Yoga Sādhanā, or Yoga practice as it is popularly translated, is a phrase that is used quite often in conversations around Yoga, especially on social media but also in classes and studios. People talk about being regular with Yoga practice, building a practice, having a daily practice that lasts at least for a certain amount of time, and so on. But what does having a regular Yoga practice or building a Yoga practice mean?
Does Sādhanā mean practice?
This term and its translation are a great example of how meanings can get distorted or lost in translation. In a way, Sādhanā does mean practice; but in modern Yoga, this has been misconstrued as meaning a regular physical practice – Āsana, Prānāyāma, relaxation, etc. for a certain amount of time. A regular practice means that you do this physical practice every single day without fail.
Sādhanā can be translated as a combination of methodical practice, discipline, faith, surrender, and a means to attain spiritual goals. Physical practice can be a great tool to further this practice especially early on in the spiritual journey. Getting lost in physical attainments, though, can be considered a vighna or obstacle in the path to furthering spiritual attainment.
Differences between Sādhanā and a modern understanding of practice
Sādhanā refers to having a practice so consistent and incorporated into our being over time that it becomes a part of everyday living. Sādhanā is living consciously moment to moment, mindfully applying everything we learn to our thoughts, words, and actions. A regular physical practice forms a significant but small part of Sādhanā, and Sādhanā, in turn, can be done without any Āsana practice being included.
The other difference between the modern understanding of practice and the ancient idea of Sādhanā is the goal. A lot of physical practice tends to have physical goals – losing weight, building muscle, getting physically fit, managing a physical disease, etc. With Sādhanā, the goal of all effort that goes into the practice is gaining knowledge and wisdom for our own sake. It is an intensely personal endeavour that is often not revealed, shared, or discussed with anyone except the guru or teacher or mentor.
The last difference (and a very relevant one to Yoga discussions today) is that, unlike a physical practice, a Sādhanā is innately inclusive. Anyone who truly wishes to become a Yoga Sādhaka can do it irrespective of religion, race, body structure, limb differences, disease, or anything else that is typically seen as a hindrance in a physical practice. As long as we can make a conscious decision to get on the path of Yoga Sādhanā, we can follow through.
A way of life
As discussed in the first bit on differences, many traditional Yoga schools and teachers will tell you Yoga is a way of life. But when Yoga is understood from a modern perspective of a physical practice, it may not seem like it. So, where does this belief of ‘a way of life’ come from, then?
To answer this question, we need to look at ancient Yogic texts and what they speak about in the context of Yoga. We can look at the Bhagavad Gita or the Yoga Sūtra or any of the Hatha Yoga texts, for example, to understand this idea better.
When we look at these texts, there is of course a mention of physical practices and some go into great detail about such practices. However, the difference between modern exercise and the physical practices in these texts is the intent. We have discussed this in greater detail in my article on Āsana and Prānāyāma, but traditionally, the intent is never an aesthetic or a purely physical goal but is always linked to a higher spiritual purpose.
What is important to know is most ancient Yogic texts speak about not just practising Yoga for a few hours a week but living it moment to moment. Yogis over the centuries have spoken about imbibing Yogic values and teachings and making them a part of everyday life, of our thoughts, words, and actions. Only and only then will we be able to fully experience the benefits of various practices that these texts speak about.
Becoming a Yoga Sādhaka
Anyone who has the urge and patience to learn and understand ancient knowledge systems as well as the ability to keep going even when it gets unpleasant or difficult can become a Sādhaka. At times, to keep going might even mean pausing a particular practice to allow the body and the mind to rest, adjust, and feel alright before continuing. It might sometimes mean going back to the basics over and over again. It might even mean giving up and starting from scratch more than once.
The universe often keeps throwing curve balls and challenges at us when we decide to embark on such intense journeys to test our resolve and ensure we are ready for the practice. If we can get through these challenges and keep going, the journey can be intensely rewarding, enlightening, and a deeply spiritual experience at every step.
There is nothing wrong with starting in a simple way with Yogic practices that feel accessible and easy and doable. This starting point may be physical postures, breathwork, movement, or any other aspect that feels a good place to start; it will vary from person to person and that is perfectly alright. These practices can slowly give us the confidence to foray deeper into the science and philosophy of Yoga, exploring its depths and being vulnerable and open to what it brings forth within us.
Start wherever you can, see where it takes you, take control when required, but mostly let it happen and see where you can go from one moment to the next. I have slowly started doing this in my journey and it has taken me on a path that I would not have been on in my wildest dreams! I could not be happier with the challenges and joy letting go of expectations and control bit by bit has brought to my life, and I cannot wait to see where this journey takes me next!