By, Gabrielle M. Williams, PhD.
Like many forms of Asana (physical expression of Yogic principles), Bhakti Yoga represents a type of Abhyasa (regular Yoga practice), or, Sadhana (complete Yoga practice) with both spiritual and material dimensions. Spiritually (especially in terms of Vedanta—1 of 6 schools of Hindu philosophy relevant to Yoga), Bhakti Yoga is 1 of 4 margas (paths) to attain union with one’s sense of the Absolute. For some, meanings of the Absolute might be based in spiritual bases. For others, meanings of the Absolute might be based in scientific principles, referring to organizing dynamics that arrange an “absolute” sense of sentient life. In any case, along with the other margas of Jnana Yoga (Yoga of knowledge), Karma Yoga (Yoga of action), and Raja Yoga (Yoga of self-disciplined practice), Bhakti Yoga is a path that supports our efforts to feel unified in a (too often) dis-unified world.
As the title of this post conveys, Bhakti Yoga is the “Yoga of Devotion.” But, in practicing Bhakti Yoga, what are we devoted to? Further, what do devotional aspects of Bhakti have to do with achieving a sense of the Absolute? Well, physically, Bhakti Yoga is a joyous, but quite rigorous practice full of creative sequences that challenge us to continuously regulate breath-body-mind balance. Physically, Bhakti Yoga pushes us to liberate ourselves from habituated ideas of our limits. In this way, the practice helps us discover unknown reservoirs of energy & mettle that broaden the lens by which we gauge our metaphysical capacities.
On the mat, we draw from these unknown reservoirs of positive energy. Subsequently, when we’re off of the mat, we know that even if we feel that we have nothing to (materially) give to others, we can ALWAYS give to others a kind, loving word or gesture that is an extension of the boundless positive energy that we discover via the practice of Bhakti Yoga. This manner of giving of our selves to others is considered by Yogic philosophy to be an enactment of great devotion. Hence Bhakti Yoga is the Yoga of Devotion. The practice is equal parts exhilarating and effortful in encouraging us to challenge our bodies in ways where—when all is said and done—we know that both our minds and spirits can be bent to extremesbut never broken.