Bhakti Yoga – the yoga of love & devotion – The 4 Path of Yoga: part 5/5
Part 5 in our 5-part series on the Paths of Yoga
Yoga has been explained as an integration and harmony between thought, word and deed, or head, heart and hand. Through the practices of yoga, one develops an awareness of the interrelation between the emotional, mental and physical – an imbalance in one affects the others.
Bhakti, referred to as the yoga of love, devotion and service, is thought to be an important aspect of a spiritual path. This form of yoga helps us to tune into the love that already exists around us and to become aware of the divinity that is within everything and everyone. Bhakti is not what we have or do, but rather an expression of life or an art of living.
WHAT IS BHAKTI?
The term Bhakti originates from the Sanskrit word “Bhaj” which means love, attachment, faith, devotion, prayer.
While Hatha yoga requires a strong, flexible body, Raja yoga involves a disciplined, concentrated mind, and Jnana yoga necessitates keen intellect, the only prerequisite for Bhakti yoga is an open, loving heart. This path both complements the other paths of yoga and focuses cultivating love for whatever form of divinity you resonate with. This could be a God, a Guru, an aspect of nature or the larger concept of the universe or you can also choose not to focus on a particular form.
PHILOSOPHY IN THE MODERN WORLD
Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, refers to seva, ‘selfless service to others’, and prem, ‘unconditional love’ as the two interactions that form the foundation of Bhakti in his book, Bhakti Sadhana.
Seva is when our feelings are intertwined with others, and we focus our efforts to help achieve their happiness and upliftment. When our heart is open, we can experience a true sense of connection, empathy, affinity and oneness with all, that is prem. This is the ultimate expression of Bhakti yoga.
WHAT DOES A BHAKTI YOGA PRACTICE LOOK LIKE?
The aim of Bhakti yoga is to help us manage our negative emotions by softening our ego. It lifts and lightens our mood to allow us to release our internal built-up pressures, thus preventing emotional outbursts. It counteracts the rumblings of an agitated mind, instead channelling that energy towards experiencing our inner, pure nature.
There are many accessible and powerful ways to practice such as:
• Hearing, reading, contemplating sacred texts and reflections on universal truths or teachings of spiritual masters.
• Attending a kirtan and chanting mantras to help connect to the moment through sound.
• Performing service as an offering to the world around us without expectation of a reward.
• Practicing gratitude as a self-reminder of the presence of goodness in all beings.
• Japa meditation or mantra meditation, which uses repetition of a word or phrase to focus the mind and encourage feelings of joy and compassion.
• Silent or spoken prayer and devotional service lead to greater heart opening and connection to source.
• Spending time in nature to bask in the miracle of all living things.
Dedicating some time to incorporate these practices can help finetune our ability to differentiate between experiences of temporary gratification and actual long-lasting happiness.
TRANSFORMATION THROUGH LOVE
When we imbue our actions with an attitude of compassion, reverence and devotion, some of the perks Bhakti yoga practice include:
• Relief from stress and worry. By cultivating calmness, peace and love, our problems can begin to melt away. Research* shows that this type of practice can help in stressful situations and relieve anxiety.
• A sense of love and gratitude. To truly receive love, we must find it within. Through Bhakti, we can work to learn how it feels to be deeply loved and practice loving in return.
• Feelings of bliss. Bhakti yoga’s practice of love, devotion and interconnectedness to all things may help one feel truly free and be able to more fully experience the beauty and love of the moment.
LEAD WITH YOUR HEART
The unique paths of yoga help us find peace, happiness and success in our lives. By practicing Bhakti yoga, we fill ourselves with positive emotions and then express the uplifting attributes of our nature through thoughts, behaviour and interactions. This harmony of head, heart and hands results in a feeling of fulfilment, first within us and then with all creation.