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"Little by little, one travels far."

- J.R.R Tolkien, English writer

What is Sādhānā?

By Mark Chaves on 17 April 2013

Sādhānā is sanskrit for “a means of accomplishing something”. For this article Sādhānā is a complete and often systemized spiritual practice. For example, one such practice could include the following:





Theoretically, it would be a nice feature of a Sādhānā to leverage the strengths of different spiritual paths. Regardless of their origin. Maybe we want to plug-in a Buddhist style of meditation for example. In software, we called this the “best of breed” approach. Hold onto this thought for a moment.

Regularly I am asked by Yoga practitioners who are visiting Bali on holiday: “How can I practice the Yoga I’ve learned in Bali when I get back home?”  This is why I’ve decided to document the Sādhānā that I follow so that it can be shared as an sample practice. My hope is to publish this Sādhānā over a series of articles beginning with this one.

Here is another question that frequently comes my way: “What kind of Yoga do you do?”  This may seem like a straight forward question for most people. But for me it is not straight forward because I am aware that the definition of Yoga is different for everyone. At any rate, I usually respond with “ I practice Raja Yoga ”. If I had to summarize the responses I get, we would be looking at another series of articles. Alright, so what is this Raja Yoga?
Raja Yoga is a spiritual path defined by a collection of Yoga Sutras (threads of text) from Sri Patanjali. It is believed that Sri Patanjali was one person or maybe several persons living 2-7 thousand years ago. Raja Yoga is characterized by an eight-limbed (aṣṭānga) system. These eight limbs are seen as a logical progression. The first two limbs define ethical practices. The third and fourth limb is essentially modern day yoga i.e. asana and pranayama. The fifth and six limb focus on turning within and meditating. The eighth limb is Yoga or union. Mokṣa or liberation is achieved in the eighth limb. The eight limb is liberation from the bondage of suffering or from spiritual ignorance that binds us to suffering. Therefore, another way of looking at what is Sādhānā is that Sādhānā is a path to Mokṣa. Note: Patanjali’s Aṣṭānga system should not be confused with Sri Pattabhi Jois’ physical Aṣṭānga Yoga asana practice.

The reason Sri Patanjali’s Aṣṭānga system works well for me is because the system is a “framework”. A true framework will give an outline of what to do and a combination of specific ways or guidances on how to do it. Take Patanjali’s framework, it specifies eight limbs that must be done (the what). The first two limbs are very specific. They prescribe exactly how to be ethical. But some of the limbs such as the third limb, Asana (the what), are general enough so that specific techniques (the how) can be left to the practitioner’s discretion. In other words, I know that I have to practice Asana but I can choose what types of Asanas to practice. As long as they work for me and as long as they fall into the framework i.e. best of breed, then it’s all good. In fact, Patanjali’s Raja Yoga doesn’t even have to be followed in its entirety! Short-cuts, defined in the Sutras themselves, can be taken (more on that later). In summary, practitioners can use any technique or combination of techniques that fit into this framework. Frameworks, such as Patanjali’s, can be tailored to the practitioner. Mokṣa is the ultimate goal for all spiritual paths.

The good news is that there are many paths to choose from. But be careful. Any path that strictly forces only one way or only one technique for achieving Mokṣa is a spiritually oppressive path and should be avoided. By now I hope you have some idea of what is Sādhānā and Raja Yoga. The Sādhānā practice that I’ve adopted is based on Raja Yoga. Up next: a deeper dive into the Sādhānā I am following now.

mark chaves cobra pose

Mark is a Yoga Instructor based in Bali. Prior to moving to Bali, Mark lived in America working in software and teaching Yoga, surfing, snowboarding, and rock climbing. Mark actively volunteers his time teaching community Yoga classes, working at animal shelters, teaching rock climbing, and supporting local coral reef conservation projects.

About the author

mark l chaves

Independent Consultant, Writer, & Photographer

Mark became a consultant, writer, and photographer after working in the software industry for 20 years in Fortune 500 companies. He recently transitioned from his roles as a Wellness Consultant and…  Read full bio