Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. That is what the sunflowers do.” ~Helen Keller
Today we are exploring the yoga guideline (niyama) of contentment (also known as santosha). Niyamas are actions that help us be happy and healthy. The contentment niyama suggests we keep a positive attitude, even in difficult times. By choosing to be contented we are better able to navigate challenges, from difficult tests and sporting competitions, to much bigger difficulties like being left behind or the death of a loved one.
I’ve had challenges in my life. When I was 8 years old my human surrendered me to an animal shelter in the middle of winter. He left me caged in a noisy smelly room full of imprisoned dogs and cats. Luckily I was rescued by All 4 Paws Animal Rescue and sent to the vet because my body was covered with bleeding sores. They said the wounds were a result of my diet and a lack of bathing and brushing. So listen to your parents when they tell you to eat your vegetables and take a bath!
I finally landed in a foster home and my temporary human put an ugly Christmas sweater on me so potential adopters would overlook my scruffy appearance. Despite that, I was happy there. It was warm and had an endless supply of food. There were other rescue dogs there, and although I prefer the company of humans over canines, it was reassuring to be in their pack.
When I went to my adoption “meet and greet,” I attracted my prospective family by wagging my tail and sitting in front of them in (what they called) a child’s pose. They liked that I was calm and cute, and after repeatedly showing them my adorable pouty face (see below) they gave me a forever home.
It was my resilience, contentment and choice of a positive outlook that helped me connect with my new human family.
I wish my brother Jake (shown to the left in one of his rare calm moments) would follow my example. When new people come into our home he nervously jumps and barks at them.
They back off quickly because he is big and intimidating.
And sometimes they turn away from him and pet me instead (as shown at right) because I am calm (and, as mentioned before, quite cute). Jake gets jealous and pushy when this happens, and sometimes our human has to pull us both away or send us outside. Jake gets anxious with newcomers because he’s afraid to be abandoned again. As a stray, he spent weeks on South Carolina streets before someone took him to a shelter. This was all very scary, so new people and situations make him worry that he’ll be taken away from his forever home.
How do you act when you meet people? Are you positive and calm when you are with friends? Or do you focus on the negative things or open conversations by gossiping? It’s tempting to act in these ways, but you can wind up alone with no one to talk to. That’s because we’re attracted to people who are positive, content and joyful.
How can we become more content?
One way is to be in the moment. Breathing practices help us forget about the past and future, and be grateful for what you have. My human instructs her yoga students to take 5 to 10 deep breaths and if they notice any tension or negative thoughts they are to let them go on the exhale. Then she asks them to think of three things they are grateful for. They breathe them in one at a time, and exhale anything that gets in the way of their thankfulness. If I were in the class, I’d be thinking about pizza night. My humans have it every Friday and I’m very grateful for that. I love pizza.
Another way to feel more positive is to do something that makes you joyful every day. Summer is a great time to be outdoors in nature, which is instantly grounding and calming. I like to walk with my human every night. There are so many delicious smells in the shopping center dumpsters nearby, and the bushes in front of the vet’s office are intoxicating. Instead of these doggy joys you might prefer riding a bike or running through the lawn sprinklers. Or being creative, with crafting or drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk. When it’s really hot out, just walking into an air-conditioned room can bring delight and contentment.
Cultivating a positive and contented energy helps us overcome difficulties, enhances satisfaction with our situation, and surrounds us with loving and caring friends.
How might you bring more contentment to your days?
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~ Lao Tzu
Next time we will explore the niyama of self-discipline (also known as tapas). That’s a hard one for me – especially on pizza night.
Until then, Namaste.
Yogi Bear is the friendly and wise mascot of Mini Change Yoga.