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Cultivate Contentment this Holiday: How to Practice Gratitude
When I was a child, Christmas morning was a well-orchestrated event. My parents loved to surprise us with special, unexpected gifts we hadn't asked for and loved to set a cozy and festive stage for the ultimate event, the opening of gifts. They got a huge kick out of seeing us enjoying ourselves, so they took great care to make things as magical for us as they could.
Now, as an adult, I find myself wanting to recreate that cozy, festive atmosphere for my holidays. Only since I’m no longer a kid, I have to create it myself—not as easy. So rather than stressing myself out trying to create magic (which doesn’t really work anyway), I’ve realized that I need to redefine my concept of magic.
In the frenzy of making plans, choosing gifts, travel, and get-togethers, it’s easy to forget the simple blessings of friends and family. Practicing santosha (contentment) can help us remember to appreciate the magic that’s here and now, rather than wishing for a kind of magic we think should be present.
Santosha and Gratitude Go Hand in Hand
Santosha, the second niyama (habits and observances for healthy living and spiritual attunement) in the Eight Limbs of Yoga, is the practice of cultivating contentment. Practicing contentment means we appreciate the blessings we already enjoy rather than wishing for something we think we lack. Santosha helps us recognize our inherent completeness, just as we are. Contentment leads to a quiet, satisfied mind, a mind that celebrates the perfection of each moment.
Remembering—and invoking gratitude for—the blessings we enjoy here and now is one way to connect us with santosha. Gratitude journaling is one way to help us cultivate santosha. It’s very simple and takes little time. Here are the basics:
Invest in a journal or notebook that you use specifically for this practice. Of course, you can theoretically use whatever you have on hand, but journals or notebooks are easily affordable. They’re an easy indulgence that will help inspire your practice.
Commit to writing down three to five things each day that you feel grateful for.
It can be helpful to designate a time each day to write in your journal. It can be any time of day, but many people find just before bedtime to be an especially appropriate time. This gives you a chance to reflect on the blessings of the day. Even on a difficult day, if you look closely, you can find small blessings that may have softened the hard edges.
Be grateful for small blessings. Often, we fail to notice the small things that grace our daily lives. These include things that we take for granted: having a roof over our heads (not such a small thing if you think about it); friends, partners, family members, and animal companions; access to food and clean water; access to heat and electricity; the ability to work; and of course, our yoga practice. Acknowledging these “small” blessings is essential to cultivating santosha.
If yoga is truly a path of peace, gratitude for our lives as they are in this moment is one of the paving stones. I may not be able to manufacture the same magic my parents so artfully staged during the holidays. But I can recognize the magic that’s already here.
And more delightful insights from YogaUOnline and writer, Jennifer Williams-Fields: 10 Yoga Tips For the Holidays.
Charlotte Bell began practicing yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. She was certified by B.K.S. Iyengar in 1989 following a trip to Pune. In 1986, she began practicing Insight Meditation with her mentors Pujari and Abhilasha Keays. Her asana classes blend mindfulness with physical movement. Charlotte writes a column for Catalyst Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. She is the author of two books: Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. She also edits Hugger Mugger Yoga Products¹ blog and is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, she plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and the folk sextet Red Rock Rondo whose 2010 PBS music special won two Emmys.