The early months of the year have a lot in common with the early hours of the day. Both offer us a “fresh start” and call for setting our intentions for the coming day or year. Every morning that we wake up, we have a new chance to practice our resolutions and take another look at our thoughts, behaviors and spiritual practices. What's working? What's not? What do we need more of in this day or year? What do we need less of?
Sadhana is a daily spiritual, and also physical, practice that connects one with one's self and the Divine. Sadhana essentially captures what it means to start things off “on the right foot.” Traditionally, sadhana meant waking up with the sun (usually as early as 4 to 5 a.m.), meditating and practicing yoga for several hours before much of the world even got out of bed. The idea is that by setting a positive tone early in the day, it’s much easier to remain grounded as challenges inevitably come up.
A practice of sadhana might seem daunting or unfamiliar at first, but it takes a different form quickly. Before you know it, you’re practicing with enthusiasm and persevering through your sadhana, looking forward to the following morning when you can start anew once again.
If you have hesitations about practicing your own sadhana, consider the many benefits it offers. If you could wake up every day feeling calm, centered and self-assured, wouldn’t you do it? It’s common in Western, industrialized nations to begin the day in a state of near-constant worry, to work from a place of scarcity, and to feel close to zero connection to most of the people around us. Morning rituals help us connect to the bigger picture, while also improving productivity, compassion and well-being so we can get the most from the rest of our day.
(More on the issue of disconnection in Bhakti Yoga: How the Path of Devotion Connects Us in a Disconnected Modern World.)
For many of us, as we put ourselves out into the world each day – whether through our work, gatherings with family or friends, or through our hobbies and affiliations – difficult feelings are right around the corner. Suffering in life is unavoidable and it can surface in the form of criticism, feeling threatened by someone else’s success, getting into an argument or experiencing self-doubt.
An early morning practice sets the stage for the mindset we carry with us as we face these everyday struggles. It’s a way for us to connect to our innate sense of worthiness, to recognize that our feelings are always changing, and to become grounded in the idea that we are all truly connected.
Why practice a ritual, especially so early in the day? Sadhana rests on the belief that rituals make life both easier and richer. Committing to a sadhana practice helps us to appreciate an early start to the day and the peacefulness that comes from waking before much of the world is churning. Early in the morning, our awareness, mental power, motivation, creativity and focus are said to be strongest; so, capitalizing on this time helps us boost enthusiasm for our practice that then spills over into other areas of our life. Distractions are minimal early in the day before obstacles have had the chance to shift our focus.
How to Set Your Sadhana
How can you cultivate your own sadhana? There isn’t one specific sadhana practice that fits every practitioner – the idea is to customize a routine so that it comes naturally. It also helps to dedicate a specific space to your sadhana, such as an altar or room in your home that you decorate with meaningful things that act as reminders to your greater purpose.
Effective sadhana practices usually involve planning from the day before, visualizing the following morning and preparing the body and mind by getting restful sleep. Distractions like watching TV, using a phone or engaging with other technology, should be limited to allow the body to rest deeply and the mind to relax. When the following morning comes – usually around the time that the sun rises, which depends on the season – sadhana will include a way to move the body in an invigorating way while also practicing mindfulness.
Sitting in still meditation and examining one’s own thoughts is an important part of sadhana, as is nourishing the physical body with a series of customized pranayama, asanas, a nutritious breakfast that is aligned with the seasons, and other self-care practices like reading, writing or journaling, dry brushing the skin, scraping the tongue, drinking clean water and bathing. These might be practices that you have been practicing separately and sporadically for years, yet it makes all the difference when they are done in a specific sequence that is easy-to-follow, predictable and customized with your goals in mind.
The benefits of this combination include helping to reduce stress, gaining emotional stability, improving digestion and nutrient absorption, boosting confidence and self-worth, strengthening muscles and the vital organs, improving sleep quality, helping to clear the mind, sharpening focus and increasing happiness.
The Best Part of Waking Up
When you start the day with an enriching practice, it helps you to both consciously and subconsciously make better decisions in regards to how you relate to yourself and others. Sadhana practices can help diminish self-criticism, comparison, jealousy, procrastination and denial. A morning ritual makes it more likely that your goals will be kept at the forefront of your mind.