What I learned from 40 days of practice

EkhartYoga member, Sarah Maar, made a commitment to a 40 day practice or Sadhana. She shares her experiences and what she learnt along the way.

In December last year, I aggravated an old groin injury that leaves my movement pretty limited. Even walking and sitting down is challenging, so practising asana (physical yoga postures) is out of the question. Although I don't have a very strong physical practice of yoga, I do rely mostly on body-based practices to help bring my very erratic, ungrounded, (Vata) mind to some kind of stillness. I've learnt from past experience that this injury resurfacing is a combination of two things: 

1. My body kindly saying, "STOP! Reassess the way you're using me and approaching asana, because if the whole point of yoga is to bring balance to body, mind and soul, then your approach is clearly not working!".

2.  A reminder from the Universe that there's more to yoga than asana and that what lies beyond asana is far more powerful for my intention, which is to cultivate an equanimous mind that effortlessly dwells in the present moment, regardless of the circumstances. And what lies beyond asana is something so simple yet so hard to practise for a Vata like myself, and that is presence. Beautiful, simple, presence.

Observing the ego

As 2017 came to an end I thought about my intentions for the New Year. I was feeling pretty exhausted, achy and stagnant - plus out of balance because I could barely move my right leg. I decided my word for 2018 would be REST.  ‘Rest’ - not only in the sense of getting more sleep but the ability to rest in the moment even if I couldn't move the way I wanted to, even if I felt tired, achy and stuck. I wanted to rest in the stillness if it was there, but I also wanted to rest in the storm. So my intention for this year was to align my yoga practice with this idea of REST.

This didn't happen effortlessly the minute I hurt my right groin again. The reality was that I stopped practising altogether. If I couldn't do asana I didn't want to meditate or breathe or be mindful. So I stayed in bed most of the time.

Just to contextualize, what helps my groin heal is not moving my right leg too much, plus taking anti-inflammatory medication. And since finding a comfortable seated position is very challenging, I avoid sitting when the injury comes up, so I just lie down. Now, this is not to say; “poor me, I couldn't sit down to meditate so I had to lay down in bed and watch Netflix”. This is to show that when it's challenging for me to find comfort in my body when this particular injury comes up, it’s the perfect excuse for my ego to come along and say "Stop practising, mindlessly stare at a screen the whole day and let this pass".

I know that the real lesson is to find stillness especially when I'm not comfortable, when my body is achy and my mind is restless. That's the real practice. 

But whilst my ego’s voice is persuasive, I know that the real lesson (aside from respecting my body’s limits and avoiding certain poses that will aggravate the injury) is to find stillness especially when I'm not comfortable, especially when I can't move the way I want to, especially when my body is achy and my mind is restless. That's the real practice. As well as the understanding that yoga offers us tools other than asana to enable us to tap into this stillness.

Aligning action with intention

So it took a few days for me to actually start aligning my actions with my New Year intentions and when Marlene Smits's Kundalini-inspired class Get rid of stress came up on Ekhart Yoga, I said to myself, "Just what I need to REST". I did the class once and loved it. It left me feeling centred. So I decided to commit to 40 days of this one practice. I couldn't do any other asana anyway, and all I needed was a comfortable sitting position, which, with some props and willingness, I found more easily than I'd anticipated.

Why 40 days?

It is said in Kundalini yoga that doing a specific practice for 40 days straight will break any negative habits that block you from the expansion possible through the kriya. For me, I just needed a number and 40 felt like a good one.

I had committed to other 40 day Sadhanas ("Sadhana" means daily spiritual practice) before but I had never finished them. Because I have a very obsessive mind, and I tend to think ‘more is more’ - all the previous Sadhanas I created for myself were full of things that would take a couple of hours to complete every day. Whenever the thought crossed my mind that I could simply commit to less, I told myself, "But I have the time! I should do more because I can". And every time, not only did I not do more or less, I didn't do anything at all. So clearly, my approach to completing a 40-day Sadhana was not the right one for me.

This time, however, I allowed myself to relax my effort and have fun with this 40-day journey of exploration. I want to share with you the four guidelines I used to help myself complete it.

