To create work and a life that is a full reflection of your why, practice “being to become” through your own daily work sadhana.
What is sadhana?
The practice of “sādhanā” is less woo-woo than it is a practical, action-oriented and time-tested approach for reconnecting ourselves to our why. For the business person, or anyone who spends even 10 percent (part-time equivalent) of their month working, approaching work through the lens of sadhana has the capacity to create deep and lasting change in your personal and work life.
The practice of sadhana dates back more than five thousand years in Ayurveda, an ancient science of long life, and is a fundamental component of spiritual and self growth—from Buddhism to Jewish and Christian Mysticism to Vedism and modern-day Hinduism and New Ageism.
Sadhana is practiced, arguably, on every continent around the globe as an organic component of indigenous practices, with a heavy concentration in countries where Buddhism, Vedism and Hinduism are the primary spiritual schools of thought, including India, China, and the whole of Asia.
The word “sādhanā” originated from sanskrit, one of the oldest languages in the world, appearing first in written script around the second millennium (two thousand) B.C. And, the basic principles of which inform modern computer languages, according to India Today.
So, why has some form of sadhana permeated nearly every spiritual school of thought and tradition so widely and for so long? And how can incorporating sadhana into your life transform your work?
“Once awareness touches an energy, it begins to transmute.”
– Vanessa Stone
Because sadhana works.
Knowing the innate power in sadhana, the first Ayurvedic school in the US, Wise Earth School of Ayurveda, has built its foundation on it. Sadhana is one of the school’s cardinal philosophies, and is defined as a “sacred practice: aligning every activity in accord with nature’s rhythms.”
Sadhguru, founder of Isha Yoga Center and Foundation, looks at sadhana as a nurturing of possibility in his article on The What and Why of Sadhana: “When we say sadhana … we are talking about using every aspect of life—both internal and external—so that it is a continuous nurturing for your life. Because the very nature of a human being is such, unless there is some dynamism, some movement in his life towards betterment within and outside of himself, he will feel frustrated. He has to keep moving to a newer and newer possibility. Sadhana … facilitates that.”
“Begin to look at everything as a tool for your own beingness. Reconnect with what’s already here.”
How is Sadhana transformative?
Sadhana practice has the power to impact a human on the mental, emotional and physiological levels in subtle ways that create long-lasting change.
Buddhism views sadhana as a practice of actualizing what’s in the imagination. In more Western terms, it can be viewed as the ultimate cognitive behavioral goal-setting and manifestation technique of the ancients.
Combining a unique set of activities that
1) address one’s internal state, like mindfulness meditation or Hakomi therapy with
2) physical ritual, like breathe, song and chanting, hand movements and body postures
Sadhana helps one to “set” newly formed clay molds (of ideas, feelings and intentions) into solid forms through consistent and committed practice.
“[E]xternal ritual and internal sādhanā form an indistinguishable whole,” writes prominent Norwegian historian of religion, Per Kværne. That wholeness begins to feel like a wholeness of being, which puts one daily on the path to becoming that which they wish to actualize from their imagination.
Vision Cartographer and visionary consultant, Martine Holston, eloquently describes her experience with the power of a 40-day sadhana practice in her article for Yoga Tree:
“A 40-day practice is an invitation. By committing to doing something every day for 40 days, you turn a magnifying glass on your avoidance, procrastination, and self-deception strategies. By doing the practice in spite of those strategies, you invite a new way of dealing with with challenges and emotions. You see patterns of behavior and thinking that were unconscious before. The commitment to yourself and your growth both invites lessons and support for your learning. You will see resources in people, places, and things you didn’t see before. And the lessons may come from places other than your practice – just so you can really learn them.”
Physiological, emotional and mental impacts of sadhana
Maybe you’ve heard that a meditation practice can reduce stress, relax the body or enhance the senses. Neuroscientist, Sara Lazar, put anecdotal claims of meditation and sadhana, like these, to the test using the rigor of Western scientific method. Lazar practices Neuroscience at both Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.
What she found in her first study on meditation confirmed not only sensory enhancement, but much more. Lazar compared long-term Insight meditators versus a control group. The 20 Insight meditation participants “were not monks, but rather typical Western meditation practitioners who incorporate their practice into a daily routine involving career, family, friends and outside interests,” describes the study’s author manuscript published by the National Center for Biotechnology. Just another way to describe sadhana, really.
The study showed that meditation has the ability to rebuild the brain’s grey matter in two month’s time. “Long-term meditators have an increased amount of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex. Which makes sense. When you’re mindful, you’re paying attention to your breathing, to sounds, to the present moment experience, and shutting cognition down. It stands to reason your senses would be enhanced,” describes Lazar in an interview with the Washington Post.
She goes on to describe in more detail her findings, including “… differences in brain volume after eight weeks in five different regions in the brains of the two groups. In the group that learned meditation, we found thickening in four regions:
- The primary difference, we found in the posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance.
