Sadhana: The Power of Personal Practice, Part 2

3704377275_30cefe9fea_oLast week at “The Living Yoga Blog,” we examined the importance of having a regular spiritual routine, or sadhana, as well as some of the key elements you might wish to consider in building your own.  In today’s article, we’ll continue our discussion by looking at some of the most effective ways to combine our practices, as well as some helpful tips on building and maintaining momentum with a personal routine.

Choosing Volume

Once you’ve identified the elements you’d like to include, the next step is determining volume.  As with any program for personal growth, the most important thing about planning sadhana is to be realistic.  Remember that it is far better to set reasonable goals that you can maintain than to over-extend yourself and become discouraged.

Once you’ve found the practices that speak to you, ask yourself how much time you can reasonably dedicate and then how many of your practices you can realistically fit into a daily routine.  Of course, this doesn’t have to be in one block – many spiritual practitioners have one routine each morning, and a separate program after work, or in the evening before bed.  Similarly, some have a brief daily routine and a more substantial practice for the weekends.

Generally speaking, most practices have greater power when engaged in on a regular basis, so you might want to select the elements that are most important for you and commit to their daily practice, while secondary practices might be reserved for once a week.  Again, the key is to start reasonably: first, choose the practices that are most important to you and your goals, then select a volume that realistically fits your life.  Remember, you can always add greater volume or supporting practices on days when you have time and energy.  By starting realistically, you will build momentum and will soon be ready to deepen your routine.

Order Matters: The Power of Sequence

After selecting practices and a healthy volume for each, the next issue is sequence.  Just as it’s beneficial to have a regular set of practices, it is also helpful to have a set order – this provides a healthy routine that the mind can lock into and makes it much easier to build momentum and stay dedicated.

Generally speaking, there are three factors to keep in mind when establishing sequence:

  1. Where sadhana fits into your day.
  1. How individual practices build off one another.
  1. The relative importance and ease of each practice for you.

By taking each of these into consideration, you can establish a healthy flow for your sadhana, and in turn enhance both its ease and effectiveness.

All things being equal, the first guideline is to start with the practices that are most important to you – this way they will receive greater attention and will be less likely to be displaced by other parts of your routine.  The second guideline is to focus on the elements that are the most challenging for you – we generally have more energy at the start of our sadhana, which means we will be more invested in and patient with these practices.  Further, it also means they are less likely to be missed because we have spent our time on more enjoyable parts of our sadhana.

The next factor to consider is how the various components naturally flow for you.  Generally speaking, practices can be seen as ranging from more internal to more active/external, and for that reason you might wish to sequence your routine from more introspective practices such as meditation and study to more dynamic practices such as pranayama and asana.

That much said, if you tend to be restless when you sit, you might find some activity before meditation helps you to be more calm.  Or, if you have a hard time motivating ourselves to meditate, a bit of reading about meditation before practice might help you stay on track.  Ultimately, reflecting on how a particular order might feel for you and allowing yourself to try a few different approaches is better than locking into a particular order because you have heard that it is “correct.”

The Importance of Honoring Your Lifestyle

A final issue is how sadhana fits into your day and personal lifestyle.  Since the morning is the most typical time for sadhana, practices generally flow from reflective to active.  However, if an afternoon practice works best with your work or household obligations, you might want to reverse this, starting with more active elements and then gradually move toward the more internal.

Further, even if you choose a morning routine, if your household is more busy and filled with distractions at that time, you might find it easier if you start your sadhana with more outward components, reserving the more reflective practices for later in the day.  The key is to work not only with our personal preferences but also our unique situation.  Again, by developing an approach with both of these in mind, you are far more likely to build a routine that you can stick with and make a regular part of your life.

Common Challenges to a Consistent Practice & How to Overcome Them

Of course, any new routine can be challenging.  Proper planning of the specifics, volume, and order can go a long way to assuring long-term success, but the biggest keys are to be dedicated and patient.  Interruptions are bound to happen – they’re not only a natural part of life, but they have a way of creeping up when we are tackling areas of self-growth – but the more we prepare for them, the more likely we are to stay on track.  For that reason, here are some simple but valuable reminders to help you stick with your sadhana and continue to move forward.

  1. Expect challenges – Again, interruptions are completely normal – remember this when they happen and you are less likely to get discouraged.  If we can anticipate challenges and not be surprised or discouraged, we will be well ahead of the game.
  1. Be clear on commitments & plan how you will handle disruptions – One of the most helpful pointers is to make a base commitment to yourself – the core of your sadhana that you will never allow to be disrupted – and then plan how you will honor this even if your day gets busy.  As many great teachers have reminded us, even on the busiest days, we can always make room for things like meditation, even if it means a little less sleep or skipping a meal.  Figure out what you will never let slide and then how you can be sure to make it happen.
  1. Get loved ones on board – Of course, your family doesn’t have to share your practice, but having their support can be incredibly helpful.  For this reason, taking the time to explain to them why your practice matters to you will greatly help you build momentum and avoid disruptions.  If they can understand what it means to you and why, they can become advocates rather than opponents, making it much easier to maintain momentum, in spite of the occasional setbacks.
  1. Frequently remind yourself why your sadhana matters – Perhaps the single biggest way to stay on track is to frequently remind yourself why your practice is so important.  Write a brief statement of your goals and how your sadhana will support them and then review it often – this will help keep your motivation strong.  In addition, any time you find a passage that especially motivates you, take a moment to record it – this way, whenever you find your enthusiasm flagging, you’ll know exactly where to turn for some additional inspiration.

Recording, Evaluating & Evolving

One final aspect of sadhana is that it is important to record our efforts and periodically evaluate and adjust what we are doing.  Again, just like an athlete, we want to track how we are doing in following our program (you can learn more about keeping a spiritual journal in our earlier article, here), as well as now and then evaluating our performance and seeing if we are progressing the way we’d like.  Whether our goal is more compassion, greater patience, or less attachment, we need to check in periodically and see if we are advancing toward it, and, if not, adjust our routine.

Of course, we don’t want to change our program too frequently – as with any routine, spiritual practices can take time to make their impact felt, so we want to stick with things long enough to have a clear influence.  At the same time, we don’t want to go too long without pausing and evaluating.   For this reason, a good general time-frame is to check our program every 2-4 months – this way, we have enough time to build some clear impact through our practices, and in turn can more accurately evaluate what is working and what could be shifted in a more constructive direction.

In Our Next Article…

We hope that this exploration of sadhana has given you a greater understanding of the power of a personal routine.  In our next article, we’ll look at another significant aspect of the Yogic path that is often overlooked in the west, which is how Yoga philosophy can support and improve our personal relationships.  Until then, as always, wishing you the very best in “Living Yoga….”


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