One early morning last November, my doorman, Jose, who usually says it like it is, took one look at me and said, “What happened to you? You used to look sexy. Now you look like you never sleep anymore.”
His statement stung. I wanted to say, “Well I don’t sleep anymore. Not since I started Sadhana.” But then I’d have to explain what Sadhana meant. And why do I have to justify how I look? So, I said nothing.
But it was true. I was barely sleeping, and the dark circles under my eyes, chronic yawning, and 10 extra pounds I’d put on in a matter of just a few weeks were all byproducts of my commitment to complete 40 days of Kundalini Aquarian morning Sadhana.
Why I Tried 40 Days of Sadhana
For about a year prior to starting Sadhana—which involves two and a half hours of yoga, meditation, and chanting starting at 4 a.m. for 40 days—I’d seen Facebook ads for it. Several friends swore by its benefits, and I’d read many articles about its transformative powers, such as increased energy, mental clarity, and a plethora of blessings. Many spiritual paths have a practice of getting up before sunrise to pray. That special time is called Amrit Vela, which translates as the Nectar of God. When you give two and a half hours to a spiritual source, your entire day is covered with blessings. And who doesn’t want more blessings?
For years I’d been trying to finish writing a book, create an online program, and get into shape—but I lacked self-commitment and follow through. In Sanskrit, Sadhana literally means accomplishing something. I wanted to strengthen my commitment to both my spiritual practice and word to myself. I’ve never been an early riser, so I told myself, If I can wake up at 3 a.m. for the divine, I can do anything!
For the next 40 days, I woke up at 3 a.m., put on my white clothes and head covering, and drove to a yoga studio where I practiced yoga, sang songs to my soul, and chanted Aquarian mantras. I tried to go to sleep each night no later than 8 p.m. each night to attempt at least five or six hours of shut-eye. But no matter how many hot baths I took, Chamomile teas I drank, or minutes I spent breathing through my left nostril to relax, I couldn’t fall asleep until it was time to wake up again.
For the first week, I was very enthusiastic and surprised by how little sleep I needed to function. But then, somewhere around day eight, I came home after Sadhana and passed out until noon, which only messed up my circadian rhythm further. As my levels of exhaustion increased, so did my weight. I wondered how the other yogis in the room were doing it. Some of them were on day 50, 60, 90 and even 240. I was assured that if I could get enough sleep, I would be OK.
According to our Sadhana group leader, the secret to a successful Sadhana was getting enough sleep. I’d never had difficulty falling asleep before. But I’d also never woken before 7:30 am, and my nerves were keeping me up.
Somewhere around day 20, my very traditional Russian father called to tell me that he and my mother were worried. They’d recently seen my photos of me on Facebook and asked why I looked so exhausted, bloated, and pale. I was too tired to explain that I had signed up for a sacred practice meant to elevate my soul (and what that meant). Instead, I tagged him on the Facebook live Sadhana page so he could see what I was up to. The following night he called me and said, “Your mother and I saw the video. Are you in a cult? All those people in white look like mental patients.”
Was I really back here again, having another conversation like this with my parents? Some 10 years ago, I came out of the closet as a Feng Shui consultant. My parents wished it was just a phase, lied to their friends that I was an interior designer, and insisted that spirituality is for people that don’t want to work.
The Realization That Sadhana May Not Be For Me
On day 30, I went to see a medical intuitive who told me that I was suffering from liver insomnia and severe adrenal fatigue. I had no idea that our livers wake up around 4 a.m. Which meant that when I was getting up to do yoga so early, it was really hard on my liver. I already had mild symptoms of adrenal fatigue before starting Sadhana and didn’t know that feeling wired and tired were the hallmarks of that condition. It explained why I was having so much trouble falling asleep.
I reached out to a friend who’s a Kundalini yoga instructor to tell her that I was going to quit because I couldn't take it anymore, and she urged me not to. “Everything that's coming up for you is coming up for healing and clearing,” she told me. Translation for spiritual neophytes? “Your moodiness, liver issues, obsession with weight, and needing other people’s approval was probably always there, and now you’re ready to deal with it.”
I thought I’d dealt with all of that years ago—at least the obsession with weight and needing others’ approval. But the onion has many layers. And maybe Sadhana was fast-tracking the peeling of mine.
I pushed through. Because that’s what I do.
I began to wonder if I’m just a masochist and maybe what I really need is to get back into therapy. Then, I reminded myself that I am a therapist. In fact, I’m actually a spiritual psychotherapist and should know by now if something is good for me.
Sadhana: The Results of 40 Days of Yoga, Meditation, and Chanting
At the end of the 40 days, a few things happened. First, I felt satisfied that I was able to finish what I started. Next, I finally got a good night’s rest. Then, I spent hundreds of dollars on herbal tinctures and vitamins meant to restore my liver and adrenals. A few small blessings did arrive. I finally found an incredible illustrator for my book and a week later, two of the wellness hotels in Miami Beach where I really wanted to teach finally came through with proposals. Overall, the experience was a mixed bag.
While unfortunate, I don’t think we—as a culture—are equipped to support someone embarking on a 40-day adventure that may cause little or no sleep. Especially if that someone has lots of responsibilities. I think it would’ve been easier, and I could’ve treated the practice with more reverence, had I been on retreat or on an ashram somewhere. But we don’t all have the luxury of going away for a month. I know I don’t.
Forty days of so little sleep would be hard on anyone, regardless of the spiritual path they were on. My advice: If you want to start 40 days of Kundalini Aquarian morning Sadhana, please get your adrenals tested first. Make sure your life supports the potentially crazy sleep schedule, and that you have lots of time to rest and contemplate the process.
Also, listen to your body. If you feel like it’s getting to be too much, don't turn to this all-too-common default: “Exhaustion? Oh, it’s probably just my negative mind trying to sabotage me.” There’s nothing enlightened about wearing yourself down to become more spiritual.