Bhakti is about the heart. Opening to oneself and to fellow beings brings joy. Devotional practices are somewhat lost now unless there is connection to a traditional rite, and then it may be staled by childhood coercion and resistance to ‘religion’. For many in the west, and I was/am one of them, a protestant and cultural hiding of emotion makes devotion a thing to re-learn. ‘Re-learn’, because an open heart is part of the true nature of human beings.
The veneration of statues (murti) and images of deities can be alienating. However, tuning to the feeling of being held and protected so that fears and daily concerns drop away – this is a truely lovely thing for your mental and spiritual health. In fact, this is what may happen in repeating the name of Ganesha, for instance, the elephant-headed god. Initially ‘faking’ it maybe, but going deeper, an awareness of grace descends. Ganesha represents the removal of obstacles, physical, mental or spiritual. Nothing gets in the way of an elephant! I’ve even heard the Ganesha mantra used in a traffic jam, and to good effect. Other deities – Krishna, the Divine Mother, Shiva and more – embody other positive qualities to draw into ourselves.
Students in the Sivananda school are encouraged to develop bhakti. Hatha yoga can be dry in its discipline and over-concerned with the physical body. Meditation and study of Vedanta (yoga philiosophy) can be too focused on the mind and intellect. As a tool in every day life, bhakti allows the sublimation of the emotions, that is to say it lifts our hopes and fears, joys and bad days, beyond where they crowd us. Bhakti integrates the soul. In India they say that bhakti is the easiest path as what is more simple than to love?
Hindu/yoga practices of devotion include:
chanting – singing kirtan (the names of the gods) in a call and response, often accompanied by harmonium and tabla (drums)
puja – making offerings of rice, flowers, fruits and sweets, for example, to a murti, a statue or image of a deity, repeating the 108 names of that deity
abishekam – bathing a statue with milk, honey, ghee, water and ceremonially re-dressing the statue, often part of a puja
japa – the mental or out loud repetition of a mantra
The first three are really group practices (though can be done on your own). The shared experience comes under the broader title of satsang, which means sitting with the wise. Your peer yoga students are the wise and together you share uplifting energy
29th January 2017
Bhakti Yoga is one of the Four Paths of Yoga, the others being:
Karma Yoga – selfless service
Raja Yoga – of which hatha yoga and meditation form a part
Jnana Yoga – the study of Vedanta (yoga philosophy)