Going to yoga classes once a week is super beneficial, and if you are doing this you probably notice some great benefits. But if we really want to get into the depths of the secrets that yoga has to offer, and the depths of ourselves, the next step is to take the practice out of the classroom and make it our own by establishing a personal practice. In yogic terms this is called a sadhana. Establishing our own sadhana is not easy. There are many obstacles that have to be overcome, such as limitations of time and space, lethargy, procrastination and habits. Why make the effort? The various yoga practices have their own purposes and effects, and when we practice them we will of course reap those benefits. Having a personal sadhana allows us to chose the very practices that gear towards exactly what we personally need and wish to focus on, whether it is a specific aspect of asana practice, like a particular part of the body or aspect of physical traits, or we might be more inclined towards exploring pranayama practices, or the deeper spiritual aspects of yoga. A more general benefit of having established a personal sadhna in our life, is that that daily routine can function as an anchor in our lives. The importance lying not in which practices we do, but in the routine itself. That little effort of every day doing something that makes us stronger, healthier, more peaceful, etc., creates something like a force field, or talisman, that keeps all of life's shadows at bay; if I feel anxious or depressed or hapless, my sadhana is a stable and meaningful point in my life. I have personally suffered a lot from depression and meaninglessness in my life, but from the time I started to establish my daily morning practice, I have not once been that low. Sure, I still feel better some days and less good other days. But now these feelings are surface experiences and there is nothing that touches me deeply the way it used to.
So how to start? One of my teachers once said that establishing a sadhana is something like getting a baby. Although this might be a bit of an overstatement, we may have to make some considerable rearrangements in our lives. We will also have to care about our practice, nurture it and give it a lot of focus and attention - at least in the beginning. After a while, it will become second nature and will call us from a joyful internal place. At the beginning however, we will have to make an effort. How much to practice? If I had a penny for every long list of practices I have planned and written, and then discontinued.... I call this jo-jo practicing. I love yoga. I love how it makes me feel, I love the philosophy, I love reading about it, and there are so many potential benefits listed in books, all of which I want to acquire, that when I think about what to practice I make grand plans. Grand plans that start with great enthusiasm, just to ebb out into the sea that is my old habits. The best tip I can give anybody who seeks to take their practice into their own hands, bring it into their daily routine and ground it in the cells of their own being, is to start small. Yoga is a way of life. Being a yogi or yogini is something of a life choice (or maybe rather a life calling), a series of little steps that become visible in the manifestation of their effects as time moves on; if we sow the seed of a cherry tree today, we will not eat its cherries tomorrow. Aim for keeping up a practice of 10, 15 or 20 minutes. If you do more, that's great. If you do 10 minutes each day, that is also amazing! A 10 minute daily practice has a million times (roughly estimated.. :) the benefits of no practice at all. Regularity is key. Start little and you are likely to be able to keep it up. What to practice? I often get the question from students that if, when they find a practice particularly difficult, or an area of their bodies particularly hard to work with, they should focus their practice there? And sure, working into difficult areas will help those areas. But also, if I have a sadhana that is filled with difficulty and pain, I am likely to develop a negative relationship to it, it will be much harder to do, and I am more likely to discontinue. And because the beauty of the human body and of being a human being is that everything is connected, everything we do will have an effect on the whole; if I do practices with my shoulder joints for example, my hips will also benefit through the effects that practice has on my general posture. And if our aim is to establish a personal practice, my advice would be to go with the practices that feel good. That draws you to them with a sense of pleasure and joy - and then see where it develops from there.
When to practice? In yogic terms, the morning is always the best time to practice. The world is quiet. Our minds are fresher and less busy. Our brainwaves are more in alpha waves, therefore it's easier to be internalized. We haven't yet gotten into the gear of daily activities, and we are less likely to be disturbed. So if you can get up 10 minutes earlier in the morning for your practice, I would recommend it. Practically though, if that just doesn't work for you, any time that does is a good time to practice. Here are the take-aways from this post:
A personal sadhana gives us the opportunity to personalize our practice and anchor us in a routine that has continuous positive effects in our lives.
Staring requires a certain time of focus and effort.
Start small and do what feels good.
Morning is a good time for practice, but choose the time that is easiest for you to maintain.
Regularity is key - the benefits will show themselves, and increase, in time.
What about you? What is your experience with establishing your personal sadhana? What tips and advice can you share? Share your experiences in the comments below - we would love to hear from you!