- The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
- The temporo parietal junction, or TPJ, which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.
- An area of the brain stem called the Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.
The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general. That area got smaller in the group that went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program.
The change in the amygdala was also correlated to a reduction in stress levels,” explains Lazar.
Other anecdotal impacts of meditation, and sadhana practice, include calming of the rapid-fire thoughts that many of us experience in our work lives. Sadhana can be a tool for teaching focus and practicing attention for those struggling with ADHD. And, sadhana can aid in refocusing ruminating thoughts, and in more severe cases, with obsessive or intrusive thought patterns.
According to Harvard University’s health blog, Psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard’s Medical School, Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, “found that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program helped quell anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder, a condition marked by hard-to-control worries, poor sleep, and irritability.”
How do I create work Sadhana?
Creating your sadhana practice is simple, it’s the commitment, the consistency and the focus that will likely test you.
“Everything can be sadhana. The way you eat, the way you sit, the way you stand, the way you breathe, the way you conduct your body, mind and your energies and emotions—this is sadhana. Sadhana does not mean any specific kind of activity, sadhana means you are using everything as a tool for your well being,” says Sadhguru, founder of Isha Yoga Center and Foundation.
Conscious Content’s best advice is to keep it simple and build from there. This isn’t a race. You’re not behind. You’re exactly where you need to be right now. As soon as anything feels overwhelming or prohibitive, it can surely be simplified.
Some simple ways to initiate work sadhana:
|PRACTICE/ Cyclical breath alignment|
|HOW/ Upon waking in the morning, notice which of your nostrils you can more easily breathe from. Take a finger and close one nostril, breathing in and exhaling through it and noticing the strength of the movement of air. You can place the other hand under your breathe to feel the sensation of the strength of breathe there too. Next, try the other nostril. If your left nostril has a stronger, clearer breathe, take note. That’s the lunar side of your body. Do the same for your right nostril and notice the strength and clarity of breathe there. That’s the solar side of your body. Take a mental note of which is stronger and how you feel (are you energetic and ready to take on the day? do you want to go back to bed?).|
|WHY IT WORKS/ There are daily rhythms and cycles that modern humans have come to take for granted. For example, the morning is the beginning of the solar cycle (guided by the sun), and the evening ushers in the lunar cycle (guided by the moon). This gently mindful breathe practice helps you to bring awareness to realigning your body with the subtle cycles that guide the day and the night. You want to play opposites with these cycles to create balance, so look for a stronger, more clear breathe in the left nostril in the morning, and in the right nostril in the evening before bed. Notice over time how impactful this simple breathe alignment can be for you. Notice what it’s like to feel connected to larger rhythms and cycles through your own body.|
|PRACTICE/ Body mindfulness|
|HOW/ Try to sit quietly, eyes closed. With your own attention focused inward, scan you entire body from head to toe. Notice what’s there. Discomfort? Tightness? Relaxation? A sense of ease? Worry? Excitement? Anything. You’re job is just to notice. No need to understand or make meaning of what you feel. No need to fix or make sense of. Just notice what is. And, keep noticing that for 1-3 minutes daily. Then open your eyes and resume your day.|
|WHY IT WORKS/ Simple presence is the first step to building intimacy with oneself. Taking time, daily, to turn your attention from those around you and focus it inward toward yourself is a subtle act of presence and care. Your body will notice and respond with a sense of feeling cared for and about.|
|PRACTICE/ Intentional contemplation|
|HOW/ Try to sit quietly and uninterrupted. Contemplate for 5 minutes in the morning on your intention for the day. What do you want this day to be like? What do you want to create or get out of this day? Distill your intention down to a word, a feeling or something you can simply sense. Sit with that word and feel what it might feel like if that were true. Feel the feeling and sense how your day might look if your intention were already reality. Now, before bed, dedicate 5 minutes of your evening to contemplate what you accomplished in your day today, or review three things you need to complete for tomorrow.|
|WHY IT WORKS/ Contemplation is a brother to meditation. It’s a practice that will begin to get you in the space to quiet down, settle in and focus your attention on creating what you desire and celebrating your success. Going over your brief to do list will help settle your mind and nervous system before bed so you can get more restful sleep, knowing you’ve already got your next steps for tomorrow. Starting to work with purpose begins here.|
|HOW/ A Hawaiian self compassion practice, H’opopono is the simple act of stopping to offer empathy, love and gratitude to anything in your day that feels uncomfortable. It can be used for nearly anything: from a physical boo-boo to a scare, a hurt, surprise or upset that comes to you in your day. Or even and especially when you notice a judgement or criticism that arises within you about yourself or another. Simply stop in the moment the discomfort occurs, place your hand on your heart and quietly say to yourself, “I’m sorry. I love you. Thank you.”|
|WHY IT WORKS/ Compassion is a direct line to call in space and safety for anything that comes your way in a day. When there’s space and safety to be anything at any given time, you can start to relax and really be yourself. Eventually, this compassionate empathy begins to extend outside of yourself to those around you. Watch as your self-acceptance increases along with your acceptance of what is, and your acceptance of others.|
How do I know when I’m practicing work Sadhana?
