What is sadhana? Simply put, it means an intentional practice, but more deeply, it means spiritual discipline, or very simply, the Way. The word itself comes from the root “sadh,” which means “to go straight to the goal.” This is the same root from which we get “siddhi,” the great spiritual power obtained by performing sadhana.
In the West, there are some models for sadhana. The simplest is daily prayer. This simple action, when done with a focused intention, can be a means of connecting more fully with the Divine. In the East, meditation is the foundation of sadhana.
The simplest form of sadhana is simple, quiet meditation. The most basic form of this is the simplest, but sometimes also the most difficult. It can be done anywhere, but is easiest in a quiet location with no distractions.
Before you begin, you might want to have a small clock or silent egg timer (one that doesn’t tick, as ticking will be a distraction) with you. Take some time to stretch your body a bit. Stretch your arms and legs, feel your blood circulating through your body. Breathe.
Sit comfortably, with the spine straight and supported. You might sit cross-legged, in full- or half-lotus position (padmasana or ardhapadmasana), and you may wish to sit on a firm cushion to help support your spine. If you have difficulty sitting up straight because of a medical issue, simply sit in a straight-back chair. Breathe deeply and roll your shoulders back, letting them rest comfortably back, your chest open. Feel your head floating up, as if someone were pulling the crown of your skull gently up by a string. You may rest your hands in your lap, right hand palm up, with left hand resting palm-up on top of it, or you may place your hands palm-up or palm-down on your thighs.
When you find a comfortable position, take a deep breath to settle into this space, and if you have a timer, set it for five minutes. Make sure you’re comfortable – for the next five minutes you will not move.
The exercise is simple: for the next five minutes, breathe normally. Don’t try to control or adjust your breathing, simply witness. Be with your breath, noticing how it moves in and out of your body, how the air outside becomes part of you, and then leaves your body. Simply witness, nothing more. Focus all of your attention on witnessing your breath. If you become distracted, gently bring your focus back to your breath, without judgement. Each time your mind wanders, notice it wandering, and bring it gently back to your breath.
After five minutes, take a deep breath to come back to normal waking consciousness. Stretch your body again.
Take some notes of your experience – how did it feel? Was it difficult? For the vast majority of us, this simple little exercise will be incredibly difficult! I was reminded this morning of how difficult it is – even after years of practice – to come back to this simple little exercise, and how incredibly important it is in training the mind to be quiet and merge with the body.
The trick in turning this meditation exercise into sadhana is discipline. An example of cultivating discipline is to give yourself a schedule. Commit to performing this daily for one week, and mark on your calendar each day that you’ve done the exercise. The following week, if you feel very comfortable with five minutes, increase your time to ten minutes. Or, deepen the practice and perfect those five minutes, until you can focus on your breath without your mind wandering. Then increase the practice to ten minutes, and begin the process again. Keep going until you can do this practice for an hour. It may take months to get to that place – but that is the benefit of cultivating discipline, of cultivating sadhana. Through sadhana, we experience deeper connection in ritual practice, deeper connection in personal practice, deeper connection in community practice, deeper connection in daily life.
If every day seems overwhelming for you, then take it a step or two slower. Can you commit to doing this three times a week for a month? If you find yourself saying “my life is too busy for spiritual practice!” consider the new mother in our community who has turned her early morning breastfeeding sessions into time for sadhana! There is truly time enough for sadhana, if we create it.
I encourage you to try this simple breath practice. For me, it is a humbling and powerful practice that reminds me of how far I’ve come, and how far I have yet to go. It strengthens and heals, and brings me more fully into connection with the all-pervasive Divine Spirit, whom we lovingly call “Maa.”