It has been said that the more one knows about oneself, the more one understands the true value of life. Yoga sadhana (sustained effort in a yogic practice) teaches us to know ourselves. However, to begin a sadhana or to sustain it through continuous inspiration is not easy. To gain understanding in any new subject we require the help of someone who has practised and achieved its goal, attained the necessary qualification. It is the same with yoga sadhana. The first requirement is the guidance of a teacher or guru.
Through sadhana, we embark on an inner journey of awareness of the mind and mental perceptions, and then attempt to integrate this deeper understanding in our day-to-day life, finding a balanced, harmonious and complete awareness. Our sadhana becomes the endeavour to add vitality in and perform every action to the best of our ability with eventual perfection. The end is to develop self-mastery and become completely self-reliant.
Why should we undertake sadhana?
Most of us seek emotional satisfaction and find only fatigue and disappointment. We spend much of our life meeting thousands of demands on our body and mind. But there comes a moment in time when we hear the voice of our soul saying What about me? This is when the spiritual search begins. At each step of the way, we get our clues by knowing where we stand physically, mentally and spiritually.
Our personality has to face fear and doubt, and in yoga sadhana we learn to handle and manage the full range of negative emotions. Yoga does often begin with conflict, tension, passion and aggression, the attributes that make the mind neurotic, psychotic and obsessive. It is our confusion that leads us to seek a solution. Often after trying traditional and alternative cures we find our way towards yoga.
Eventually, one must be able to look at ones life as a whole. The body-mind unit must be perceived as a coherent whole, for neither can function smoothly without the help of the other. The force that connects the body to the mind is vitality, prana. When this force is depleted, we cannot maintain physical or psychological health. An unfit body and confused mind is not a fit vehicle for life. As the body and mind are balanced and brought into harmony, we hear the souls voice. And we come to this point through sadhana practised over a length of time.
How do we establish a personal practice?
Begin by practising something you love doing, even if for just 1015 minutes each day. Over time, gradually build up the practice until it becomes easy for the mind to stay with it.
There are many yogic practices and it is better to find one that is ideal for your personality by asking the guru or a yoga teacher. It should be a balanced practice that is conducive to your time limits, place and environment. Whether you choose relaxation practices, karma yoga or hatha yoga, regularity is essential. Keep track of the progress by writing down daily experiences. This helps to understand ones true nature. As we develop the capacity for self-examination, we become the master of all we do.
It is, however, difficult to reach into the dimension of sadhana by spending only one or two hours a week in a yoga class. A stay for some time in an environment conducive to regular practice and inspiration, such as a yogashram, can provide the necessary impetus. The practices undertaken throughout the day instil the much-needed discipline in life apart from providing rejuvenation for the body-mind-soul. The ashram is not meant for socializing or debating philosophies. Here we learn self-discipline and self-analysis, which become the base for understanding the depth and breadth of yogic science.
Once we have learnt the practices that suit our personality and found the inspiration that precedes determination, we have the basic tools. Equipped with these, we may return home to test how we have progressed. For example, we may now know that the aspect of asana (posture) is not limited to the physical body, but reaches into ones subtle being as well. Indeed, the ultimate state of asana is not a puffed-up ego (which happens if ones yogic routine is not perfectly balanced), but an attitude of surrender.
What are the qualities of a sadhaka?
Our progress in yoga sadhana depends on various physical and mental qualities, as we need to cultivate and awaken purity. The necessary qualities defined by the scriptures are:
Body purification is attained by the practices of shatkarma. Steadiness of the body is achieved by yogasanas, which stretch and stimulate the muscles, ligaments and joints, restoring elasticity and tone to the body. Asanas, especially the pawanmuktasana 1, 2 and 3 series, stimulate circulation and revitalize the internal organs, the brain and the nervous system. They also enable the respiratory system to perform efficiently by better assimilation of oxygen and elimination of carbon dioxide. The postures increase stamina and relieve tension. They balance exertion with rest and relaxation.
Determination is achieved by mudra (psychic attitude) and sankalpa (resolution). Patience comes by pratyahara (sense withdrawal) and dharana (concentration). Lightness of the body and mind are achieved by pranayama. Normally, prana is distributed in the body through ida and pingala nadis, but the ideal placement of prana is in sushumna nadi. When prana is contained within sushumna through pranayama and bandhas, the individual achieves perfect discipline of body and mind, a state of health. Direct perception arises with the experience of dhyana. Finally, samadhi comes when the flow of perfection is unhindered by worldly distractions. It is the ultimate experience.
How do we know that we are progressing in our sadhana?
Swami Satyananda replies, By the lessening of desire and redirection of the forces of ego. The godly nature of every individual has to transcend time, space and object. If we are attached to all three, we do not have godly nature because it represents a state of higher perception.
Attachment, fear and anger manifest as karma. Attachment comes about because we believe we are the doer. Fear creates anxiety, worry and insecurity. Anger is due to self-identification. However, yoga sadhana brings about inner purity and helps us transcend the three. It takes us to the point where the inner purity shines and we become free from every attraction and aversion. There is only stillness, contentment, fulfilment and expansion.
The question that comes next is how do we achieve this inner expansive state when engaged in the world? Yoga says, through karma yoga. Everyone in the world is engaged in action, but yoga expands the notion of action through the concept of karma yoga. When sadhana percolates down to action, we begin to perform karma yoga. We no longer act to obtain pleasure, but all our actions are inspired. We begin to act for the welfare and benefit of everyone. Karma is now seen as a process of fulfilling our dharma, and it connects us to the transcendental realm, to humanity at large, to our ideal and creativity.
Yoga sadhana develops in us the attitude of a witness. By shutting out external contacts, fixing the awareness at the eyebrow centre, equalizing the currents of prana and apana, stabilizing the senses, mind and intellect, we begin to disassociate from objects of sensory perception. This leads us to becoming unselfish, compassionate, and filled with peace.
There are thousands of yoga sadhanas. Just as each individual is unique, so also a sadhana is designed to help your specific personality to develop its potential. The wonder of yoga sadhana is the development of purity of the heart and mind. As love grows within, you automatically want to serve others. This is when sadhana fructifies. As they say, Love gives and forgives. Selfishness gets and forgets.