Contentment and Yoga: An Overview

by Nina

Sandy Carmellini by Brad Gibson

One of our readers told us that she started taking yoga when she was 48 and recovering from Hurricane Katrina. She wrote, “My first tears shed during my first Savasana, six months after the storm. The asana forced me to accept the world as it is.”

Although a long health span is one of our main goals for healthy aging, we believe that cultivating contentment is also an essential part of aging healthfully. For what is life without some measure of happiness? A little peace of mind would be nice, too. Of course no one who lives in the real world can be happy all the time—it’s not even appropriate when something tragic like Hurricane Katrina happens. So when we’re talking about “contentment” what we mean is that you’re able to be comfortable with what you have and what you do not have. When you can face difficulty with equanimity and cultivate gratitude for what you have, true contentment naturally arises.

How does yoga help with that? Well, to start, your asana practice can help you stay grounded. In general, doing a well-rounded practice takes you out of your mind and into your body, giving you a break from obsessive cycles of worry about the future, or regrets about the past. You can also target your practice to help shift your mood. Calming and comforting poses can soothe anxiety (see Yoga Solutions for Anxiety and our other posts on anxiety). Uplifting backbends and moving with your breath can relieve depression (see Tamasic and Rajasic Depression and our other posts on depression). And your asana practice can even support you through the grieving process (see The Way Home: Yoga for Grief). It was actually my epiphany about how valuable yoga was for emotional wellbeing that led me to become a yoga teacher and ultimately a yoga blogger (see Yoga for Emotional Wellbeing: An Epiphany).

But being able to stay grounded emotionally is only the first step. Mindfulness practices, including both meditation and breath practices, can teach you about your mental habits. And when you start to notice your automatic behavior—whether that’s stressing over small things, eating unhealthy foods, losing your temper, or anything else destructive—there’s a chance to head it off before it starts. This helps you make positive changes in your life that can support your overall goals (see A Pathway in the Mind).

Finally, yoga philosophy provides wisdom that can change your entire perspective on life. The original aim of yoga was peace of mind, and the yoga scriptures were written to help us all realize that goal. In fact, the yoga scriptures are so full of profound observations about the nature of the mind and the causes of human suffering that you are sure to find something that speaks to you. Mohandas K. Gandhi said that the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita allowed him to maintain peace of mind as he fought for social justice. Ralph Waldo Emerson was inspired by early translations of yogic texts as he developed his philosophy of Transcendentalism. And Henry David Thoreau practiced meditation and pondered yogic concepts as he explored the nature of solitude during his time at Walden Pond. He even wrote:

“Depend upon it that, rude and careless as I am, I would fain practice the yoga faithfully. … The yogi, absorbed in Contemplation, contributes in his degree to creation; he breathes a divine perfume, he hears wonderful things. Divine forms traverse him without tearing him, and, united to the nature which is proper to him, he goes, he acts as animating Original matter. … To some extent, and at rare intervals, even I am a yogi.”

Look up yoga philosophy in our index to find out more about the wisdom of yoga! (See How to Search for guidance on how to search.)