Santosha is contentment with what is, without inferring non-action. Viveka is discrimination. Wise asana practice is infused with keen discrimination and tempered by radical and abiding self-acceptance.
Self-acceptance is an absolute prerequisite for useful practice. Without self-acceptance we are always in a battle with ourselves trying to change or perfect one of our imagined limitations. This is a battle that is never won because as soon as we perfect one thing we are on to the next to try to alter, change or improve another aspect of ourselves. The radical idea that you are just fine as you are is almost unthinkable to us. Experiencing the degree to which you are not satisfied with who you appear to be, or who you take yourself to be, is the first step toward understanding how important it is to find a deeper truth about yourself. The deeper truth is that you are completely okay. The concept of contentment does not mean that you can’t take action. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to change self-destructive habits. It does mean that in order to move into deeper levels of conscious awareness you need to fully acknowledge, without judgment, how you are, how you feel, think, and act in every way. Amazingly, this full acknowledgment of our so-called “faults or limitations” is often all that is necessary for these negative thinking patterns to dissolve. They simply go away. The trick is that you can’t try to make them go away. In your effort to get rid of the things that you don’t like about yourself you effectively lock them in place. The struggle is the problem. The struggle is what keeps our awareness locked up in a swirl of discontented thoughts and feelings and blocks us from seeing the larger picture – which is where we will find true contentment.
Santosha is a deep practice and it can be tricky. Creating a “mood” of contentment is not true contentment. Contentment is the result of seeing clearly. Imagining that everything is fine and affirming to yourself that you are a good person or whatever, does not offer contentment. That is just another strategy to try to change how you feel. You have to really accept it. Acceptance breeds contentment.
Take it in small sips. Find something that you really have a problem accepting about yourself. Don’t make it too huge. Then look at it for a while. Examine it from different angles. Sit with it. Would it be possible to accept this? Try it.
A kind of spiritual mood making should not be mistaken for santosha. Santosha is a deep practice. It is definitely not pretending or imagining that everything is okay. Santosha, contentment is a real and deep knowing.
Viveka, discriminative-mind keeps us on track. Using keen discrimination we search through the sea of swirling thoughts and feelings to uncover how we limit and abuse ourselves with our own thinking. Viveka will tell us when we are fooling ourselves with some mood of spirituality just as viveka will tell us when we are wrongly judging and devaluing ourselves.
Santosha and Viveka work hand in hand. Santosha is the feminine and Viveka the masculine. Contentment needs to be revealed by the sword of discrimination.
Each and every time we step onto the mat we have the opportunity to meet ourselves with fresh awareness. Physical practice can either further solidify a habitually fragmentary vision of oneself or it can lead one toward a non-fragmentary, holistic and encompassing vision of all of life. Engaging santosha and viveka we can navigate our own journey toward seeing life as it is. In helping ourselves we gain the tools and the vision to assist our students as well.
Sthira Sukham Asanam — Asana is Steady and Sweet
All asana endeavors to be steady and sweet, striking a balance effort and effortlessness and leading to the transformation and resolution into original form–samapattibhyam.