Bhakti — The Path Of Love
The five branches of yoga seek to decrease the control of the ego so that we can connect with something greater than ourselves and be guided by a virtuous intention.
Those drawn to Karma yoga seek this softening of the ego by focusing on their actions, their duties in life, with a sense of mindfulness and non-attachment. Tantra yogis apply discipline and care toward their physical and energetic beings, going beyond pleasure toward the higher goal of sustained health and vitality. Jnana yogis seek wisdom and knowledge that lends a higher perspective to any situation, including states of “not knowing” or accepting mystery. Raja yogis seek to understand and quiet thoughts, inviting in a greater knowledge of the limited nature of the mind and the possibility for an experience beyond reason, space and time.
The practice of love or devotion (Bhakti) is seen as the quickest path toward enlightenment. In yoga, when someone has a religious or spiritual practice that brings them a sense of peace, love and connection, we instruct them to “Keep on doing what you’re doing.” Prayer, worship, singing, dancing, chanting, devotion to a cause, loving all people as divine expressions of God...these all cause the Bhakta to forget themselves.
One of the beautiful components of Hinduism, from which yoga was born, is a belief that all people have different temperaments and different paths up the mountain of enlightenment. The Bhakti path is not for everyone. I find about half of my students find this a powerful and effective path for them to achieve the meaning they seek. I know they are benefiting from this Bhakti path because to speak of it causes them to exude a sense of peace, love and connection that is obvious.
Those who might lean toward Bhakti are typically more emotional in nature, and value love and connection as higher states of being. Love, loyalty and enthusiasm often describe this type of Yogi. Song and dance are often practices that appeal to those on this path. The word “devotion” stems from a root that means “to share” and Bhaktas are ultimately inspired most by relationship, whether to God, family, children, animals or nature itself. The ultimate goal is oneness with a larger reality than oneself.
Recent neuroscience is showing how these states of devotion also have numerous health benefits. Although scientists are just beginning to shed some light on this topic, prayer, spiritual practice and contemplating a loving God have shown to reduce stress, depression and anxiety, and slow the aging process. Positive benefits include an increase in feelings of security, compassion and love, as well as enhanced cognitive functioning, physical health and healing.
There is often a hesitancy to talk about this path in yoga. Some resist what seems too emotional, or not based in reason. Some resist the heart-opening aspect because their heart has been hurt by religion or relationships. Let it be clear that yoga instructs us to connect with something greater than ourselves but leaves a lot of flexibility as to how we do so, and how we'd describe the end result. The Bhakti path believes that love is infinite and accessible to all, and perhaps the only thing we truly need.
Julie Rost founded YogaLife Institute of NH in 2006. She teaches weekly classes and workshops.