4 tips for completing a 40 day Sadhana

1.  Choose a practice that you thoroughly enjoy

Sometimes what we don't want to do is exactly what we need. For example, I don't love running, but every time I do it makes me feel great. But for this particular exploration, I feel it's so important to choose a practice that we actually enjoy, one that we will look forward to doing every day for 40 days.

2. Choose a practice you easily can fit into your day

The particular class I chose was 25 minutes plus 5 minutes of relaxation at the end. Most days, I did this set right before bed, so my Savasana was simply falling asleep. I find that it's better to do a few minutes of something every day, rather than get overwhelmed by trying to do too much and giving up altogether. For me, 30 minutes was the perfect amount of time. For you, it could be five minutes of shaking your entire body or an hour of asana. We're all different; therefore, our Sadhanas will be different.

3. Be flexible as to when you practise

In the spirit of relaxing my effort, I didn't set a specific time period for my daily practice. If it was in the morning, great, if not, fine. It didn’t matter as long as I practised. At first, I practised in the morning, but on the fourth day, I procrastinated. By midnight I still hadn't done my practice. Usually, I would have told myself, "It's too late. I'll just take a day off". However, on this particular day, I told myself, "Do it. Even if it's midnight. Because your mind is wired anyway and you won’t fall asleep. What you need most right is something that will settle your mind”.

So I practised at midnight, loved every minute of it and fell asleep effortlessly afterwards! I realised this particular set served me more if practised at night because it was the perfect transition for a deep restful sleep. So for the remainder of my Sadhana, I practised before bed. Some days it was at midnight, one day it was at 1am - and that was okay!

4. Stop ticking off the boxes

In the past, I made beautiful calendars with empty boxes that I was supposed to tick off every day after I'd done what I said I would do, and feel a great sense of accomplishment. But in the end, these calendars and boxes did more harm than good. When I saw them in the morning they represented this thing I 'had' to do and until I completed it a feeling of failure or ‘not-enoughness’ followed me around all day.

This time, on my first day of practice I simply looked at a calendar, counted 40 days and memorised the end date of my 40 day Sadhana. Instead of focusing on the end date, I focused on making the choice to practise every day regardless of the date on the calendar, and before I knew it 40 days had passed and I was done!

These four guidelines really helped me to soften my effort and focus on what was truly important: saying 'yes' to my daily practice.

Every moment is an opportunity to begin again

Have you heard that yoga saying "Practice and all is coming"? It's true. If we want to learn how to love all of ourselves and fall in love with our unique human experience (especially the uncomfortable, painful bits) all we have to do is show up for practice every day with an open heart and mind and be willing to get intimate with ourselves, no matter how messy it gets.

I know it's easier said than done. In fact, I'm writing this a month and a half after I ended my 40-day Sadhana and I admit I haven't shown up for myself every day for the past month and a half. But, even then, there has been a soft voice that whispers, "Every moment is an opportunity to begin again", and so after several days of living mindlessly I turn off my computer, put the sugar away, sit cross-legged on my bed, close my eyes and simply sit. And right there and then I start to settle. My body starts to relax, my breath begins to deepen. I usually have an emotional release in the form of tears and that always cleanses the depths of my soul. And after a few minutes, I open my eyes, blow my nose, and get up, with renewed intention.

In the days that follow I softly and compassionately build my practice up again, always focusing on the daily "yes" as opposed to the big empty promises of my Ego that I will do X, Y and Z every single day, forever more...

The beautiful thing about this journey within, I believe, is that we always have the opportunity to begin again, no matter how long we go without practising or spend numbing ourselves. As long as we're alive and breathing, we can ALWAYS come back home to the stillness within our heart.

Maybe one day, after making the journey home hundreds or thousands of times, we'll find that we simply never leave home ever again. 

In the words of James Reeves, maybe one day, after making the journey home hundreds or thousands of times, we'll find that we simply never leave home ever again. Although I didn't commit to a new 40-day Sadhana a month and a half ago, and I haven't shown up to practice every single day since then, what I did learn from those 40 days on which I chose to practise was that I could. I proved to myself that I do have it in me to say 'yes' to myself, my wellbeing and my peace of mind. And I believe that we all have it in us to show up to our practice, to stay true to our paths, to say 'yes' to our souls.

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Sarah chose Marlene Smits's Kundalini-inspired class Get rid of stress for her 40 day practice

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