Santosha~ Contentment is the second Niyama in the 8 limbs of Yoga We all would love to come to this place of contentment, in the yoga philosophy, otherwise known as Santosha. I believe that for the most part, I have found this place within my life and it all began the day I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
Although this might sound odd to most, but it’s when something throws you off or pulls the rug out from under you, a series of events begin to happen. This series of events can either take you to a place of contentment or a place of fear. There are always two paths one can choose to take, I chose contentment, however, at that time I had no idea that was the path I was about to embark upon.
Santosha involves the practice of gratitude and joyfulness offers, attempting at your very best to maintaining calm no matter what, keeping equanimity through all that life offers or even throws at you. This state of mind does not depend on external causes, whether physical, mental or an act of God.
~So how did I come to my Santosha~
After I was diagnosed, I called the National MS Society, I was on a mission, I started my first MS walk team, began an online support group and pretty much surrounded myself with only those who understood what it was like to have MS. Apparently all of this external keeping myself active, surrounding myself with a lot of MS only activities kept a very strong focus on this disease which now began to define me. I went every year having a relapse on my diagnosis date and sunk into the pity party that most know as the MS blues. I kept on going though, each year doing the MS walk, being a team captain, raising money, going to conferences, running my online support group, met wonderful people, however it was all about Multiple Sclerosis. I had no idea who Lisa was, if someone asked me to define myself or tell them about me, back then, I’d have said, “I’m a mom, I’m so and so’s girlfriend, I’m an ex wife, I have MS. I had no hobbies, no outside interests, I was a book with blank pages.”
It wasn’t until November 2007 that something in me decided it was time to change something, I didn’t know what it was, but something had to give. I didn’t feel ‘balanced’ and I don’t mean that in a physical way. I started a search for a yoga studio, figuring this will help with my balance and strength, little did I know just how much it would help, and so much more than physically. Once again, I had no idea what was in store for me once I sat down on that yoga mat.
I sat on my mat for the first time in January 2007 and haven’t stopped doing yoga since. Something happened that day, I can’t quite put it into words, but there was a shift of energy, there was ‘balance’, not physical balance, the balance I found came from deep within me. There it was that moment, my aha moment, I found out that inner peace, balance and empowerment doesn’t come from outside of us, it comes from deep inside of us. We can do everything for everyone, raise money, educate others, totally give of ourselves, however if you don’t discover who you are, if you don’t find peace within, there can’t be contentment. Without that state of mind all of your actions are not coming from a place of ‘gratitude and joyfulness’, it’s coming from a place of fear, you’re on auto pilot. Finding out who you are, taking care of you, before you start helping others is of utmost importance. What’s that saying? “You can’t help anyone else until you help yourself first.” How true that is.
In August of 2008 I had my first Healing and Moving for a Cure 3rd party fundraiser, named after two of my friends mom’s who passed away of complications of MS, with the money raised from this fundraiser, we started a program at the National MS Society’s Long Island Chapter for home health aide assistance, This program is called The Kathleen Valachi~Catherine Caldarella Memorial Fund Home Health Aide Assistance Program. We have had this fundraiser now every year since 2008 and look forward to repeating it every year until the day nursing homes are no longer used in lieu of homecare for those living with MS.
I am still an active member and team captain of the NMSS LI Chapter and collectively my team and I have raised over $50,000 over the past 8 years since I’ve been diagnosed and all money raised during the MS walk also goes towards my program within our chapter. Since being diagnosed I have been a patient advocate for Biogen Idec and have spoken at several MS informational events, bringing real life, “how to live well with MS”, stories to those just like myself.
In June of 2010 after 3 years of taking yoga as a practitioner my friend and yoga teacher, Laurie Ahlemann , felt that I was ready and recommended that I enter into her teacher training program at Long Island Yoga School, and study to earn my 200 hour yoga teaching certification. I had no intention of teaching, I went in just to deepen my practice, so I thought.
I am very proud to say that I completed my training, and have since started a Free Yoga for MS program. This program takes place at Simplicity Yoga Studio at Kings Park and Absolute Yoga Studio in Woodbury with an evening program being worked on as well at another location, soon to be announced. Without the generosity of these studio owners, Rosanne Sihler, Leslie Luft and all of those who give of themselves by volunteering to teach this program wouldn’t be possible.
When I graduated my teacher training in June, my attitude towards not wanting to teach had shifted, like so many other things along this journey. What began as a ‘deepening’ of my practice took on a new life. This teacher training was a gift to me, how does one repay a gift? You gift it back…My gift back is to bring yoga back to those living with MS, like myself, to show them that if they too believe that they can, that anything is possible.
Today if someone says, Lisa, how do you define yourself? I’m a happy empowered, balanced woman, who practices yoga (not just physically, it’s a way of life), reads, loves to laugh, has a great sense of humor, finds it very rewarding to help others. I have 3 children, one of whom is in college, I happen to have MS and I’m doing great!
I truly believe if those we bring yoga to, within the MS Community, can spend just a moment on their mat, like I did 4 years ago and sit quietly, even if it’s just to breathe, leaving the MS outside that door of the studio and find out who they are, if they can go within and maintain calm, if they can somehow find it within themselves to keep equanimity through all that life throws at them at one time or another, then perhaps, if only for that hour on the mat, they too, will find their Santosha