Origin, advantages and methods of practice

It may seem that the word “yoga” has become synonymous with contortionist poses, usually performed by fit, able-bodied, white bodies in utopian locations – but that’s far from the full picture of what this rich tradition has to offer.

The physical postures represent only a tiny fraction of the practice. In fact, many yoga styles don’t involve doing poses at all.

Returning to the root of the word “yoga”, we find “yuj-“, which means “to play, to link or to connect”. Although there are many lineages of yoga, all with different routes and goals, all styles and schools of yoga share a search for connection to something greater than ourselves.

Arguably, no style of yoga is more devoted to this search than Bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion.

Bhakti yoga is often called the yoga of love or the path of devotion.

Nubia Teixeira is a well-known Bhakti yoga teacher and the author of “Yoga and the art of mudras.” Teixeira describes the path of Bhakti yoga as “different practices that help the heart to express love in all different devotional ways”.

The word “bhakti” comes from the root “bhaj”, which means “to pray” or “to share”.

Although there may be a strong focus on specific deities or the Divine, depending on your lineage, many modern scholars and teachers now explain Bhakti yoga in a much more holistic way. They consider it the practice of seeking unconditional love for everyone and everything.

Summary

Bhakti yoga is the yoga of love and devotion.

Humans have been curious about the Divine since the beginning of contemplation and critical thinking.

Many of the prayers and mantras recited by Bhakti yoga practitioners have their origins in the earliest texts of yogic teaching, the Vedas (1500 BC), which are the oldest scriptures in Hinduism. .

Another early mention of Bhakti yoga appears in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad.

The Upanishads are a series of commentaries on the Vedas, composed over many years, from around the first century BC to around 1400 CE. In the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, “Bhakti” means “devotion and love for all endeavor” seeking the Divine) (1).

But some teachers believe that it is in the Bhagavad Gita, a poem found in India’s great epic, the Mahabharata (composed somewhere between the first and second centuries AD), that Bhakti yoga has its roots. first taught as his own path of yoga (2).

The Bhagavad Gita (meaning “song of God”), speaks of four paths of yoga, called the four margas. These are:

  • Karma Yoga, the yoga of selfless service
  • Jñana Yoga, the yoga of knowledge and learning
  • Raja Yoga, the practice of conquering the mind through the eight-limbed path of Patanjali
  • Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion

It should be mentioned that the Bhagavad Gita is specifically dedicated to Lord Krishna, while there are many other deities in Hindu theology. For this reason, other teachers refer to the Puranas (written between 400 and 1500 CE) as additional essential Bhakti yoga texts (3).

It is said that there are 18 Puranas (although the number may vary depending on the source) dedicated to different deities.

Summary

Many prayers and mantras practiced in Bhakti yoga were first shared in the Vedas in 1500 BC, but humans have been praying to the Divine for much longer than that!

Although now available at popular studios, you don’t even need a mat to do this style of yoga. In fact, you don’t need anything but your heart.

While many forms of yoga focus on physical movement (asana) or specific breathing or meditation techniques, bhakti yoga employs a wide variety of contemplative practices and rituals.

These days you will find many Bhakti yoga classes combined with other styles of yoga. For example, there may be something on the program called Bhakti Flow Yoga that includes the practice of physical postures with Bhakti elements, such as kirtan (devotional chanting) or mantra.

Teixeira calls her movement classes “Hatha & Bhakti.” There she teaches asanas woven with different Bhakti practices, such as hastabhinaya, which is a form of storytelling through hand gestures.

Summary

All you need to do Bhakti yoga is your heart.

There are many forms in which you can practice Bhakti yoga:

Pray

Besides praying to a deity or the Divine, sending prayers to other people can be considered a form of Bhakti.

Swami Rama (1925–1996) was a well-known yoga guru and practitioner of Bhakti yoga. He differentiated between “ego-centered prayer,” which he explains as “desire-filled prayer,” and “genuine prayer,” which comes from within.

Authentic prayers can also include practices of gratitude (4).

Mantra

The word “mantra” actually comes from two Sanskrit words: “manas”, which means “mind”, and “trava”, which means “to liberate”.

Mantras can be single syllables, individual words or passages. Many mantras are given to students directly by their guru or teacher, but others are found in yogic texts.

For example, the word “aum” (sometimes spelled “om”), which is often used as a mantra, was first introduced in an Upanishad. When a mantra is repeated it is called japa.

mudra

Mudra is a symbolic gesture usually expressed by the hands and fingers, although some mudras involve the whole body.

Poetry

Teixeira enjoys teaching and sharing the work of medieval poets Mirabai (c.1500-1545) and Aka MahaDevi (c.1130-1160), but any poet who talks to you and moves you can count.

Kirtan

The word “kirtan” means “to recite, praise or tell”. This style of music is based on ancient chants, mantras or names of deities and is usually sung in a call and response format.

Besides being a renowned teacher of Bhakti yoga, Teixeira is married to Grammy award-winning artist and kirtan artist Jai Uttal.

Altar

Altars are structures on which people make offerings and perform religious rites. In the Bible, altars are sometimes called “the table of God.”

An altar can be something as simple as a desk or windowsill on which you have pictures of family members and a feather you found on a walk, or as ornate as a real one. altar table. Altar items are any item that has meaning to you.

Summary

Bhakti yoga practices include (but are not limited to) chanting, mantra, mudras, prayer, poetry, altar-caring, and group chanting, known as kirtan.

There are many benefits to be gained from practicing this deep, meditative, and gratitude-inducing form of yoga. Some of the benefits of Bhakti yoga include:

Mood enhancement

Singing and group singing have long been linked to improved mood and psychological well-being, but a recent study found that even online singing appears to have positive psychosocial benefits, showing the power of singing. collective (5, 6).

Positive well-being

For decades, studies have shown that prayer is linked to improved subjective well-being in people who pray (7, 8).

Less stress

Recent findings have linked mantra meditation to stress reduction, although research is somewhat limited (9, ten).

Hatha yoga, which is movement-based yoga, is regularly associated with stress reduction, so hybrid classes like Bhakti Flow or Hatha & Bhakti Yoga can also offer such benefits (11).

Improved attention span

A 2017 study found that praying to improve a situation helped people focus less on their worries and increased their overall ability to focus on the things they wanted to focus on (12).

Pain relief

Reading, writing and listening to poetry have been linked to pain management over the years. A 2020 research review noted that poetry seemed to have particularly healing effects during the recent COVID-19 pandemic (13).

achieve happiness

One of the main goals of Bhakti practices is to achieve rasa, which is pure happiness resulting from connection with the Divine. Although this is entirely subjective and requires more scientific support, many practitioners anecdotally report this blissful benefit.

Summary

Bhakti yoga has a number of unique benefits due to the myriad of practices that fall under this style of yoga.

Many people are intimidated by the idea of ​​trying yoga, assuming it has to involve an hour (or more!) of sweat and movement, but yoga is really all we do as an offering. .

There is also a misconception that yoga is highly religious and God-centered. While Bhakti has an element of devotion, the ultimate intention is to make everything we do a love-filled endeavour.

Sending greetings to people around the world facing upheaval, praying for family members on the road, chanting mantras, placing pictures on an altar, reading your favorite poet, even practicing self-love – this is all yoga.


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Richard V. Johnson