Santosha (contentment) and finding happiness

santosha blog post

One of my first yoga teachers said to me that I would never be completely content. I thought she was right, but I've come to realise that we all have the ability to be content and that this is the heart of true happiness. Santosha, the sanskrit word for contentment, is an important part of yoga practice. Being present, mindful and OK with what we have right now allows us to enjoy this moment. But it can be hard to cultivate or to maintain. 

I draw a lot of my lessons in life from surfing, sometimes it's a cliche but it works for me! I used to sit in the line up and look down the beach, and the waves always seemed to be breaking better there. However when I got out, walked down the beach and paddled back out, surprise surprise, the waves were exactly the same. Yoga has taught me a similar lesson. Whilst I don't see the need to practice on a yoga mat, I do understand the symbolism of it. When we practice yoga we are not looking at what anyone else is doing, we are looking inside ourselves, a space definted by our mat. When we do look around at other people on their mats, notice someone elses external pose and compare ourselves to that we loose our focus. This is not yoga.

So, how does this relate to our lives and our happiness? Over the years I have longed for other things, mainly sandier beaches, bluer sea and warmer sun! I have found it difficult to settle because there is always somewhere else to be and something else to do. My lack of contentment has taken me on many adventures and I would never change this. It has given me lots of memories, but it hasn't always made me completely happy.

Life goes in phases - there is the time to fly the nest and gather experiences and there is the time to settle and make a new nest. As I reflect on the last 6 months I feel happy that I have the things that are truly important to me, love and family. And as I prepare for my new family I know that my life isn't perfect and it certainly isn't the life I had imagined a few years ago. I dreamed of travelling with my baby on my back, bringing it up in different countries, settling somewhere hot and sunny and definitely surfing more than once a year! But I had to make a decision, what did I want more in my life - all of that, or love and family. My husband and I can't travel right now because we have a responsibility to be here for my stepson. My life doesn't 'look' the way I imagined it would, but it 'feels' even better than I could have imagined. 

In a world where we are constantly seeing visual representations and portrayals of other peoples lives in a way that they (or the marketing companies) want us to see it, it can be hard to ascertain how any of it feels to those people. Usually we assume they must be happy because their lives look so perfect, and often we think that we, too, would have that happiness if we had all the things those people have. However, once our basic needs are met our happiness doesn't change that much regardless of how much more or less stuff we have, and we can't have it all! Working out what are the most important things to us right now and forgetting about all the other things we could have helps us to find contentment and ultimately happiness. And my guess is, usually the most important things to us aren't 'things' at all. 

How to let life bloom!

It's no secret that flowers are one of my favourite things! In fact, 'flower' was the first word I said (according to my mum). I get so much satisfaction from watching all of my plants and flowers blossom. Every day I water them, talk to them, clean the leaves, inspect them for shoots and admire them patiently as they grow, bit by bit. So... why can't I do this with my life?! 

When it comes to growing flowers, plants, vegetables, whatever you choose, you have to have patience. You know it's not going to happen over night and you enjoy the moments watching them grow as much as the final product, tending your garden is therapeutic! This is common knowledge and one of the reasons community gardens and allotments are so popular.

In contrast, when it comes to life we rarely just observe as it grows, blossoms and fades, grows again, blossoms again.... It can be hard to let life take it's course. We often want to see the 'flowers' constantly without acknowledging that those flowers have a life cycle of their own. When I look at nature I'm always reminded that this is life. All the extra stuff we do is our human addition - the clothes, cars, jobs, houses, but when you break it down to the bare bones it is simply about growing, blossoming, dying, maybe growing again. Much like the tides ebb and flow, sometimes with a bigger tide, sometimes with choppier waves. 

When you remind yourself that our lives are just part of this cycle it can be easier to accept it. It does take time, you do have to be patient, cut off the dead-heads and wait for the new buds. And you have to nurture it, feed it, give it water and sunlight. Try it, just for today, imagine your life as a plant and nurture it. Notice the difference! 

Diary of a yogi (who's training for a marathon) Part 2

The lessons I've learned...

After 6 months of training, I now have just 2 weeks left until the marathon. Typically, I have my first cold of the winter and any last minute training has gone out the window! I'm sure these moments are sent to teach us something... So here is what I've learned:

Plan for the unexpected

I have trained and trained and trained, but I didn't factor in that I would get ill right now! Whilst I don't feel confident at all on the surface, deep down I am pretty sure I've done the ground  work. There's very little else I can do now other than go with the flow on the day and give it my best. 

Don't be too hard on yourself

My biggest lesson! I am my own worse critic but this isn't always a good thing. Undermining your self confidence will do you no good when faced with a challenge. Instead remind yourself of all the things you have achieved and acknowledge how far you have already come AND accept the things that are out of your control.

Food is fuel

The revelation of this has changed my relationship with food completely. It is something to enjoy too, but especially during times of extreme physical exertion it is your fuel. You wouldn't drive a car with an empty petrol tank and expect it to get you home? So for the next 2 weeks I am fueling up, hoping this tank will get me to the finish line.

PMA

A positive mental attitude is like stoke to the fire your food gives you. However with out it the fire is likely to smoulder and die! I've had plenty of moments when I've thought 'I can't do this' but somehow a little voice has whispered 'go for it'. 

Support

Never under estimate how important support is, with everything in life! There have been times when I've been fiercely independent taking help from no one. Whilst those moments gave me inner confidence that I can go it alone, the support that people give you is equally as strengthening. Without the encouragement of my training buddy, best friend and partner I would never have finished those hideous head-wind training runs! 

So now I need to take these lessons and use them....