Sadhana means “spiritual practice” in Sanskrit, in a broad sense. It refers to all the practices adopted by a spiritual seeker to progress on his inner journey. A balanced yogic sadhana is usually constituted by the following elements, in a variable proportion depending upon one’s inclination:
- Breathing exercises (Pranayama)
- Postures (Asanas)
- Meditation (Dhyana)
- Devotional practices (Kirtan – prayer)
- Selfless service (Karma Yoga)
It is essential to find an equilibrium in the time and energy we allocate to each practice to ensure a harmonious development of all aspects of our being. Favoring or neglecting too much one particular aspect inevitably generates an imbalance that will manifest sooner or later and will slow down or even stop one’s progression.
Setting up a sadhana: the first step towards freedom
To set up a daily sadhana is the first step towards the emancipation of our inner being from the dictatorship of the senses and the mind. From a concrete standpoint, one needs to determine with lucidity and good sense what the body and mind are able to bear. It is wiser to begin modestly and increase gradually once we are comfortable. When the mere idea of doing one’s practice is generating a feeling of joy, it is the sign that the body and the mind have fully accepted the discipline. Then, the notion of effort tends to disappear, leaving space for a deep feeling of peace and inner strength. In the beginning, however, it is necessary to “negotiate” with the parts of ourselves that are resisting to the changes. The physical body wants to sleep, the senses continue to beg for their daily share of pleasure, and the mind, still subdued to the senses, comes up with a thousand excuses, all absolutely valid, to convince the practitioner that he should really give up all this nonsense… Fortunately, after a while, even these die-hard rebels end up appreciating the moment of the practice because everyone always feel so much better after.
Wake up early
The first most determining factor to establish a regular sadhana is to wake up early, no matter what. On this account, you will find that the mind is surprisingly prompt and eloquent to provide a bunch of arguments, some of which can seem quite valid at 5:30 in the morning, to support the famous “lack of sleep theory” if you set your alarm clock just a half hour earlier than usual. Don’t be fooled by the tricks of an untamed mind. The energy gained with your practice will undoubtedly make up for the little time you lost in sleep. Ideally, one should try to wake up at the end of a sleep cycle. This way, the body is rested and there is no sensation of heaviness. It requires a little bit of training but with practice, it can come quite quickly. To do so, all is needed is to clearly formulate the request before going to sleep. The rest will be taken care of by the intelligence of the body, through our subconscious mind. For instance, you can intelligibly say to your subconscious mind right before going to bed and looking at your alarm clock : “Wake me up at the end of a sleep cycle at 6:00 am the latest.” You will rarely be woken up at 6:00 sharp but rather five or ten minutes before. At that moment, it is essential to resist the temptation to sleep for 5-10 more minutes as the benefits would not be the same. The waking time is therefore the first and probably the most important parameter in the beginning because all the rest depends on it. If you wake up late, you will have no time and no desire to practice. Besides, in order to ensure a sleep of good quality and to wake up rested and in a positive state of mind, it is vital not to fall asleep while you are still digesting. The best thing to do is to eat very little at night and to gradually train the body and mind to eat more in the morning and at lunch. This way, you won’t be so hungry in the evening.
Content of a Sadhana
You will find below a possible progression, depending on your level of commitment. These set of exercises are merely examples to provide a starting point to a home practice. One can of course adapt it to his own needs. It is very important to be structured when setting up a sadhana. Each practice should have a predetermined amount of time allocated to it and come in a specific order. Traditionally, it is recommended to find a balance between the various type of practices, to ensure a complete and harmonious development.
- Pranayama should always be performed on an empty stomach, with fresh air, ideally right after the bathroom.
- Meditation, in this schedule, includes exercises of concentration, contemplative meditation and any devotional practices that one feels inclined to do. It is good to establish a sort of protocol for meditation. For instance, you can start with a short prayer, then silent meditation with exercises of concentration and contemplative meditation (see index of practices), and you can finish with some kirtan if you know any. When the meditation has a structure, the mind is much less likely to wander and will be more obedient.
- The content of the asanas practice should also follow a certain logic, especially on a energetic level. Yoga postures, when coupled with the breath and concentration, have a deep effect on nervous and energetic centers in the body. It is therefore important that they connect intelligently. It is usually safer to follow a tried and tested asanas sequence rather than to invent one, especially in the beginning. Here, we will use as a base the Rishikesh Series of Sivananda and its 12 postures, to which numerous variations can be added, while still respecting the initial order (inverted postures, forward bends, backward bends, twists).
The time spent holding a posture can be measured in breaths. Ten deep breaths approximately correspond to one minute. The minimum time in a posture should be between 30-60 seconds. You can refer to the index of practices for more details on each posture.
Sadhana for beginners
- Waking: 6:30
- Pranayama: 2 rounds of Kapalabhati – 5 rounds of Anuloma Viloma (10 min.)
- Meditation (10 min.)
- Asanas : 5 sun salutations + relaxation (10 min.)
Duration: 30 min.
Sadhana intermediate I
- Waking: 6:00
- Pranayama : 3 cycles of Kapalabhati – 7 cycles of Anuloma Viloma (15 min.)
- Meditation (15 min.)
- Asanas : 7 sun salutations + shoulderstand + plough + fish + forward bend + cobra + half spinal twist + relaxation (30 min.)
Duration: 60 min.
Sadhana intermediate II
- Waking: 5:30
- Pranayama : 3 cycles of Kapalabhati – 10 cycles of Anuloma Viloma (20 min.)
- Meditation (30 min.)
- Asanas : 9 sun salutations + 12 basic postures + relaxation (40 min.)
Sadhana intermediate III
- Waking: 5:00
- Pranayama : 3 cycles of Kapalabhati – 15 cycles of Anuloma Viloma (30 min.)
- Meditation (45min.)
- Asanas : 9 sun salutations + 12 basic postures + variations + relaxation (45 min.)
- Waking: 4:30
- Pranayama : 3 cycles of Kapalabhati – 20 cycles of Anuloma Viloma (40 min.)
- Meditation (60 min.)
- Asanas : 12 sun salutations + 12 basic postures + variations + relaxation (60 min.)
It is absolutely essential to progress gradually. A daily sadhana generates profound effects on a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual level. As in any ascension, some moments are sublime and others can be difficult to get through because some old blockages, shaken by the spiritual practice, will come up at the surface, ready to be dissolved. And the sensations preceding this kind of process are not always very pleasant. Often, the dissolution of a “knot” goes with some crying. It is absolutely natural and this kind of tears are truly liberating, and should certainly not be associated with a depressive state. These kind of experiences simply indicate the presence of some old wounds that have initiated a healing process. These temporary moments of inner “crisis” should then be welcomed with gratitude and benevolence for they announce the imminent dissolution of some old blockages that were preventing you from moving forward. The wisest thing to do when it happens, is to stay alone for a couple of days. This way you’re not holding anything and can freely express whatever needs to get out.