minds from spinning? The stage is set in sutra 1.5 and then the players are assembled in sutras 1.6 to 1.11.

We are getting ahead of ourselves. Let us begin here with the 1.5 where we get to find out about types of thoughts.


vrittayah pancatayah klishta aklishta

The mental modifications are fivefold. Some cause misery; others do not.
Beach walk
Stopping the mind from spinning is not going to be easy. Far more complicated than walking down a beach, looking thoughtful.

Five types of thoughts

Five types of thoughts. Yes, basically there are only five different types of thoughts. Wait. I have thousands of thoughts you cry! Yes, but they boil down to a spicy soup of five different types:

  • correct understanding
  • incorrect understanding
  • imagination
  • dreamless sleep
  • memory

All of these five types of thoughts cause the mind to spin, from a spiritual perspective. Thoughts generally tend to be either afflicting (klishta) or non-afflicting (aklishta). We should begin by working with the thoughts that are already there.

  • Framing them as one of the five different types
  • Are they are harming you (klishta) or not (aklishta)
  • If possible replace aklishta with aklishta thoughts. 
  • Begin during your yoga asana practise and then take it off the mat into daily life.
  • Example: why am I telling myself I am not good enough at this posture? Good enough for whom, and what is good? Here we have what is perhaps an aklishta, incorrect understanding thought.

We must take control of the processes of the mind by first observing them. We can then prevent the mind from forming samskaras which will make it easier to move towards  samādhi and a stillness of the mind. Do not worry, you haven’t missed anything. We haven’t discussed samskaras yet.  

In order to understand why the mind keeps spinning even in quiet meditation with limited sensory input, we will need to look at 
Vritti samskara chakra. We are getting ahead of ourselves again. Let us begin here, with the mind, the thoughts and the colouring of klishta and aklishta.

Have a great day and an amazing practice.

Edit. 9th of october. Added a few practical steps. 

Intentions and finding moments of stillness.

Picture of person doing yoga on a hill

Intentions. Why are you doing what you are doing?

Everything we do is on some level either for survival or to be loved. 

Or is it? What is your intention for your yoga practise? Through practices of forms of yoga, whether physical yoga asana, breath-work through pranayama, meditation or any of the other elements of yoga, we are all trying to find moments of pre-stillness on the way to samadhi. Here we are after  nothing – just stillness. Nothing is pretty hard to imagine, let alone experience. This is what I am looking for in both my asana and my pranayama practise. I have to admit, it is rare that I actually get it. Here I find many of the same distractions or vrittis  that I get in standard meditation. What is for dinner? Did I switch my phone off? What am I doing after work today? Blah, blah, blah. That little green pixie in the back of my mind wants attention and it wants it now.

Sankapla

Now enter the sankalpa or intentions. If you come to my classes I will ask you to set an intention after the initial synchronising of the breath with movement practice. Try to set an intention which is both real, infused with emotion and easily understandable for your subconscious. If you want to dedicate to your practice to being more present for a person in your life you could also visualise that person, get some feeling about them at the same time as thinking something like, “my intention for my practice is to be more present with XX”. When you suffuse an intention with visualisation, strong feeling and clear phrasing, then the subconscious is fully engaged or programmed.

Succinct

Abstract, diffuse affirmations like “I want to be more successful” tend to be ineffective. Find something definite, expressed in the current moment. The programming has to be relevant. The aim here is to bring yourself back to this passionate intention throughout your practice whenever your mind begins to wander or your resolve begins to wane. It becomes a powerful anchor for the distractions of the mind. It is often straight after bringing this intention back, taking a breath and preparing to deepen your practice again that a little moment of samadhi or stillness appears.

In closing

As always, never forget to have fun too.

Have a great day.

Note: edited 6th of October. Added a couple of sentences and fixed a spelling mistake. Namasté :)

Yoga with mum

I’m visiting my mother in England. She’s the one who inspired me to take up yoga asana in the first place. She started practicing yoga in the 60s. I love practicing with her, and I love watching how her practice has developed and changed over the years. Our yoga practices are completely different. You can see that from the picture. We are both involved in completely different things, different approaches, but still the have the same beliefs and reasons for getting on the mat (or the grass in this case.) She doesn’t teach the public anymore, but she still teaches me whenever we are together.