Can you actually leave behind old patterns and begin new healthy rhythms in just 40 days?
There has been a significance of 40 days in many spiritual traditions within history and modern psychology. These lineages emphasize that 40 days are required to make or break a pattern or habit. Sadhana means practice in Sanskrit. With a 40 day Sadhana, the aim is to replace unhealthy ways of being through the consistency of practices that are designed to build strength within the physical, mental and energetic layers which lead the discernment.
I recently joined an online '40 Day Sadhana' group led by Suzanne Slocum-Gori. As I am currently in the midst of traveling and at times without access to yoga studios, I felt I needed a strong community and inspiration to take my personal self-practice to the next level so it could support me as I traverse the globe in many different contexts.
I began the Sadhana in a quiet apartment outside of Paris, traveled to Copenhagen and practiced inside a cozy hotel, and finally finished the Sadhana in Ghana, on the terrace of a bungalow overlooking the Volta River. From various countries and city sounds to village drumming, the Sadhana rooted me firmly in my body, breath and purpose. It wasn't an easy journey (it never is) but the transformative aspect of the practice was well worth the minor turbulence along the way.
We were guided to set two intentions, in the present tense, as if they are already happening. The first asked us to remove, eliminate or break a certain behavior, action or pattern from our daily life. The second asked us to add a nourishing life style behavior, action or ritual. My intentions felt obvious to pursue, and so it began...
* As a freelance entrepreneur, in love with my 'work', I am always eager to over work and spend far too many hours in front of my computer - researching, contacting and cultivating. I chose to break the habit of using technology after 9PM, which would encourage me to set healthy working limits and time management. I knew it would increase my ability to fall asleep faster and equal more productivity during the days.
* As I am currently living in rural Ghana, I wanted to add a simple gratitude meditation before my meals. Spending time in a place where resources are limited and my situation doesn't allow me to easily shop and cook the elaborate vegetarian meals for myself, I knew this would be a challenging, but incredibly skillful intention to cultivate. A simple few deeps breaths and a moment before eating to acknowledge how fortunate I am to have a meal in front of me - even if it isn't a raw/vegan superfood Instagram worthy photo.
The journey of the Sadhana was full of challenges, surprises, inspiration, calls-to-action and loving guidance...
Here are the three things that I learned during my 40 Day Sadhana:
1. Set intentions and allow them to evolve throughout:
Take a few days to witness what arise as natural intentions and write them down in your journal, alter or refrigerator as reminders, but allow them to evolve throughout the 40 day journey. Half way throughout the Sadhana, I felt a spontaneous drive to strengthen my body through a fire-y asana practice and begin running routine 3 x weekly. I embraced the unexpected and allowed for the Sadhana to slowly seep into other aspects of my life. I keep my first intentions alive as I knew they served me, however, some members in the group decided to change their intentions completely, after realizing their original intentions may have been unrealistic or less important at this moment in their lives. Create the mental space for your intentions to organically morph into what it is you truly may need. It is through the deep work of asana, pranayama and contemplation that we can awaken to sensations -- allow yourself to flow with what sensations and intuitive energies arise.
2. Self-Love and Acceptance are key.
Yes, you will miss practices and you may forget to check the Facebook group...and you may even do it intentionally. Know that it's okay. I missed the odd practices and even took a day off throughout. The first week I felt very determined and was a bit too militant about sticking to my intentions, by week 2-3 I became less motivated and struggled to maintain focus, week 4 welcomed clarity and kick-started my new intention which left me feeling strong and empowered, and final weeks I was able to embrace my efforts (without judgement) and actually fully enjoy the experience. During my less mindful moments (there were far more during the first weeks in comparison to the final weeks) within minutes I was aware enough to see that I hadn't taken time to pause and appreciate my food, or that I was working beyond 9pm. It was as if a new internal 're-set' button had formed within my mind which helped me to see reality and acknowledge what was distracting me from staying true to the intention.
I came away from the Sadhana with new healthy habits, but most important a sense of self-love and acceptance for the whole journey. even for the days that I wasn't as mindful as I would have liked. I embrace that my efforts are cumulative and I have absorbed it all. I have trust that the process of releasing, strengthening and loving will only continue to grow. The Sadhana is not meant to be a competition that leaves you feeling stressed. The Sadhana is there as a powerful reminder of your highest self and your capacity to commit and build presence.
3. Never underestimate the power of community, even virtually!
I admit, I was skeptical of joining an online course as I am someone who loves personal engagement when learning. I like to use all my senses to understand teachings. However, I soon realized that although I may not be able to see, listen or physically feel Suzanne, I could go much deeper within, and was being called to awaken my internal teacher. The main purpose of a Sadhana is for you to physically do the practices to receive long lasting change. I couldn't just sit in front of Suzanne on my yoga mat with my journal and listen to her personal experience through Sadhana. I actually had to do the hard work myself and ignite my inner fire of determination and discipline. Would have I felt stronger to be beside Suzanne for 40 days, guiding me and watching over my practice? Maybe. Would I have felt as confident to sustain the practices on my own, in any part of the world? Probably not.
While there are certain subjects I wouldn't recommend people do as an online course, a Sadhana is a complete journey within and one that can be modified for any level of practitioner -- all you need is discipline and patience! The other members in the group were open and shared their personal experiences (the good and the bad) and offered inspiring content and insight. The discussions kept the Sadhana 'real' and reminded me that I wasn't alone in the efforts. Community, near or far, has the power to empathize, support and lift up and is an essential part of any spiritual journey.
By having a daily Sadhana practice, we are transforming our inner being. 40 days is the time it takes to train the subconscious to release thoughts or habits that no longer serve us. Throughout the 40 days we change the habit by replacing old patterns with new ones on a cellular level, which reshape the signals sent to the body and mind. Through a Sadhana we are slowly chipping away at our subconscious identity and blocks which limit us and instead move towards our highest selves. It is said that it takes ninety days to confirm new habit, one hundred and twenty days to integrate the new habit into one's being, and one thousand days to master the habit. Today is day 40 and my new intention is to continue the Sadhana as if it hasn't officially 'ended'. I see today as a beautiful new beginning, full of gratitude, discipline and self-love!
LAUREN LEE E-RYT 500 is passionate about living with purpose, exploring the world, and empowering others to live as their most authentic, radiant Self. Founder of Raise Your Beat, dedicated teacher and forever student on the path of yoga, she leads transformational workshops, retreats and trainings to awaken the individual and collective consciousness. Read more about her here