Sadhana and Self-Care

Senior yoga and meditation teachers often say that having a strong daily practice (sadhana) is what brings people the results their inner lives desire. Our sadhana is what rewires our brains and connects us to something greater than ego.

For people unfamiliar with the term, sadhana is our day-to-day check-in with ourselves where we hold a mirror up to our lives and see what's working, and what's not. Some of our neural pathways are so deeply grooved, that without a daily check-in, we're bound to stay stuck in our unhelpful patterns.

Sadhana is a conscious practice of self-care and growth; it is not an egoic ritual that we blindly pursue, and if it ever becomes one, its purpose is no longer served.

In the last few months, a few testing circumstances have affected me more than I'd expected. I had done my best to take care of myself as I always have, but I noticed that something else was required to bring me above water this time.

This is where sadhana comes into play.

Since my yoga teacher training ended in the spring, my sadhana has been simple and gentle. I've usually woken up between 6 and 7, meditated for up to an hour, taken a mindful, candlelit shower, and sometimes I've gone for a walk to the park and back, or I've danced to a random upbeat song. I've kept the morning light and unstructured because that's what I've felt my heart has needed over these months. I've saved my yoga practice for group classes and spontaneous solo evening sessions throughout the week.

Groupp sadhana at Golden Bridge Yoga during yoga teacher training in early 2017.

Groupp sadhana at Golden Bridge Yoga during yoga teacher training in early 2017.

But the waves of the world and my own conditioning have shown me that I need to support myself more these days. My dear friend came over and gave me reiki last week. She confirmed my auric imbalances. It was a final sign for me to step up my self-care game and adjust my sadhana to meet my needs.

As I write this, I must also say that sadhana is not a time to be self-critical. Self-judgment is, again, a hindrance that gets in the way of our practice. So, yes, we can be firm with ourselves and take loving action to improve our lives, but we serve ourselves most when we can remain kind during our moments of struggle. This means that if we miss a day or two of sadhana, or we have to move our practice into the evening, that's okay. It's about checking in each day and seeing how we can meet our own needs.

So what's my new sadhana?

My new practice involves waking up just before 5 AM when it's still dark and quiet outside (I'm thankful for the later sunrises in autumn). Yogic teachings explain that the two and a half hours before sunrise (the ambrosial hours) are the ideal time to practice because the sun is at a 60-degree angle to the Earth, optimizing energetic benefits. It is easily my favorite time of day. The world is much quieter, and the mind is quiet as well.

So I wake up, make tea, and pretty much get to it. I practice two Kundalini kriyas/sets that directly address some of the energetic issues that are coming up for me. Both sets come from Guru Rattana's book, Transitions to a Heart-Centered World. One focuses mostly on the heart chakra, and the other is mostly about the navel:

Before beginning, I pause and notice the state of my body and mind, then I go through the sets, softly playing a couple versions of the Aad Guray Nameh mantra of protection at the end of the first set (this mantra is fitting for heart work). When I finish the second set, I sit in silence for a while, using Insight Meditation to make space for what's arisen. This all adds up to be about an hour and a half to two hours. When I'm done, I have enough time to make breakfast, eat slowly, and shower before checking in with my partner for the morning.

Note: So much can be said about "spiritual" language. I will save the topic for another post, but for now, I wanted to pause and say GOD in Kundalini Yoga (such as the "God" that's mentioned in the sets I posted above) is whatever power you deem to be the glue that holds the universe together. GOD = the power that Generates, Organizes, and Destroys. It's important to notice the meaning we attach to the words we use and the words we hear others use. Many people have an immediate averse reaction to God and prayer because of what religion has become in today's world. But the God we are referring to in Kundalini Yoga is most likely not what our grandmothers consider to be God. :)

So far it has been five days of this. I'm aiming to make it a 40-day practice and then see whether I want to continue with these sets or try something else. In Kundalini Yoga, it is recommended to try a sadhana for 40, 90, 120, or 1,000 days. It's all about breaking our habits and changing our body chemistry.

In addition to this morning practice, I'm doing 11 minutes of Sat Kriya in the evening. Sat Kriya is a popular Kundalini exercise that has wide benefits for all who practice it. I feel supported knowing Sat Kriya is waiting for me in the evenings as a short but effective practice.

Beyond my yoga and meditation work, I'm making other self-care changes throughout the week. Self-care is such a major part of being a student and teacher. Immediately upon teaching, one notices that they must be in a space of self-respect and clarity if they want to deliver the teachings to and be a stand for others. As I'm sure those reading this know, having a solid self-care routine can make an enormous difference in one's daily life.

These recent self-care shares by Exhale to Inhale and Carrie-Anne Moss (via Sat Siri) warm my heart:

I really appreciate both of those.

One of my self-care changes is simply spending more time with loving women. Another one is maintaining healthier eating habits. I've started a diet (err, lifestyle change) that Alisa Vitti shares in her book Womencode. It's requiring me to make many subtle changes that heal a woman's body long term. It's taking great discipline, but it's a choice I'm making that's more in line with my values.

And that's really what self-care is. Are we listening to our hearts? Are we listening to our bodies? Are we connected?

When we regularly make choices that are in line with our truth, we feel good. We expand.

And the opposite it also true.

So now it's your turn. What are you doing to support yourself these days? What changes have you made lately to bring you back to your center? One magnificent question we can ask ourselves throughout the day is, "What does my heart need at this moment?"

As more suffering surfaces in the world, it is vital for us to take care of ourselves first and foremost. We hear it everywhere: Change starts within.
May we honor ourselves so we can honor others.