We come to our mats to practice yoga not only when we are happy and content with our life. More often, we seek refuge on our yoga mats when times are tough. Really tough. The practice is always waiting for us, meeting us wherever we are emotionally, physically and mentally. It’s our time to gain strengths, really drop into our current emotional state and be. Yoga encourages us to look inwards and be aware of what goes on. The practice encourages us to lead with our heart instead of living our lives ruled by our heads. There are so many different yoga styles with one standing out from the rest, as it is often referred to as the yoga of love: Bhakti Yoga.
We all know, life can be challenging at times. Whether it’s due to illness, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job, they can fill you with sadness and grief. You can be happy again. We will give you an insight into the world of Bhakti Yoga and how you can transform your pain by adding an element of bhakti to your yoga practice.
WHAT IS BHAKTI YOGA?
Bhakti Yoga classically defines itself as the path of devotion, and it’s often referred to as the yoga of love. Bhakti is one of the three primary paths to enlightenment laid out by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.
The essence of Bhakti Yoga is surrender – offering an individual Self to the vast ocean of pure consciousness. Bhakti Yoga brings us into a realm where the discerning qualities of the intellect are powerless next to the vast ocean of feeling. We are leading with our hearts. We sing we dance, we play music, write poetry, cook, paint, make love – all as part of our dialogue with the Divine.
Bhakti teaches us how to have a love affair with life itself, not only with one person. We are focusing on taking the actions that nurture and nourish the heart.
Bhakti is about spreading more love wide and far – out into the world. Also, in our yoga practice. There is no one “right” way to do that, but Bhakti Yoga offers several tools to point the heart in the right direction.
PRACTISING BHAKTI YOGA
Connect with the Divine
In its most literal translation, bhakti yoga calls for faithful devotion to the Divine. It doesn’t mean that you have to worship a specific deity, but simply that you identify a source of spiritual inspiration to revere and call on for comfort and love. “Bhakti is about creating an eternal loving relationship with the divine source,” says Gaura Vani, a renowned mantra musician.
If you happen to have already a spiritual practice centred around a particular divine entity or spiritual guide, you can chant that name to fill your heart with love. And ask for help healing your heart.
Mean What You Say
Every time you take leave of a friend, loved one, or acquaintance, choose parting words infused with blessing or connection – “take care,” “be well” all work – and say them with genuine intention. Even if you say “goodbye,” take a moment to fill the word with meaning. As a yogi, you will be familiar with the class-closing ritual of saying Namaste accompanied by Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) and a small bow of the head. The meaning, which is something along the lines of “the light within me salutes the light within you,” is a beautiful way to practice bhakti outside class, too, and to bring more love into your life.
Take a second to see that everyone you come in contact with is an expression of divine consciousness. You will soon realise the truth: Love is all around you, whether you’re waiting at the supermarket tills or standing in line waiting for the bus.
Be Nurtured By Nature
Nature is a powerful reflection of divinity. The ancient yogis offered unconditional love to all that was around them, worshipping and emulating the sun, the moon, the plants, the animals. You can do the same by merely stepping outside and opening your senses and your heart to nature – trees, plants, air, sunlight and wind. Mountains, blades of grass, and the stars at night work equally well as sources of inspiration and love. “Yoga was created to help yoke our consciousness to nature, which nourishes us,” says Sara Ivanhoe, a Los Angeles yoga teacher, “When you can do that, you have a huge amount of support.”
Ivanhoe suggests a simple journaling exercise for reaching out to nature for help in healing your heart. “When you grief takes over, ask yourself, ‘If nature could console me and talk to me, what would she say?’” she suggests. Go outdoors to do this, if you like, and don’t feel that you have to craft an essay; write down what comes to you. “Nature is full of guidance and support for us,” Ivanhoe says. “We only need to ask for it.”
Fill Your Heart With Song
Kirtan – the practice of chanting the names or mantras of the gods and goddesses, is perhaps the essential technique in Bhakti Yoga. Although the practice itself is simple, the internal process that it stimulates is vast and mysterious. Externally, we’re just singing repetitive songs with simple melodies and a few Sanskrit words. We try to channel whatever emotion we’re feeling into the song. Don’t think about it; just sing from the heart. And let the magic of kirtan unravel.
Through song, the walls you might have constructed long ago come crumbling down. Wounds that you never knew were there begin to heal. Long-submerged emotions come to the surface. As you sing, you immerse yourself in an endless river of prayer that has been flowing since the birth of the first human beings. And somehow, effortlessly, you move into a meditative state that creates a haven for the heart to unfold.
And don’t worry about what your voice sounds like – kirtan is about filling your heart with love, not about being a great singer. While we are singing kirtan, we are cleansing our souls and awakening our hearts.
Essentially, Bhakti Yoga is the cultivation of unconditional spiritual love. It is not only a beautiful practice on your mat, but you can live a Bhakti Yogi life every single day. Become aware of all the great things around you in nature and genuinely appreciate every being. Appreciate your presence to the fullest with all it’s up and downs.
The practice of Bhakti Yoga demands the active cultivation of positive emotions like joy and gratitude and a willingness to broaden the parameters of your heart through your yoga practice.
Are you curious to discover and experience the power of song for yourself? Get ready to sing your heart out and feel the power of song. You don’t need to be a singer, remember. Ana Forrest and Jose Calarco bring ceremony and song to all workshops in February at our Fitzroy studio.
Are you ready to free your heart and dive into the magic of Bhakti Yoga?