Santosa (Contentment)

By Colleen Saidman Yee, December, 2008

Bob Marley’s dying words to Ziggy were “money can’t buy you life”

Holidays! Uggghhh. How do we navigate this season of so many mixed emotions? What is the key to our sanity when all is so chaotic? How can we keep our perspective in check in the midst of the hurricane?

The holidays bring up different issues for everyone. But I don’t think anyone goes unscathed. This year is particularly stressful. We are alive during a very special time. There is so much hope and so much anxiety. And then we add the intensity of the holidays to it. How do we stay steady, joyful, and content while we spring from one end of the spectrum to the other?

There is so much joy during this season. The air smells amazing. The decorations carry a sense of nostalgia and comfort. There can be a great sense of connection, but also one can feel very isolated. Loved ones that have passed are particularly missed during the holidays. The reminder of the financial situation hits us full on. The body and mind are full of memories, some sweet, and some not so sweet. How can yoga help keep us balanced when it all seems to be spinning out of control?

I returned from India several years ago just in time for the holidays. I had been working in Calcutta at Mother Theresa’s homes for several months and on the way to work every morning, I would pass this woman sitting on her stoop, picking lice out of her daughter’s hair. They were both so content, and the joy on their faces made me smile every day. I returned home to my apartment in NYC, in the heart of SOHO, in the midst of the holidays. As I was getting out of the cab, there was a woman laden with expensive shopping bags screaming at her limo driver because he had driven around the block. Who was better off? The woman on her stoop, or the woman with the shopping bags? I ask myself that often. I crawled into my apartment and started to listen to my breath and imagined that I was the woman happily picking lice out of her daughter’s hair. I didn’t have a formal pranayama practice at that time, but now realize that is exactly what I was doing and where I was finding solace. I would imagine the breath and the rhythm of this woman with an air of peace and ease.

We have tools to bring about that contentment that is there under the surface of the stress and chaos. Please take the time to take them out of your toolbox. The best tool for overcoming personal stress is to help someone else, to serve. There are so many wonderful ways to serve, whether it is picking lice out of someone’s hair, serving at a soup kitchen, or visiting a geriatric center. Whatever it is, it will bring you closer to joy. The Dalai Lama was recently asked a question by a student of ours: what to do when the mind won’t stop chattering during meditation. He playfully says: “yes, me too. That happens to me all the time. What I do is finish the thought and then think about helping someone else and you will drop right into meditation.”

We all need to stop and be aware of the breath and realize that that can be all we need to find contentment and happiness in the moment and we can take it with us wherever we find ourselves over the holidays. Swami Satchidananda says that if you keep as healthy of a body as possible and a clear mind, that right action will follow. Stop, watch your breath, find a sweet meditative rhythm, whether it is stringing popcorn, pulling lice out of a friend’s hair, or walking down the street.

The second niyama is called santosa (contentment).

“From contentment the highest happiness is attained. When hankering is removed, the citta becomes content. This is called sattvic happiness. The sattvic happiness does not depend on external objects which are vulnerable and fleeting, this happiness is inherent in the mind when it is tranquil and contented.” (translation of the sutras by Edwin Bryant)

Let’s be happy. Swami Satchidananda also says that happiness is a choice. Let it all stem from meditation and kindness.

Remembering the wise words of Annie Lenox:

Money can’t buy it…baby
Sex can’t buy it…baby
Drugs can’t buy it…baby
You can’t buy it…baby
I believe that love alone might do these things for you.

Have fun. Breathe. Serve. Keep up your yoga practice. Be healthy and clear. Wishing you joy, ease, connection, and contentment during the holidays and always.

Namaste, (the content part of me bows to the content part of you)


Colleen Saidman Yee

A graduate of Jivamukti’s 1998 teacher-training program, Colleen opened Yoga Shanti, in Sag Harbor, in 1999. She has taught several teacher trainings at Yoga Shanti, some with her husband, Rodney Yee. The New York Times christened Colleen "The First Lady of Yoga," and has also been featured in Vanity Fair, New York magazine, Oprah, Marie-Claire, Allure, and Yoga Journal. Before that she had a varied career: She was a cover girl, a student of shiatsu, and she lived in Calcutta, working with Mother Theresa at the Home for the Dying and Destitute. More recently, together with Rodney, Colleen helped to create Urban Zen's Integrative Yoga Therapist Program, Donna Karan’s worldwide initiative. Colleen's latest yoga DVD is "Calorie Killer Yoga." Colleen is a co-founder of Yoga Shanti New York.

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