February 23, 2018

Choose Bhakti Yoga instead of commercial Bullsh*t.

In case you missed the memo, the memes, Facebook Messenger, selfie filters, the dedicated supermarket aisles, and your significant other’s pouting face…

Valentine’s Day took place last week.

This special day is our annual opportunity in the West to devote our thoughts, actions, and behaviour in service of another’s happiness, enjoyment, and well-being—all in the name of love.

For those that hold Bhakti at the heart of their yoga practice, every day is like Valentine’s Day.

Bhakti yogis look at the world the way we might look at a lover—with wonder, with joy, with devotion, and above all else, with love. They see the divine in everything and the expression of their love is their yoga in action. By turning their thoughts, actions, and behaviour toward the service of this great love at all times, everyday life itself becomes their yoga practice, infusing all acts with joy, love, and devotion.

The cynics among us—and I hold my hand up here, liberal feminist that I am—might see Valentine’s Day as a mercenary attempt by capitalism to exploit the human desire for love and belonging, by creating vacuous materialistic symbology to replace the hard work of authentically engaging in relationship, intimacy, and connection as a lived reality.

In response to this, a Bhakti yogi might draw a parallel with a yoga practice devoid of devotion.

Although people practice yoga asana (yoga pose) for all kinds of reasons, without devotion there is a risk of falling into a self-centered and competitive version of yoga. Again, I hold my hand up, I’ve been there—rife with appropriated symbology.

Essentially, yoga with its heart ripped out.

Yoga is union—and this is so needed right now. Especially in a time when smartphones and social media increase our sense of disconnection—and yet our attempts to disconnect from these devices create further anxiety and stress.

How can we achieve this union? How can we reconnect with ourselves and one another?

The Bhagavad Gita, the original love song, tells us that Bhakti yoga is a sneaky shortcut that circumvents the ego—that selfish I, me, mine mentality that tends to dominate the human psyche. By focusing our attention and energy on something greater than ourselves—be it family, community, nature, the universe, or your own concept of God—we can access a sense of deeper connection, belonging, and a wellspring of love that has nothing to do with notions of being worthy or deserving.

Every one of us, in the most literal sense, were made manifest from love.

Almost every yoga class includes sun salutations and I find the sequence of movements lends itself perfectly to the practice of devotion—they are the embodiment of a moving prayer.

While practicing, try to bring the following attitudes to mind as you cycle through your salute to the sun:

1. Every inhale is an in-rushing of prana. This gifts the body essential breath in the form of fresh oxygen—the raw material for life, our animating force. With this in-breath comes expansion, lift, movement upwards, and outwards; a joyful full body expression of gratitude, a present moment awareness of being alive, and of this world. We fill with ecstatic grace and for what could we be more thankful?

2. Every exhale is a return of this life. We give breath back to the world,  we surrender, we acknowledge that this body and life are temporary gifts that we may use as an offering in the service of love, a supplication. In the pause at the end of the out-breath, we relinquish our sense of self and we let go, as we are reabsorbed into the present moment of simply being.

We can also take these practices off of the mat and out into the world. Daily life makes demands of us all that make it difficult to stay present in a devotional mindset. As often as possible, dedicate a task, a thought, or an action to the benefit of someone or something other than yourself.

This might be doing the washing up with the thought of how it will be of benefit to those who share your home. Or it could be doing something that makes your own heart happy, so that you can transmit that love and happiness to those around you.

No one can pour from an empty cup.

Be creative with your Bhakti practice. Be the love and share the love.


Author: Jo Longman
Image: With kind permission, Beth Stuart/Instagram via Greg Sims/Instagram 
Editor: Kenni Linden
Copy Editor: Travis May

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