February: Bhakti Yoga
One of the many beauties of yoga is, that it has so many different approaches, fitting the character and the mood of each individual. Some people approach life intellectually, they need and want to study, read and find “mental” clarity. Yoga offers to them Jnana Yoga – the yoga of wisdom and study of self. Others find fulfillment in serving others, become doctors, or teachers for example: their path, so yoga says, is selfless service – Karma Yoga. Hatha Yoga is the way through the body. This is for the athlete in us, for the ones in physical pain and for the ones who choose that movement is their way to liberation. Another way to approach life is the path of the heart – Bhakti Yoga is the answer here. Originally there were these four different paths of yoga (Jnana, Bhakti, Karma & Hatha), which have split further into seven paths, also sometimes referred to as “The Wheel of Yoga“.
This February, inspired by Valentine’s day, we focus on Bhakti Yoga – often referred to as THE YOGA OF LOVE.
What is bhakti yoga?
According to the Narada Bhakti Sutras, bhakti is intense love for God. Essentially Bhakti Yoga is the cultivation of unconditional spiritual love. Traditionally it involves devotion to a guru or a deity; through the act of giving love, we receive love.
However, often , the deity, the guru is seen outside of oneself, I always like to point out, that it is to ultimately realize that this guru is right inside us; that this love starts right within us – the beginning and the end is to love ourselves. The realization that we are divine and that we are of God. The experience of union comes from completely surrendering one’s ego, or one’s self-will to the Higher Self, or God as some like to call it. You may also call it Nature, universe, source, higher power – whatever feels good to you.
Just as we stretch and lengthen our bodies on the yoga mat, we can stretch our capabilities to love and expand our notion on what love really is. When we fall in love the first time or any time really, we can feel this expansion, this elevation and also how devastated we are when it ends. The questions here are: how can I channel this love into the rest of my life? And how can I continue, when it seemingly just ripped my heart apart when it ended? Instead of focusing the love on one person, one thing, one project, one task – Bhakti yoga teaches us to find it in everything: in a moment, in nature, in animals, in ourselves . We expand. Now there is a romance with life and ourselves not just focused on one person.
Heartbreak is like darkness. Experiencing this separation makes us realize what love is, just as the brightest light can best be seen in the darkness, this pain makes us understand love. This way in looking at love from an expansive perspective, we may be able to let go of the fear and after a heart break, instead of retreating and punishing ourselves and others, stay open and do it all over again. Love is abundant and we don’t run out of it, it may hurt, but we learn and move on and give and get more love.
„Since you can’t transcend heartache, embrace it! We were all created out of love but born into separation the moment the cord was cut, that‘s what it is to be human.
Heartbreak is not the end of love. It’s the beginning.” Douglas Brooks
How to practice bhakti yoga?
As always yoga is so practical and gives us hands-on tools to find our heart and share it.
One of the many paths to the heart is the song! We are sound, we are vibration! Sound vibration – music – as the eternal healer. Already when you start your yoga practice and chant “om” or end it with “namaste” – you are chanting! Chant opens our energy channels to joy – it brings us back to our primordial qualities – to our true self – which is – love. That is all we are. Divine love. At times if we forget it in the head or hold on desperately to our pain or are comfortable to sit in that black hole – sound can bring us out and back. A bell, a gong, a chant – a kirtan. Chanting together to the divine connects us to each other, to ourselves and to the universe and gives us often an ecstatic feeling of love and joy.
At this point I would like to invite you to our monthly Kirtan – our Bhakti Mantra Singing – please join us to celebrate love and joy together.
Chants consist of Sanskrit words and mantras . A mantra is spoken – it is a vibration encaved in a sacred sound. Vibrations may shift us. We use mantras during meditation or also during yoga asana practice. Japa Mala is another tool, where you use a mala (a necklace of 108 stringed beads) and you repeat the mantra over ad over again – with the necklace usually 108 times or 216 or it can go into the thousands of times.
Contemplation is an important companion practice to devotion. Knowledge helps us discriminate between that, which is eternal and unchanging, and that which is fleeting and impermanent.
However Bhakti is all around us, in every action, in every moment:.
- Treating others the way we like to be treated
- Speaking the truth, meaning what we say
- Living globally
- Embracing nature and animals
- Doing our yoga practice
- taking care of ourselves, cooking and nourishing ourselves and others
- the list is so long; I let you fill in what you feel to add
“Grease your actions with love, whether you are driving your children to school, washing the dishes, working at a stressful job, or doing your practice. By learning to expand our devotional awareness, we can transform our lives so they are filled with peace, love, joy, and harmony.” Swami Rama