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Bhakti Yoga - The Yoga of Transformation

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By Jigyasu Bhakti Ratna (Kate Woodworth) - Kate is a senior yoga teacher and yoga therapist from Yoga Vidya Gurukul (www.yogapoint.com), she is teaching and practicing yoga for the last 10 years. She is also Resident Officer at Yoga Vidya Gurukul.

Bhakti Yoga - The Yoga of Transformation

In Our Guru Paramhamsa Swami Niranjananda Saraswati has spoken on Bhakti Yoga - A Universal perspective, following is my brief understanding of his teachings.

Bhakti yoga is a non-physical practice and therefore more difficult to define than the physical practices of hatha, kundalini or kriya yoga. However it deals more deeply with the awakening of the human personality. It is one of the higher sadhanas for those who want to evolve spiritually. Bhakti yoga is the channelling of positive feelings to experience harmony inside. It is the recognition of all feelings generated in life, what we class as both good and bad, and the harmony and balance of these. It is where we direct our emotions inward and find a state of balance between the attractions and repulsions of life.

It is the balancing of manifesting emotions. By following bhakti yoga we go deeper into our being, observe the emotions, and, once we find the balance, experience peace and tranquillity which brings us closer to our own inner strength. Bhakti is the deep, internal feeling of having found the missing link of life, the support or basis of our existence. Bhakti provides that missing aspect, when our lives stop being mechanical, and develops a sense of inner identity and union.

Bhakti is a sadhana, a process, not only a practice. It is something that you practice all the time, is part of everything you do, not just that two hours of yoga practice in the morning. It is meant to improve the quality of your life. It is not the yoga of devotion, though it is often put into that class. This is because the idea of worship and communion with God has overlapped with the concept of Bhakti Yoga. Rituals and rules were something that was added later when organised religions developed because people felt more secure and happy to have them but they are not necessary. In yoga there is no concept of God but only of the concept of Ishwara, which means the unchanging reality, the higher nature.

Bhakti yoga is where we try to change the conditionings of the mind. It is a process of inner transformation and inner purification, changing the complete personality, thinking patterns, lifestyle, intellect, emotions, feelings and social performance. To perfect Bhakti all these aspects have to come together. It?s a process of moving away from a tamasic state of existence to a higher, purer state. 

There are nine forms, techniques or sadhanas. These limbs are known as Navanga Yoga, the nine limbed yoga. It is best to choose one or a few only. Do not try to accomplish all but instead choose one or two to perfect. 

  • Satsangha / Positive Association
    The aim is to experience the true nature of association. Review, reassess and choose your associations so that there is no negative or wrong conditioning. Look at the people around you and identify those who have had a positive effect and/or expanded your awareness and understanding. Those who haven?t should be associated with less. There should be positivity internally and externally - people, thoughts, expectations and so on.

  • Sadvichar 
    Being addicted to positivity in life? The aim is to maintain the mind in a positive frame in all circumstances. Good thoughts connect with strengths. Always identify with your strengths. Accept your weaknesses and negativities and move on. Our natural disposition is to live in the past experience and worry about the future. Live in the present. We need to observe our mental behaviour and mind to keep it on track. We can only do this by living in the present.

  • Seva & Karma Yoga 
    Seva is selfless service, being involved in the welfare of others without ego or expectation. Working for ourselves develops needs and expectations. Action and compassion and action and humility equals seva. Action minus expectation equals seva. The Bhagavad Gita defines karma yoga and seva as performing actions without expectations for inner purification. It moves on to say that when success and failure are equal and the perception of these is balanced an equilibrium is found and this is the highest yoga.

  • Sat Bhavana / Encorage Sativa
    Christ said,?To enter the kingdom of heaven one must be innocent like a child? The aim is to be innocent, simple and free from inner dishonesty. Innocence means an awakened and broadened mind. It implies awareness, understanding and knowledge. You need to be very clever to be innocent as you need to maintain awareness. Innocence is a pure and untainted mind. To be innocent and simple follow the paths of meditation, introspection, observation and self analysis, this will lead to humility. Practice pratyahara for the mind, its influences and negativities and dharana for purifying the sentiments and heart space.

  • Mantra Sadhana 
    Thoughts are the waves of the mind, emotions are tsunamis.? Sound vibrations from mantras manage these waves and tsunamis. There are many ways we can incorporate mantras into our lives, such as through mantra meditation, bhajans and kirtan.It also moves all the fifteen pranas. Awakened pranas lead to bliss and oneness. Faith is based on the power within, not something abstract. Mantras do not have to be linked with any religion, however they symbolise our connection with the higher source of energy.

  • Sanyam 
    Tightening the senses like you tighten a guitar? Sanyam is self control. It is the cultivation of positive virtues. It starts with the control of the senses and then on to speech. Mouna sadhana, or silence is recommended. It allows you to measure the activity in the mind and to observe those feelings. It leads to clearer and increased focus and power in words. Outer silence gives us inner silence.

  • Atmabhava
    Purity can only come when we become egoless? Here we want to develop the idea of identification with other people, to be able to see the divinity in all, to become free from ego, away from the focus of ?I? to a more selfless approach. Don?t let the ego interfere with your connection. The ego causes duality, to be without ego causes unity. Real compassion needs wisdom. Atmabhava begins with the development of compassion. Atmabhava involves connecting at the heart level and projecting oneself out to the world. The simplest form of Atmabhava is our connection with people close to us.

  • Santosh
    It is contentment within and not finding fault in others, situations, or the environment. We are discontent whenever we find a fault. Get over this by freeing the mind from searching for falsities and criticising, accept the realities and move on.

  • Samadhan / Solution 
    There are two ways to live life. One is to struggle and fight it, representing the ego. The second is to surrender and flow with it. This attitude represents innocence. ?I am being guided? It doesn?t mean that you should not put effort into you life, you can?t just leave everything to the world and not get on with life, but it means that you should not fight what comes up in life and realise that all things are there for a purpose. Recognise that you have to live in this world and recognise what your role is in this life, world and society.

To develop bhakti there are three practices that are recommended.

  • Mantra. Begin with the three morning mantras. 11 rounds of the Mahamrityunjaya mantra with the sankalpa for healing the body, mind, personality and total self. 11 rounds of the Gayatri mantra with the sankalpa for the acquisition of wisdom. 3 rounds of Durga Namavali with the sankalpa for the acquisition of happiness and removal of distress from life. By practicing these mantras it is like planting the seeds of sattwa in the gross mind or ground that is subject to tamas. You will begin to feel the energy within you becoming more balanced and a sense of wellbeing, positive attitude and happiness. If you are alone you can chant kirtan of your personal mantra, if you have one, or any other mantra that feels right for you.

  • Peaceful place. Have a place in the house, a corner of strength, power and peace that will create the right ambience in the house and shows reverence and respect for the higher power. You may have objects from nature, deities or anything you like. Honour it with a flame such as a candle, incense and water

  • Havan. Once a week, if possible, have a havan. It is the simplest form of nature connection and symbolises the awakening of consciousness. The fire tattwa will energise the mantra and make it many times more powerful. Personal sadhana or practice should be a bhakti sadhana combined with all other aspects of yoga. There should be a balance. Know the right mixture for you. Only a pinch of bhakti is needed to harmonise our lives. Keep this in mind ? in the Bhagavad Gita somebody asked Krishna, ?Who does God like?? God replied, ?I like the one?who is free from malice, friendly and compassionate to all, beyond I, mine and yours, free from self centred behaviour, can balance joy and sorrow, forgiving and without burdens, not distracted or craving desires and ever contented and eternally united with me.

By Bhakti Ratna (Kate Woodworth) 

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