If you’ve ever had a dream or goal or skill you wished you had (and do have now), can you recall how you created it in your life? You likely started by knowing that was something you wished for, there may have been an internal feeling of willingness and openness. You may have begun by thinking about it a lot, followed by envisioning what life would be like if it were true. While visualizing you likely imagined the feeling in your body of what it’d be like if it were true and here now.
And, along the way you likely encountered challenges: critical voices internal and external, comparisons, judgements about your ability or worthiness, distractions, procrastination. You may have even questioned if you were capable of making it happen or living up to the vision you’d imagined. But despite everything above, you continued on. You kept taking small actions either daily or weekly or monthly. You did the thing in small titrations–the art, the writing, the project, you bought the house in the amazing location, you created the relationship you wanted. But, you never stopped at the wishing and the thinking about it. You moved on, next step, next step, and it evolved continually and consistently until one day it was physically here and you could touch it or do it or were it.
This is what I call “being to become.”
“… Sadhana is self enrichment. It is not something which is done to please somebody or gain something. Sadhana is a personal process in which you bring out your best.”
– Yogi Bhajan
The following can be used like a checklist and gentle reminder of the “being to become” mindset to cultivate as you establish your own unique work sadhana. If you’re encountering these things, you’re in the thick of a sadhana practice. Just remember—it’s all part of the process.
Ground zero in starting to create any new thing you want in your life is a willingness to speak it, to recognize it, and to receive it when it’s offered to you. Start by speaking aloud once a day or jotting in your journal your willingness to create work sadhana in your life. What might your life look like if what you want to create were already here? Would you relax? Would you have more meaningful relationships? How? Would you feel respected and heard? Sit with this and imagine how your life might change and how it might change how you feel in your life. Speak. Jot. Go on!
Don’t beat yourself up
Be gentle with yourself. Work sadhana practice is not another reason to beat yourself up about what you’re not accomplishing or doing “right.” Self-judgement and self-criticism will surely be the first aspects of your inner bandwagon to arrive and have a go at this new thing you want to incorporate into your life. Notice them and what they say. Notice how their comments impact your body.
And when you notice comparison has arrived, greet her and offer her a hand to help her step down off your inner bandwagon. Get to know the ways she compares you to others. Get familiar with how you’re feeling when you’re comparing. And learn to be the kind voice of reason who steps in amidst all of the, “but he did this’s” and “she’s accomplished that’s” and remind everyone on the inner bandwagon that your story is unique, incomparable. And, you’re willing to spend the time it takes to know the unique ways in which you and you alone do it. After all, that is what this is about.
Commit to yourself
Commitment isn’t just offered, it’s cultivated. And, anything worth having in life was, at one time, committed to—whether that be a love, a child or a dream. Offer the same level of commitment to yourself over and over again. That brings us to the need to …
Like a muscle—move it. Keep moving it at the same time each day. The same days each week. Create a reminder, or several, for yourself so you can work your consistency out over time. What you’ll end up with is a strong habit that will serve you well.
And notice what gets in the way of focus while you’re doing it. Light a candle and simply gaze at its flame. Write this down on a post-it note and plaster it anywhere you tend to lose focus from your work sadhana:
When in doubt, get creative. This is your process, and what works for you will be absolutely unique to you. Feel it out. Adjust it. Try again. Experiment.
Now, ask yourself:
What would your work look like if you practiced work sadhana?
How might your work relationships be impacted?
Your relationship with yourself?
Want to explore creating a work sadhana of your own?
Curious to work with someone who can help you explore work sadhana that deepens your relationship to yourself, your coworkers and your work in the world? Schedule time for a Consultation or a ReConnection™ session with me.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carolyn Elder is a published writer and digital project manager who’s been writing and consulting for a decade with nonprofits and conscious businesses, digital agencies, and fortune 50s to 500s in the Top 50 list.
Beginning in 2011, she invested more deeply in her own mindfulness practice and education as a Sahaja yoga/meditation guide and two-time apprentice of spiritual teacher and humanitarian, Vanessa Stone. Carolyn is an Ayurvedic Kitchen Sadhana Consultant, having completed training in 2018 under her teacher, Maya Tiwari. Maya served for two decades as a Vedic monk belonging to India’s prestigious Veda Vyasa lineage, and is founder of Wise Earth School of Ayurveda.
Founder of Conscious Content, a mindfulness movement for business that serves the greater collective good, her intention is to bring ancient mindfulness technology first to individuals, and then their teams and organizations to connect them more authentically with themselves, one another, and their tribe.
Conscious Content’s guiding inquiry is: what would business look like if work became our sadhana—our personal growth practice?