January marks the season for fresh starts and you may see yoga challenges sprouting up all around you: at gyms and yoga studios, in your workplace with additions of yoga (office yoga, chair yoga, meditation breaks), and a sea of yoga selfies flooding your social media.
‘Tis the season to get back to the mat! Let’s face it, some days (or weeks, or eeek...MONTHS) yoga ranks low on the to-do list. Have you deemed 2016 the year to go for it and deepen your practice by making it to your mat more consistently over the course of the next few weeks?
If so, read on to learn more about what you can expect (as well as making room for the unexpected) during this transformative process.
The Meaning of SADHANA
Put simply, sadhana means dedicated practice. Typically, a modern day sadhana lasts 21, 30, or 40 days and will inevitably shake you free from your usual routine by creating new healthier habits.
The radical shift in your schedule will pull you up and out of your yoga slump as you observe your practice climb to the top of your mountain heap of priorities.
Without a doubt, for the willing practitioner, participating in sadhana will, at a minimum, encourage accountability and ensure that by SIGNING UP, you will actually SHOW UP and have a greater likelihood of sticking with it in the days (and hopefully years) to follow.
21 Days Later: From Resistance to Receptivity
Resistance or the "negative" fear of change differs from the "positive" fear that protects and warns of pending danger. Like all creatures of habit, we get used to moving in one direction and eventually become complacent.
When a desire arises and inspires us to change course, resistance slams on the breaks and stops us in our tracks. Critical self-talk, doubt, and rationalizations attempt to persuade us into continuing on our usual travels even when the path no longer supports our spiritual growth.
Receptivity, on the other hand, allows us to navigate life's windy roads full of scary twists and uncertain turns. You will certainly confront the stubborn roadblocks of resistance that tend to get in your way during the first 21 days of your sadhana. You may even consider quitting.
If you can stick through it, you will discover that you have developed a calminner "knowing" that allows you to receive life as it comes your way and handle those difficult transitions with grace.
30 Days Later: From Grief to Gratitude
There is necessary grief which is part of the healing process when recovering from a loss, and then, there is the lingering grief wrought with shame and regret for the things we cannot go back in time to change.
This second type of grief can paralyze and blind us from seeing anything beyond our identities, stories, and personal histories. Gratitude, however, grants you permission to bow to the past, honor the lessons learned, and release it once and for all.
Practice is repetition, and showing up for 30 days requires enormous patience to overcome monotony and wake up to the universe of subtleties going on during a meditation, asana, and pranayama practice.
From the outside view the practice "appears" the same, but indeed, your internal gaze or “perspective” has shifted and in that way no two practices are ever the same. Wallowing in past failures creates expectations, and so does reveling in the nostalgia of past successes.
Gratitude reveals the new beginning in each moment and makes the tiny details as well as those lightbulb "AHA" moments of revelation visible. These moments keep a yogi coming back to the mat everyday!
40 Days Later: From Strength to Surrender
We all strive to increase strength and flexibility through yoga, and those noble goals certainly benefit the muscular, cardiovascular, and skeletal systems of the body, not to mention decrease stress hormones while increasing energy levels.
However, as you progress towards the 40-day mark of regular practice, you will learn understand what "muscling" through a pose or asana sequence means, and notice that even during a challenging moment, you will use less and less mental and physical exertion.
You will embody these sacred yoga postures as they flow through you, rather than just making shapes with your body.~Judy Rukat
The term "samadhi" means meditating through movement, and it occurs when you can let go and trust the body to function and perform at optimal levels of efficiency with the least amount of energy expenditure.
Nevertheless, surrendering does not mean giving up,avoiding challenges, or taking the easy route. In order to truly surrender, you must move with and not against your nature.
Sharon Gannon says it best, “You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.”
The Divine in Me Honors the Divine in EVERYTHING
Ultimately, after you commit to yoga for ANY period of time, you will feel a boost of energy, ease of movement where you used to feel pain, and a pristine mental clarity that will help you seek serenity amidst all life in its terrible gore and tremendous glory.
You will simply know peace in your mind and peace in your heart.
Whether you start a 21, 30, or 40-day sadhana, the REAL challenge begins by simply getting up and making it to DAY 1, and soon you will discover that EVERYDAY is somehow, for better or for worse, another version of DAY 1. You eventually just do your practice and stop counting the days. Namaste.
Image Credit: Johnny Galvan / Yogi: Judy Rukat