Our natural human tendency to focus on what’s wrong often means that “what’s right” can be just under our noses and we don’t see it. Santosha, or contentment, is sometimes hiding in plain sight until the conditions become right for us to discover it.
In yoga, we’re often encouraged by teachers to work toward the midline of the body. I always thought of this instruction as something muscular, a goal that required striving and effort in order to achieve. What I realized only recently is that focusing on the midline is much more than getting muscles and limbs into position – it also refers to being in harmonious alignment, that place we enter when we have the right balance of “sthira” (steadiness and effort) and “sukha” (ease).
Yoga International explains that “sukha” originally referred to the smooth ride that resulted from an axle being well-centered in the wheels of a cart. Today, if I start to drift out of my lane when I’m using cruise control in my car, it will gently pull me back so that I am perfectly centered between the lines – sukha in action. Sukha means being comfortable, sitting in a good space; it is an “authentic state of happiness,” according to Yoga Journal. And that is often where we find contentment.
How do you know when effort and ease are in balance? When have you tried hard enough to be ready to accept where you are? Baron Baptiste writes that, “We have a responsibility in our practice to be straight with ourselves…There’s a difference between accepting where you are and making excuses for hanging back. But really, you know.” On the yoga mat, and in life, listening to the body, the heart, and the mind, we have a sense of what harmonious alignment feels like. Any additional striving is just resistance.
When the natural rhythm between effort and ease is disrupted, we are less able to be resilient in the face of stress. Science teaches us that in any stressful situation, the body wants to return to homeostasis, “steady state.” Much like the cruise control in my car, homeostasis is designed to get us back to exactly where we were before we went off course. But a newer term, “allostasis,” better reflects how we need to respond in many instances. As defined by Bruce McEwen (and quoted by Jon Kabat-Zinn), allostasis means “remaining stable by being able to change.” Allostasis recognizes that there is a range of places where balance can be found.
I can think of countless times in my life when I struggled against something because I wanted it to be just like it was before. Only when I stopped resisting and accepted where I was, could I find a peaceful balance again. I had to change in order to regain stability. As Baron Baptiste writes, “Be where you are and melt into that experience…All the frantic and unnecessary doing will drop away..” Going from effort to ease is recognizing when to cede control and choose to surrender to where you are. It’s the difference between saying, “I’ll be happy when….” and “I’ll be happy now.”
Just as my summer solstice this week will mean the approach of winter for someone in the southern hemisphere, what you see and experience depends on where you’re sitting at the present moment. For me, the solstice signals the beginning of summer, a time of ease. It means giving myself permission to be a little less effortful. Maybe I can sit in that good space for a while and discover some contentment there. Where will you find your good space?