Giving Thanks, Cultivating Contentment

At Thanksgiving, we pause to gather with friends and family
to express gratitude for the year’s blessings. Although this North American
holiday is usually associated with the pilgrims’ first successful harvest, dating
to nearly 400 years ago, the idea of setting aside a time for giving thanks has
even older origins in spiritual and cultural traditions around the globe.

Great teachers from Aesop to Oprah have taught how cultivating an “attitude
of gratitude” can lead to a sense of well-being and fulfillment. In the yoga
tradition, gratitude is related to samtosha—most often translated as
contentment and counted as one the five
observances or niyamas
outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Samtosha
is the antidote for attachment
(raga),
which gives birth to desires or cravings, and which, in turn, lead
to envy or frustration over unmet expectations. These are all symptoms of what
meditators call “monkey mind,” uncontrolled, incessant—and usually
unhelpful—thoughts. Whatever we focus on has a tendency to magnify and define
us, like a negative whirlpool that drags us ever deeper.

One way to calm the swirling thoughts and feelings of dis-contentment is to focus on what we
are grateful for. Cultivating samtosha is one of the most important practices
for calming the mind which is the very essence of yoga as defined by the sage
Patanjali in his second
sutra (“Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind waves.”)

While you may associate Thanksgiving with yoga more in terms
of a brisk vinyasa to burn off the extra stuffing and gravy, consider making
the holiday the beginning of an everyday gratitude practice. It’s by
cultivating contentment daily that the seeds of serenity and peace will grow
and blossom outward. In sutra II:42, Patanjali says: “From contentment, supreme
joy is attained.”

What are some ways you’ve integrated contentment or
gratitude with your yoga practice?

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