When you think of yoga you might think of posh studios and tight outfits, but it’s been around a *lot* longer than lululemon. Yoga has an extremely long and important history before its Westernization. One ancient practice is Bhakti yoga.
Bhakti yoga 101
What is Bhakti yoga?
In Hinduism, Bhakti yoga is the spiritual practice that’s centered on loving devotion. It’s one of the three spiritual paths that lead to Moksha (aka salvation) in Hinduism. All you need to practice Bhakti is an open, loving heart.
What are Bhakti yoga poses?
Unlike other types of yoga, Bhakti yoga doesn’t use “poses” during practice. Instead, Bhakti involves cultivating a spirit of unconditional love.
How do you practice Bhakti yoga?
The practice of Bhakti yoga completely revolves around love. You can practice Bhakti through devotional chanting, the repetition of mantras, or the direction of unconditional love to all of creation.
What are the benefits of Bhakti yoga?
- relief from stress and worry
- sense of love and gratitude
- feeling of bliss
Bhakti yoga is an ancient practice that’s different from other yoga types, like Hatha and Vinyasa, that center on moving your body.
You don’t need to do any Downward-Facing Dog poses during Bhakti yoga. Instead, the practice focuses on channeling your emotional intensity in the spirit of love.
Bhakti has nothing to do with getting a hot bod or flexible limbs. Instead, it’s about cultivating a loving heart. Here’s some of the perks its practice can bring you.
Relief from stress and worry
By cultivating a sense of calmness, peace, and love, everything that seems like a problem can begin to melt away. When you connect to the timeless divinity of all things, it’s hard to worry about what you’re going to make for dinner.
And there’s some research that supports the idea that yoga can help you chill out. One study found that yoga may help relieve high levels of anxiety. But the researchers were sure to clarify that they couldn’t make any conclusions for yoga as a treatment for a clinical anxiety disorder.
Sense of love and gratitude
In order to receive love, you gotta find it within. (Self-love is real talk). It may take some effort — especially if you’re used to being hard on yourself. But through Bhakti, you can work to learn how it feels to be deeply loved and love in return.
Feeling of bliss
You don’t need to lounge on the beach in the Maldives to get blissed out. Bhakti yoga’s practice of love and devotion may help you to feel truly free.
Basically, Bhakti’s all about breaking down barriers. Breaking barriers to love, to other people, to the Divine, and to the interconnectedness of all things. This can help you experience the beauty and love of the moment.
All you need to do Bhakti yoga is an open heart. No yoga mat required.
Bhakti involves focusing your mind, emotions, and senses on the Divine. The aim is to merge with the reality of divine love.
Traditionally, the core practices of Bhakti include:
- Kirtan: devotional chanting
- Japa: the repetition of mantras
- Devotion to the Divine: the direction of unconditional love to all of creation
While traditional Bhakti often involves concentrating on deities to attain this loving state, many contemporary leaders of Bhakti encourage practitioners to focus on the Divine in whatever form you choose.
You may opt to direct your love to:
- a god
- a guru
- the Divine in all things
- yourself and others
You can also choose not to focus on a particular form.
Since Bhakti emphasizes the interconnected nature of all things, as you direct love to places seemingly outside of yourself, you actually pour it into yourself, too.
Bhakti traditionally involves meditating on, reading, chanting, or singing mantras toward the attainment of a state of Divine love.
Mantras are often in Sanskrit or Hindi, but there aren’t really set or defined rules. When the mantras are repeated, they often form a melody.
Here are some mantras to consider chanting:
- Namaste: If you’ve taken a yoga class, you’ve probably said “namaste” before. It roughly translates to the “light within me salutes the light within you.”
- Om Namah Shivaya: “I bow to the Self.”
- Lokah Samastah Sukino Bhavantu: “May all beings everywhere be happy and free.”
You can also hear many examples of mantras in the spirit of the Bhakti yoga tradition on this Spotify playlist.
The Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, the sacred Hindu text written by teacher-poet-philosopher Rupa Gosvami, outlines nine core principles of Bhakti yoga.
1. Svarana (listening)
Svarana involves listening to ancient scriptures, poems, or stories, especially those told by a Saint (aka Bhakta). This principle doesn’t happen solo. You’ll have to join together with other devotees.
2. Kirtana (singing)
Kirtana refers to the singing or chanting of the Divine’s praises. This is where all those mantras come in handy.
3. Smarana (remembering)
Smarana means remembering the Divine at all times. Wherever you are, practicing Bhakti means keeping divinity at the forefront of your mind.
4. Padasevana (service)
Padasevana involves expressing love toward the Divine through service. This might involve volunteering, helping someone in need, or even simply cultivating a sense of loving-kindness and service toward those in your life.
5. Archana (ritual worship)
Archana involves worshipping the Divine through external images, gods, or icons in order to purify the heart through love. In Hinduism, commonly worshipped deities include Ganesha, Krishna, Shiva, Parvatia, Durga, and Surya.
6. Vandana (prayer)
Vandana refers to prayer and prostration (that means lying on the ground outstretched). By praying, Bhakti aims to limit self-absorption and self-centeredness in order to connect with the whole.
7. Dasya (unquestioning)
Dasya involves serving the will over the Divine instead of your own ego. When you listen to the Divine without doubt, fear, or questioning, it leads you to the next step.
8. Sakhya (friendship)
Sakhya involves cultivating friendship toward the Divine. Whether you see the Divine in deities or in all things, it means being BFFs with all that exists.
9. Atmanivedana (self-offering)
Atmanivedana means total surrender of the self to the Divine nature of all things.
In Hinduism, Bhakti yoga is a practice centered on loving devotion. No Cat-Cows necessary. To practice Bhakti yoga, all you need is a loving heart.