“It is well, It is well”

“It is well, It is well”

Again, Patanjali categorizes the niyamas (personal observances) as cleanliness, contentment, austerity and control of senses, self study through scriptures, and surrender to universal awareness/humility. 

Of these 5 niyamas many might observe that contentment is the most most illusive to sustain. The deep wells of desire and aversion we’ve all dug are hard to climb out of. We might shimmy up a few stones only to slide back down. And yet we persist because….

  • Santosha: contentment
  • annuttama: unsurpassed
  • sukha: good space, agreeable, happiness
  • labhah: obtained

“Arising from contentment, an unsurpassed, agreeable mental state (happiness) is achieved”

This mental space is sattvic and a sattvic buddhi only is capable of seeing the truth. So the practice cannot be complacent but must be sustained. In a similar way that asana helps us to remain stable amongst the comparitive extremes (hot/cold, dark/light, day/night, pleasure/annoyance etc- “tato dvandvanabhigatah”) the practice of contentment helps us maintain an agreeable mental space away not tied to the push and pull of desire and aversion (raga and dvesa).

Here contentment is not merely being happy with our physical posessions but with the sum total of our experience. With steadfast determination this surface happiness gives way to abiding peace within as we take up the full path of yoga and get to know the Purusha.


But Contentment must be practiced with discernment for it can quickly turn to complacency. One thing that often strikes me is just how many times I must return to a sutra/sloka/karika etc to understand (pratyaksanumanagamah pramanani). If the meaning is immediately easy then maybe I haven’t dug deep enough. So let’s dig a little deeper…

In the Samkhya Karika, Contenment is categorized as one of 4 mental attitudes or “Prateya” (see sloka 45). Ultimately, Iswara Krshna admits, Only one (#3. siddhi) is beneficial to the us long term. The others can become an obstacle… even contentment. These prateya’s are:

  1. viparyaya: thinking of something as other than it is
  2. ashakti: infirmity. the mind becomes weak
  3. tushti: contentment
  4. siddhi: accomplishment (here referring to the highest siddhi of knowing the true nature of one’s self, not all the powers described in the 3rd chapter of Patanjali’s yoga sutram)

Tushti (contentment) is then divided in to 9 particular attitudes, 4 of which are internal (sloka 50).

  1. prakrti: “nature will take care of everything!,” but then I take no initiative as i’m contented to swept up in the cycle of samsara.
  2. upadana: “i’ll just take sanyasi!” wherin the person merely renounces the world carelessly. This however is not sufficient as vairagya (dettachment) has a necessary partner in abhyasa (practice)…so again the initiative is not there nor is the understanding of what sanyasi really means.
  3. kala: “everything will be OK in time!” which of course yes may be true BUT there must be a path we take up or realization won’t happen.
  4. bhagya: “everything is just luck anyway!” relying on luck is limited. If you are lucky you have very little incentive to seek knowledge. If you are unlucky and contented to be so then well….”same same, but different.”

The remaining 5 are external and are based on dettachment from objects of the senses. Again this is only half of the equation according to Yoga Sutra 1.12:

The recipe for nirodhah (absolute peace of mind) is two fold: Part 1 is practice (abhyasa) and part 2 is dettachment from the results or expectations (vairagya). 

One without the other is incomplete. So being content with continued cycle of samsara is not enough. That looks more like denial. Remember “atha yoganusasanam.” We’ve been here before, let’s stop spinning our wheels. Contentment is a practice within an integrated system. Like the many threads of a strong rope it is another support to make the body/mind complex stable and sattvic.

Looking to another important text – the Bhagavad Gita- the teaching of contentment is not isolated. It is married to both dettachment and engagement. Krishna (the Lord) is guiding Arjuna (the Warrior, the student, maybe a reflection of each of us!)  to do his sacred duty or Dharma (one Arjuna is adamantly against doing initially). In so doing he makes it clear to release the results of his dutiful actions…as those results do not belong to him. In this path of Dharma, Krishna reminds Arjuna (BG 4.20)…

“Those who have given up all attachment to the fruits of action are always content, not dependent on external things. Even when performing action, does, in effect, nothing at all.”

Meaning the yogi is not accumulating karma through their actions when done from a true and honest dharmic place. The action must still be taken up though until the mind is so clear it is able to go beyond the dualities of nature.

That initiative is yogic effort: not accumulating, not attached, not bound. 

Remember that the niyamas are the observances we commit to “nitaram” or “all the time” and as such are first how we interact with ourselves. Ethical standards for our constant companion. There is so much we do not have the capacity to change in the world we live in. What can we work with? The projections of our mind “citta vrttis.” So we can be content with what is, and apply our minds to the practice of yoga; slowly clearing away what is necessary to reside in our true nature. This is the highest practice of Santosha.

“When peace like a river attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say

It is well, it is well with my soul”

~Horatio Spafford

See you tomorrow,



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