Yoga Philosophy

What Inside Out taught me about Santosha


My husband and I found ourselves with the opportunity to have a day date, and our first thought was to go watch a movie at the theater. Parents, you know how hard it is to go see a movie, right? We settled on Inside Out, feeling only slightly guilty that we didn’t bring our 3-year-old.

Fair warning, this post may spoil parts of the movie, if you haven’t seen it yet. Come back and join the conversation after you’ve seen it. It’s a GREAT movie, by the way, and worth the cost of admission.

Besides my mommy hormones making me blubber through the sentimental parent/child moments, I was drawn to the internal struggle of emotions. I’m especially sympathetic to Sadness. I’ve always had a soft spot for emo/Debbie Downer characters, like Homestar Runner’s Strong Sad. I think it’s because there is a depth of emotion that lives within sadness, and it’s such an inward-facing emotion. You face your own demons and insecurities and pain when feeling sadness. Interestingly, more often than not, you always come out stronger afterward even when you think there’s no way you could ever feel joy again.

A phrase we’ve been using in yoga teacher training is, “What would Pema do?” Pema Chodron’s Comfortable with Uncertainty book has been a life changer for me, and it prompted me to stop running away from sad and anxious feelings. What Pema would do, instead, is to face those feelings head on, sit with them, let them run their course and then choose a path toward happiness.

I thought about the lessons learned from that book while watching the movie. The emotions were presented as singular and independent at first. Most memories were labeled Joy. On a trying day, a memory was labeled Fear or Sadness. As the story progressed, we start to see memories have more complex emotions. Something that appeared to be Joy actually had a side of Sadness. They co-existed.

In yoga philosophy, santosha is sanskrit for contentment, which can be interpreted as a flavor of joy. The idea is to find contentment from within – to choose to be happy. It’s easy to think of santosha when things are going great: I’m having a productive day and received a compliment about my hair. But can you find contentment in difficult or uncomfortable situations? Can you sit with the emotions that arise and choose to be happy?

Where the idea of santosha and the movie Inside Out started to overlap for me was seeing how life isn’t about Joy all the time. Rather, it was about letting Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger have a turn when appropriate and then finding your way back to Joy. Santosha isn’t the blinders that hide or ignore other emotions. It’s reframing and even appreciating the complexity of emotions that leads to contentment.

It’s amazing to see how a Disney movie can offer a new dimension to a yoga philosophy idea.

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