Santosa: the art of being happy

In my classes, I am constantly reminding my students to focus on their breathing, let go of distracting thoughts and to be present on the mat. It is so easy to say these things.They are simple instructions that I hope are helpful. I know that when another teacher says similar comments to me, I find them helpful reminders to quiet my mind.

Paradoxically, when I am not on my mat, I feel like I am constantly frustrated, constantly distracted by niggling thoughts and little annoyances. I want to let go of this consant state of irritation. I want my brow to unfurrow. I want to let go of life’s petty annoyances. And they are so petty! I’m annoyed at the municipality for not shovelling all the sidewalks, I’m annoyed at my 16-year-old dog for wheezing in the night and waking me up, I’m annoyed at my partner for cooking pasta three nights in a row. When I’m driving I’m annoyed at the pedestrians. When I’m walking, I’m annoyed at the cars. I’m annoyed at my fellow yoga instructor for not putting the bolsters away neatly. I’m annoyed at the grocery store clerk for counting my change too slowly. The list is infinite.

I don’t know what is a suitable level of annoyance. I don’t know what annoys my friends and colleagues. I don’t know how to stop getting annoyed. I do know that when I finish a yoga practice, I feel calm, serene and not annoyed. I want that serenity to translate to my life off the mat. There will always be little annoyances that I cannot change. What I can change is how I react to life’s annoyances. My goal is to be non-reactive to irritating people and small daily problems. I talk about this every day when I am teaching, and I listen to other teachers say the same thing in their classes.

The second limb of Ashtanga Yoga is the Niyamas, the attitude towards the self. Santosa is one of the Niyamas: the ability to be happy in the present moment. Today, right now, I will practice santosa. When something annoys me later on today, I will strive to come back to a state of santosa.

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