Each week, from Sunday to Friday, I get up at 3 am to do a two-hour long asana practice before going in to work.
Sometimes I’m so tired, later in the day, that I’ll actually fall asleep mid-conversation. To get enough sleep at night, I have to go to bed one hour later…than my 18-month-old son. When people hear about my schedule, they look at me like I’m crazy.
And maybe they’re right. I’m freely choosing to do something that limits my freedom. Why?
Because it’s my sadhana.
Sadhana is a Sanskrit term that refers to a discipline or exertion in the pursuit of a goal. In Ashtanga Yoga, we do a daily sadhana to strengthen our practice of yoga. And we practice yoga in the pursuit of Kaivalya, liberation from the world of samsara, conditioned existence.
In my lineage, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, our sadhana is the daily practice of meditation on a set sequence of asanas. The actual sadhana only takes about an hour or two each day, but its presence can potentially shape every moment and action in a practitioner’s life.
To do a daily practice requires certain sacrifices. The physical rigors of an Ashtanga sadhana require the seeker to eventually give up habits and choices that don’t support their practice of yoga. If one is to do the practice properly, according to the prescriptions of the teaching, one’s lifestyle will eventually undergo a huge transformation.
Some might claim that they can live an undisciplined life and still do the practice. I would counter that, by the very definition of sadhana, without discipline there is no practice. Without a sincere attempt to follow the precepts of Ashtanga Yoga, whatever happens on the mat is just posturing, or exercise.
No matter how tightly I cling to unhealthy habits, my commitment to a daily practice eventually overwhelms anything that might disrupt it. It’s very hard to do this practice if I eat too much, if I stay up too late, if my mind is turbulent. My sadhana pushes me towards choosing the sattvic, the peaceful elements in life. And, ultimately, I don’t mind the small sacrifices, because the practice brings me something far greater. The more I practice, the richer and more magical life becomes. As Sri K Pattabhi Jois said, “Everywhere you look you see God.”
By immersing ourselves in the practice, following the prescriptions of tradition, we come up against our self imposed limitations. Over and over again, our commitment is tested; if we are to keep practicing, then we need to keep changing.
David Robson is the co-owner and director of the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto. With 100+ students each morning, he leads one of the world’s largest Mysore programs. After completing degree in Comparative Religion, David made his first trip to Mysore, India in 2002, where he initiated studies with his teacher Sharath Jois. Since then he has returned annually to deepen and enrich his practice and teaching. David teaches workshops and retreats around the world, and he recently released a popular DVD on vinyasa, Learn To Float. He is Level-2 Authorized by the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute.
Photo credit: EK Park