Yoga classes are fantastic. I benefit from the teacher, the community of my fellow students, and clear instructions to guide me from one asana to the next. But there came a point in my yoga journey when it was time to start looking within and connect with my inner teacher. This didn’t mean giving up going to class -- far from it -- but it did mean beginning a daily self practice, or sadhana.
A sadhana is a daily yoga practice or ritual that gives you a chance to connect with yourself. There are any number of things you can incorporate into a sadhana. The most important thing is that you prioritize this time and honor it. Your sadhana might include Sun Salutations, asanas, meditation, chanting, kriyas, reading spiritual texts and journaling.
And the benefits are as numerous as your options for practice. A sadhana can be your daily source of inspiration and guidance, giving you time every day to connect with yourself and your inner Intelligence. It can help strengthen and open your body and mind, and/or give you a chance to process your emotions.
Here's how you can create your own unique sadhana.
How to Get Started
Consider first what you want to get from your daily practice. Think big. What do you want to bring more of into your life? Mental clarity? Physical strength or flexibility? Spiritual development? Self-awareness?
Next, think about what you might want to incorporate into your sadhana to help you achieve those goals. Be realistic about the time you can commit to each day. It is far better to consistently commit to 10 minutes of Sun Salutations and meditation than to create a complex three hour-long practice that you cannot manage beyond the first day. (Learn why we salute the sun in Here Comes the Sun: Salute Its Life-Giving Glory With This Surya Namaskara Series.)
A 20-Minute Sample Sadhana
Mindfulness Meditation (3 minutes)
Find a comfortable seat, set a timer and close your eyes. Take your focus to the breath. Begin your practice with an attitude of gentle awareness and presence. Every time the mind wanders, congratulate yourself for noticing and bring your focus back to the breath.
Warm Up (5 minutes)
Give your body time to warm and open up. Take some seated neck releases, twists, cat-cow stretches, warm the legs and connect with your core with a few plank variations. Move in whatever way your body wants to move.
Sun Salutations (10 minutes)
Choose any variation of Sun Salutations that you enjoy and simply flow through them for 10 minutes, synchronizing your movement with your breath.
Savasana (2 minutes)
Give your body time to relax and absorb the benefits of your energizing Sun Salutation practice.
Take Your Sadhana a Step Further
Once you have your sadhana established, you can adapt it to suit your evolving needs. For more experienced yogis, this means considering "In what way can I move deeper now?" Meditating on this question and journaling may help, but here are a few other suggestions:
Choose a technique and commit to practicing it every day, perhaps gradually increasing the time you spend practicing.
Lengthen Your Meditation
This is a big one. Although three minutes of meditation can have significant benefits, there’s nothing like stepping up the time you spend each day meditating for helping you to look deeper within yourself.
Focus on the Physical
Perhaps you want to increase your upper body strength or improve your flexibility. Whatever your goal, include some asana and movement practice every day which will help you to achieve this.
Add Yin Yoga
If you know that you need to balance your hectic lifestyle, why not try making the whole of your sadhana a yin practice? It will help you with mindfulness, flexibility and mental balance. (More on this style of yoga in Turn That Yawn Into Yin and Relax Into This Style of Yoga.)
Consider Your Emotional Needs
Choose a spiritual text that resonates with you. Read a few pages each day and reflect on it in the context of your life.
Keep a Journal
One of the most rewarding things when beginning a sadhana is to keep a yoga journal. This does not have to be anything hugely time-consuming. Simply taking a minute at the end of your practice to jot down a few notes about your experience. It may be as simple as: “Felt anxious and resistant to meditation. Sun Salutation practice more energizing today.” Journaling helps you notice and reflect on the benefits of your practice over time, builds your self-awareness, and gives you insight as to when to adapt and modify your practice.
Savor Your Sadhana
Most of all, be grateful to yourself for committing to your daily practice. Taking this time to love and honor yourself is one of the greatest gifts you can give not just to yourself, but to all those around you. Treasure it.