Every summer at the Iyengar yoga studio I’ve been a student at since 2000, the senior teacher runs a sadhana. The word translates into English as “practice.” It usually thought to be a spiritual practice with a goal. In his book, Light on Life, BKS Iyengar calls sadhana “the way of accomplishing something.”
At our studio, the sadhana is a daily practice for one week. Students come from 6-7:30 a.m. every day for seven days in a row. It is always around this time of year, making it easy to get up early because it is already light outside.
The sadhana is one of my favourite events at the studio for several reasons.
- I love how it focuses me on going to bed early and getting up early. It’s important to get enough rest during sadhana or the early morning practice is difficult to appreciate.
- There is an experience of deepening practice during sadhana. A lot of this has to do with the time of day, but also with the way the classes are structured. Our instructor treats sadhana week as one long class. Each day builds upon lessons from the day before, so there is a real opportunity for epiphanies of understanding. There is also an increase in intensity during the first part of the week, with days 1 and 2 easing us into it, days 3-5 being quite intense and energetic (I can attest to that from this morning’s challenging practice!), and things easing off again on days 6 and 7.
- During sadhana, we maintain silence in the yoga studio (other than our teacher’s instructions). If you have never been to an Iyengar class before, there is a lot of moving of equipment (blocks, chairs, blankets, mats, straps, slanted planks, to name just a few of the props we use regularly), changing of the set-up, gathering around the instructor for demonstrations, and group work. All of this can lend itself to chatter. The silence that we maintain during sadhana, including before class when we enter the room and after class as we put things away, promotes a focused and inward practice.
- I love the sense of yoga community that the sadhana fosters. As with any challenge (and believe me, seven days in a row of Iyengar yoga at 6 a.m. is a challenge), a kind of bonding happens during sadhana that doesn’t happen at any other time of the yoga calendar. We see the same people every day for one week, first thing in the morning when everyone is still feeling quiet and the day hasn’t yet gotten away from them. Spontaneous breakfast outings happen after class. Every other year, our instructor has a garden party to mark the end of sadana.
- It’s a nice change of pace from my regular class, which meets weekly on Tuesday mornings at 6:30. I know everyone in that class and feel comfortable with them. During sadhana week, we get to practice with students from different classes and at different levels. Over the years, I have come to know quite a few people just because of sadhana. Again, it expands my feelings of the community at the studio.
- We usually take some time during sadhana to learn about yoga beyond the physical practice. This year, each morning we watch a part of a film (entitled Leap of Faith) about Iyengar and his understanding of the kosas or what are also known as “the sheaths of being.” I doubt I’m going to have a deep grasp of the kosas after watching the film, but it’s interesting to learn about the broader system of thought behind yoga and it’s fascinating to see actual footage and hear audio of BKS Iyengar himself. The control he has over his body and the strength he displays when he does yoga is inspiring and riveting to watch. He’s full of wisdom and has extraordinary insight and understanding about yoga and the mind-body connection.
- Something happens to me during sadhana week every year that spills beyond my yoga practice. I feel quieter. I become more aware of everything and the world looks richer and crisper — greens are greener, the sky is bluer, the moon is brighter. Really. I can’t explain why but I like it.
For more on sadhana as practice, here’s a video of Dr. Geeta Iyengar, daughter of BKS Iyengar. She is an accomplished yogi herself, and probably the world’s leading expert on yoga and women’s health.
I’ve got a couple of other posts on Iyengar yoga, if you’re interested in reading more: