This morning I was teaching my advanced class at Exhale Center for Sacred Movement, and knowing that I wanted to lead the students into some deep backbends, I wanted to nestle the sequence in the idea of acceptance. Since the backbends tend to excite and stimulate our nervous system (and egos), I like to pair them with a method to calm and pacify. Today we had a sweet mini-mantra: samtosa. This is the perfect pairing for the yogi: efforting towards a goal while accepting absolutely whatever comes. It is essential to recognize that this is not a recipe for complacency! Rather we show up for our practice every day with full focus and intention, without being glued to a specific outcome.
Samtosa is the second of the Niyamas, which is part of the inner observances that Patanjali describes to prepare us for the deeper limbs of classical yoga. Samtosa (the m is pronounced n, and s as sh) translates as contentment.
The yogis believe that contentment, as opposed to a state of happiness, is to be cultivated. Here we accept whatever comes, both the good and the bad. We learn not to compare or judge events or people or ourselves, and thusly move away from the depths of suffering as well as the heights of joy. We move to a place of equanimity and deep acceptance of what is. Our feelings of regret for the past and wishes for the future begin to melt away and we rest, peacefully in the here and now.
As he often does, Patanjali presents us with a seemingly simple concept and asks us to pause and patiently consider our nature, bringing us to one of the steps to that great temple variously called peace, freedom or liberation. Surely, one of those steps is samtosa, the cultivation of contentment.
Known as a “teachers’ teacher,” Annie teaches all levels of asana classes, mentors young teachers, leads workshops and retreats as well as Teacher Trainings. Annie has a playful spirit and encourages a balance between working hard, and a light, joyful exploration into one’s own practice, into the awareness of one’s true nature.
“Although our culture tends to shrink yoga to mean only the physical, asana element I believe that yoga truly is a shamanic path, capable of leading us through transformation on all levels. Yoga reminds us what is real, and thus who we are — the light radiating from within.”