Bhakti means devotion and Bhakti Yoga is liberation from pain and suffering through the path of devotion. It is another stream of yoga, apart from Jnana yoga and Karma yoga. Bhakti yoga is the practice of devoting oneself to a specific deity or form. It is a specific love and an extreme connection to what one can connect to, called Ista.
What is Bhakti Yoga?
Bhakti yoga is the practice of identifying with a specific deity, worshiping and devoting to this deity daily. The focus is on selfless devotion and recognition of the sacred or divine nature in that object or form. Bhakti yoga encourages you to cultivate devotion for something that is much bigger and greater than ourselves.
In yoga, the term Ista translates to the ‘greatest one’ or ‘beloved’. In Bhakti yoga, this practice is termed as Ishta Devta, which means chosen deity. This refers to the deity, object or form chosen by the individual that one’s own unique self can connect with everyday. In a literal sense, it means ‘cherished deity’, which translates to liked, worshiped or preferred, among others. ‘Bhakti’ comes from ‘Bhaj’, which means to pray or to share upon one specific object. In Bhakti yoga, ego is not eliminated but surrendered to Ista and exists under the limited identity of being a bhakta.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says that the path of devotion is the highest among all types of spiritual practices. He explains it is difficult to meditate upon the unmanifest aspect of God. Devotees who worship God in the personal form dedicate all their actions to Him. And with their mind and intellect consciously surrendered, they attain Him. Such souls are liberated from the cycle of life and death. In this chapter (12), Shree Krishna asked Arjuna to give up all doubts and surrender his intellect with his mind fixed in loving devotion to God alone. Such love for God does not come easily. It takes time, practice and patience. Devotion has to be cultivated. Sri Krishna goes on to say that if one is unable to absorb the mind in the deity completely, then practitioners should do the next best thing - do all work with devotion, interest, love and complete effort without worrying about the returns.
What is the origin of Bhakti Yoga?
Bhakti yoga has been mentioned in yogic texts such as the Vedas. For centuries many have been on the quest to learn more about the divine power and what it means to surrender to a higher power. In the Upanishads, Bhakti yoga is mentioned as devotion and love for a deity. The Bhagavad Gita is where Bhakti yoga was mentioned as a stream of yoga.
The Bhagavad Gita says Bhakti yoga leads to ‘Moksha’ or liberation. It outlined four types of Bhakti yoga. They are Arta, Jijnasu, Artharthi, and Jnani. Arta means to seek God’s blessings to overcome pain and suffering. Jijnasu refers to seeking knowledge and wisdom. Artharthi is one who wants to serve a purpose and Jnani is one who has knowledge. Practicing Bhakti yoga keeps one away from negativity and bad karma across lifetimes.
How to practice Bhakti Yoga?
Bhakti yoga is a progressive form of practice. One starts with a little devotion to the chosen deity. This can come by being thankful for simple things like a new day, the rising sun, the shining moon, the blossoming flower, etc. Saying a prayer of thanks for the food on your plate to your chosen deity is also a form of Bhakti yoga.
However, to practice Bhakti yoga and make real progress in this path, one must devote themselves to higher spiritual practices. Yogic and more spiritual practices involve saying a prayer to the deity everyday or a mantra regularly or more than once a day. Mantra chanting, for example, connects your consciousness with the universal consciousness on a subtle and cosmic level. Mantras are normally a word or two, or a short phrase, such as AUM or Sohum. Mantras are practiced by repeating them multiple times (108 times is most common). One can practice this by visualizing their chosen deity or form.
Expressing and devoting oneself to the deity through poetry, song (known as Kirtan) and dance are also different ways to practice Bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga practices are contemplative and done from the heart.
Practitioners doing this for a long time will gradually begin to observe when a sacred and subtle sense of love and appreciation has been established and they will be able to turn their attention inwards (Pratyahara). This can happen even through meditation practices such as a Loving-Kindness meditation. You begin to notice the divine power that exists and a certain respect for this greatness develops. This takes the form of Bhakti yoga that you recognize with divinity in everything over a period of time. Ego, differentiation, materialistic desires all dissolve into a state of one-ness. Practitioners also begin to differentiate between doing tasks with devotion, detaching from the fruits of labor and practicing solely for devotion to God.
In today’s modern times, teachers get creative by coming up with classes such as ‘Bhakti and Asana Flow’ or ‘Bhakti and Deep Breathing’. Such classes blend the practice of asanas with Bhakti practices such as mantra chanting, prayer or a gratefulness meditation, among others. However, they do not focus on a specific deity or encourage Ishta.
What are the benefits of Bhakti yoga?
Bhakti yoga induces a heightened sense of positivity, hope, love and joy within the practitioner and in her/his surroundings. The practices change the vibe in the room, creating an energetic, positive and peaceful environment. Bhakti yoga improves mood and is linked to promoting psychological well-being. It reduces stress, worries and anxiety. Practices improve hope, focus and concentration, patience and determination in individuals. It even helps improve pain tolerance and has immense healing powers. Regular practice of Bhakti yoga leads to a balanced and blissful state of being.
Bhakti yoga can be practiced for just a few minutes a day to get started. With practice and as and when you notice the positive difference within you, you’ll naturally want to do more. Not only will Bhakti yoga help you, but it will have a wonderful positive impact on your loved ones and those around you!