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What is Bhakti Yoga?
Bhakti Yoga is also known as the yoga of “devotion”.
It is one of the six main yogic paths to enlightenment, along with Hatha Yoga (physical practice), Jnana Yoga (inner knowledge), Karma yoga (selfless service), Kriya yoga (ritual action), and Raja Yoga (eight-limbed path also known as classical yoga of Patanjali for a disciplined mind). These paths are not exclusive to one another to practice.
When did Bhakti Yoga begin?
According to what Sally Kempton wrote in her book “Awakening Shakti – the Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga”, “Bhakti – the path of devotional yoga – was from the beginning a movement for spiritual democracy.”
The Bhakti movement began in Tamil region around 6th and 7th century AD. It started to flourish in the 13th century in India and blossomed till the 1600s. Traditionally only the elite could learn the ancient scriptures and perform worship. Bhakti yoga, with devotional chanting and sharing stories of the Divine, opened the gateway for all types of people, such as women, the poor, the illiterate, outcasts, to have a chance to commune with the Divine in their own unique way.
The Path of Love
Bhaktas (devotees to the Divine) believe that love and bliss can ultimately bring union with Divine. Instead of renunciating worldly desires and withdrawing our senses, in the path of Love these all serve as a gateway to immerse with the Divine, to see the Divine in everything, and to infuse Divine love in everything we do.
The path of Love allows us to be in the flow of Life through bliss and joy. However, the path of Love is not always easy. In life, our hearts get broken again and again, through hurts, disappointments, betrayals, and we lose faith in others, in the Universe and in ourselves.
With Bhakti yoga practice, we can learn to ask the Universe for help, to pick up the broken pieces of our hearts, and to continue on receiving and nourishing ourselves with love even if we feel like we hit rock bottom.
We find meaning and hope again as we devote and infuse love in everything we do. The Universe (or Divine or however you name this bigger presence) is always here to support us no matter what. We are never meant to walk this journey alone. And through devotional chanting and singing, we find our way back to Love again.
The Nine Limbs of Bhakti Yoga
1. SHRAVANA – HEARING
- Hearing and listening to stories of the Divine, ancient scriptures, reading teachings of saints
2. KIRTANA – CHANTING
- Singing devotional songs to praise the Divine with love
3. SMARANA – REMEMBERING
- Remembering the Divine at all times through meditation and in daily life
4. PADA SEVANA – SERVING (THE LOTUS FEET OF THE DIVINE)
- Selfless service of the world and humanity
5. ARCHANA – WORSHIP OF THE DIVINE
- Acts and rituals of worship
6. VANDANA – PRAYING
- Praying and bowing before chosen image of Divine
7. DASYA – ACTION
- Offer all actions to the Divine
8. SAKHYA – DIVINE AS A FRIEND
- Cultivate friendship with the Divine
9. ATMA NIVEDANA – COMPLETE SURRENDER
- Self surrender
Benefits of Chanting
In Bhakti Yoga practice, we will be repeating and chanting mantras. Mantra is a Sanskrit word that means “tool of the mind and a sacred formula”
Every sound of a mantra can elicit a certain vibration, represented by the divine qualities of a deity. As we repeat the same sound over and over, we can harmonize our energy with the same frequency.
As an added bonus, singing is proven by scientific research as a natural anti-depressant.
Stories of the Deities
As we learn about the divine qualities of these deities through their stories and mantras, we invite their loving presence into our lives. Every deity represents certain qualities, and so when we chant and sing their Divine names, we awaken these same qualities within us.
By sharing the stories of these deities, we can apply their wisdom to our daily lives, embracing both the light and shadow side of ourselves, allowing ourselves to return to wholeness.
Direct Connection to Divine
The Divine (or call it as Universe, Source, Creator, God, Goddess, Nature, Spirit, or the Intelligence surrounding us), is formless. It can be difficult to grasp what Divine really means without a form.
In order for our human minds to understand this abstract energy, the Divine manifests into different forms. Each form is like an ice cream flavor. If one was to describe how ice cream tastes like to someone who never has ice cream before, words are limiting. Only when the person actually takes a bite into the ice cream, would that person understand how it tastes.
And there are so many ice cream flavors! The energy and qualities of each deity, saint, spiritual teacher, angel, Goddess and God are like different ice cream flavors. Some will prefer to stick with vanilla. Some like to eat a sundae with multiple ice cream flavors. There is no wrong way to enjoy. And Bhakti Yoga provides us a way to connect with the Divine directly in our own way.
- Book: Kempton, S., 2013. Awakening Shakti – the Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc.
- Book: Teixeira N., 2019. Yoga and the Art of Mudras. San Rafael, CA: Mandala Publishing.
- Lecture Notes: Heidi Trigar, Bhakti Yoga training, May 1 2021
- Online Article: Timothy Burgin, “Bhakti Yoga: The Yoga of Devotion”, Yoga Basics, accessed July 2, 2022, https://www.yogabasics.com/learn/bhakti-yoga-the-yoga-of-devotion/
- Online Article: Dr Satish K Kapoor, “Navadha Bhakti The nine forms of devotion”, The Tribune India, June 11 2018, accessed July 2, 2022, https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/archive/lifestyle/navadha-bhakti-the-nine-forms-of-devotion-603236#:~:text=These%20are%2C%20shravana%2C%20kirtana%2C,orient%20one’s%20mind%20towards%20spirituality.
- Online Article: Swami Sivananda, “Nine Modes of Bhakti Yoga Sadhana”, The Divine Life Society, accessed July 2, 2022: https://www.sivanandaonline.org//?cmd=displaysection§ion_id=496
- Online Article: Nora Isaacs, “What is Bhakti Yoga? Why You Should Try the Yoga of Devotion”, Yoga Journal, July 16 2008, accessed July 2, 2022: https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/spirituality/bhakti-yoga-love-devotion-relationship/
PS: Do you want to learn more about Bhakti Yoga’s practice and experience how chanting mantras can benefit you personally?
If so, owner of Museflower Retreat & Spa and meditation teacher Tania Ho is now offering a new Soul Retreat Program called “Thailand Bhakti Yoga Study Group – Find Our Way Back to Love” to Museflower’s guests as an add-on program during their stay. This program can be booked anytime and requires a minimum of 3 days.
Other ways to experience this practice is through the 90-min vibrational healing wellness class “Mantra + Mudra” workshop and 60-minute Kirtan with Tania that are offered in Museflower’s weekly wellness class schedule. You can check out our latest class schedule here.
Tania is not a yoga teacher (yet!), but she has attended 108 hours of Bhakti Yoga training in 2021 and has been incorporating Bhakti yoga in her own meditation practice for the past two years. Feel free to contact Tania here directly for any questions or feedback.