Santosha and the Attitude of Gratitude

With Thanksgiving in the US coming upon us, we start to plan out our holiday celebrations: who are we inviting to the big Turkey dinner, what stuffing am I going to make, what’s the menu, etc. More importantly, however, we start to reflect on what we are grateful for; which after all is what this holiday is all about.

There is a concept in yoga called “Santosha” which is part of the “Yamas and Niyamas”, which I often describe as the Ten Commandments of Yoga; they are basically yogic codes to live by. Santosha is Sanskrit for “contentment” and/or “satisfaction”, but we often look at Santosha as “gratitude”. Santosha is all about finding contentment and gratitude for who you are and what you have in the present moment. I often weave “Santosha” into my yoga classes as a theme and encourage students to find their best expression of a challenging posture, then I ask them to find contentment with whatever layer they get to in that posture without harsh judgement of themselves or lusting after a deeper expression; I ask them to find gratitude for where their bodies are at and be grateful that they have bodies healthy and strong enough to be in a 100̊F room attempting such a challenging practice. Basically, it’s about adopting the Attitude of Gratitude as you move throughout your day with whatever life throws at you.

There is a great quote that came up on my YogaQuote App on my phone that I look at daily:

“Make an attitude to be in gratitude, you will find the whole Universe will come to you.” – Yogi Bhajan.

This quote really spoke to me; it’s all about coming back to a place of positivity, finding the silver lining, and finding gratitude in all things – the big and the small, the obvious and the not so obvious.

Now, to actually live from a place of gratitude is an absurdly difficult thing. I struggle with the attitude of gratitude on a daily basis as I can sometimes be a defeatist by nature. It is so easy for us to focus on the wrong and the bad and harp over what we do not have and what we want. I think it is man’s struggle to divert those negative thoughts and instead find Santosha within. I know that I will be working on this throughout my life, but the more I practice, though it may be a struggle, the more I find myself becoming a happier and content person.

This past October, my ten year old dog, Xena (yes, like the Warrior Princess), developed bladder stones and fell very ill. Not two weeks after returning from Europe, I found myself at two different veterinarians forking out $1000 that I had not been planning to spend, especially after my trip. It was upsetting and frustrating: my dog was in pain and I wanted desperately to help her, but the first vet was not 100% sure of how to do that; and on top of that I was worried about how I would be able to afford treatment if it came to something major like surgery, which was quoted for me at a whopping $4,000 – I seriously considered stripping downtown if it came to this. It was a situation where I could, and for a time did, fall into that trap of feeling dark, negative, and defeated about the entire fiasco. I was angry that this complication and pain had fallen upon my dog, angry at the timing, angry that I was not making that extra $10K I would like added to my salary.

Realizing that this attitude would not help the situation, I tried to come back to Santosha and focus on the good. As difficult as this was, I did foundd several aspects to be grateful for:

  • Besides the bladder stones, Xena was in excellent health. Though the doctors weren’t sure of exactly how to proceed at first, they were confident we could reach a solution because overall Xena was in great condition, especially considering her age.
  • No matter how expensive the treatments were, I have a good full time job where I am making money; a true income I can depend on. It wasn’t like I was not making money, behind on my rent, etc. and then having to add this to the mix; I had my needs met and knew that if worse came to worse I could find a financial solution, no matter how burdensome it may have been. This made me more grateful for my current employment situation.
  • My team at my full time job is the dream team and truly supportive. Rather than working with people that didn’t care about my situation and only cared about if I would be missing work to take care of my dog; I was instead met by support. My colleagues expressed concern for my dog, promised to send her good healing thoughts and prayers, and my superiors told me not to worry – if I needed to take a long lunch to take my dog to the specialist I could do it, if I needed to take a day off to take my dog in for surgery I could do that too. I found myself feeling incredibly grateful for my employment situation again, but also for having so many great, kind, and caring people in my life.
  • I am a yoga instructor and it is a great secondary source of income. If the cost continued to rise, I could sub more yoga classes for other teachers to put extra money in my pocket to cover the costs. Again, this made me grateful for my financial situation, the fact that I had options, and again for yoga’s presence in my life.

Once I had taken note of all these positives, I began to feel blessed. Sure, the situation wasn’t great, but I did have a lot going for me. Even in this trying time, I could still live from a place of gratitude, of Santosha. It put me in a much better state of mind as I continued to deal with the situation.

Luckily, my friend referred me to a holistic veterinarian who was able to help Xena without the need for surgery. (Dr. Robert E. Wood in Garden Grove, CA. If you’re in the area and need a vet, check him out!) Furthermore, my prayers were answered and Xena passed the one bladder stone that was causing her the most pain and as soon as it was gone from her she began to heal along with the aid of the medications and herbs that she was prescribed. By the end of the ordeal, I found myself feeling quite happy. Yes, I was out $1000 and yes, the amount of medications I had to give Xena at specific times of the day created more daily stresses and inconveniences, but I still had a lot going for me.

This experience inspired me to again reflect on my life and see where I could express more gratitude, and I found that I could do so on daily basis during the routine act of packing my lunch. I rarely eat out and almost always pack my lunch to bring to work with me. I prepare lunch in the morning before I head into the office, and honestly, it is a bit of a pain; 15-20 minutes out of my morning, a mess to clean up in the kitchen, etc. It’s easy to see this action as an inconvenience, but there is a huge flipside to it when you approach it with an attitude of gratitude: At least I have a lunch to pack. As annoyed as I get with the packing of my lunch, especially when I’m in a rush, I am now trying to reflect on the fact that I am hugely blessed to have ample food in my fridge and pantry to prepare a wholesome meal for myself; it’s a privilege denied to many. This approach makes me feel happier and brighter and sets me up for a positive day overall.

I tell you this story as an example of living from a place of gratitude. Again, I am not some guru who has mastered this most challenging art. Like I said, I struggle from day to day due to some of my predispositions and will continue to do so. I did, however, experience what it is like to live from a place of gratitude even in a difficult time and it truly uplifted the situation. This inspired me to strive to be grateful day to day for the big and the small and live a more peaceful and inspired life.

In conclusion, I encourage you to try and always come back to the silver lining, the good, the positive; focus on what you have even in the most challenging situations, and see how that changes each moment.

And lastly, I am grateful for all of you; the readers that I know personally and the ones that I have never met. Thank you for listening to my words. In love and light always; Namaste.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Saucha and the Spring | Johnny La Pasta

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