The practice of Bhakti Yoga enchants me. It really is the easy way to practice the Journey of Yoga Personally speaking, I think it is the most fun.

One of the keyways in learning how to practice Bhakti Yoga is to fall in love. This is to fall in love with who you are uniquely created to be and begin to FEEL the magic of enchantment. Bhakti Yoga is the sweetest of approaches to living a yoga lifestyle. You can start to have a romance with Life that sings a unique song through you.

Bhakti Yoga Menu

What is Bhakti Yoga

exploring the path of bhakti yoga

Living a Life of Devotion

I would like to expand on the idea and practice of Bhakti Yoga, not only for myself, but especially for those in the West who are exploring this devotional Path of Yoga for the first time.

To begin with let me share with you the traditional view of Bhakti Yoga as understood in the East.

The Path of Love and Devotion is the easiest way to attain the Divine – Bhakti Sutras of Narada

I think this tradition is especially valuable but only for those living in the East and with an Eastern mind. Taking this tradition into the West lock stock and barrel is a two-edged sword.

Personally speaking I find many different religious traditions far to rigid for my liking.

That is why I do not belong to any affiliated religious group although in the past I have done so and loved it. At least up until the point where I felt the group start to dictate to me how I should express my relationship to Divine Presence.

Bhakti Yoga – Traditional

exploring the traditional approach to Bhakti Yoga

Image by Mark Bradley from Pixabay

If you Google the phrase “Bhakti Yoga” you will discover aspects related to this Path of Yoga as follows:-

  • It requires a relationship with a personal God.
  • It is by nature devotional.
  • It is part of the teachings of Hindu philosophy.
  • It is one of three Paths of Classical Yoga.

In addition there are many different Gods and Goddesses who you can choose to be devoted too.

In the Western world the practice of Bhakti Yoga is heavily promoted by the people known as the Hare Krishna’s (ISCON). The teachings of this religious cult heavily promote the, “We are not the body.”

In my personal experience this produces disembodied spiritual seekers who become self-absorbed and etheric. In listening to lectures given at one of their centres in Northern Ireland I was told that the world’s problems will be solved if we all simply chant, “Hare Krishna. I was not at all popular when I suggested that was not very likely.

With every breath I plant the seeds of devotion. I am a farmer of the heart – Rumi

A Different View of Bhakti Yoga

a new practice of Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Love – A Different View

So with traditional Bhakti Yoga, when you research online, the invitation suggests that you will need to adopt all or at least some of the following lifestyle choices:-

  • You choose to believe in a personal God.
  • You recognize that you are not your body.
  • You chant the name of God.
  • You refrain from sexual activity.
  • You follow a Guru.

So what if none of the above really appeal to you (as in my own case) and yet you have the temperament of one who is devotional? Where do you go from here? Can you then practice the Path of Bhakti Yoga?

I absolutely think that you can and that you can have real fun doing so.

I think the practice of Bhakti Yoga should be part of the lifestyle choice of everyone who calls themselves a yogi or Yogini. This is especially the case in the 2nd Half of Life.

So let me begin to explore what I regard as the more expansive invitation to the practice of Bhakti Yoga that does not mean you have to believe in a personal God or Goddess, disown your body or refrain from sexual activity (unless you really want too).

Beginning the Path of Bhakti Yoga

introducing a new approach to bhakti yoga

Expanding Bhakti Yoga

Let us begin to explore what I think is a more expansive invitation to Bhakti Yoga by first recognizing its KEY aspect. This is HOW TO be in love with Life.

First let me begin by sharing an experiential truth that this more expansive practice of Bhakti Yoga invites. The phrases I will use are Biblical. I have no intention of trying to promote Christianity although I love this teaching.

This is the phrase:-

God is Love  -John 4:8

To be a realized Bhakti Yogi or Yogini is to KNOW this as the truth of who you are. The next step, at least intellectually, is to acknowledge the statement:-

You are made in the image of God. – Genesis 1:27

If you take these two phrases TOGETHER – “God is Love” and “You are made in the Image of God,” the result can only be that you are an expression of Love. This KNOWING that you are LOVE is the reason for your existence and your embodiment.

The practice of Bhakti Yoga is the celebration of this KNOWING and the journey into this KNOWING. When I use the word ‘KNOWING’ I am not referring to intellectual knowledge. I am referring to the direct experience when the one who knows and the knowledge are ONE.

Notice that the phrase is NOT – “God is Loving.” The phrase, “God is Love” is not dualistic. “God is Love,” means that God and Love are not different or separate. When you KNOW the direct experience of Universal LOVE you KNOW God.

On the other hand, “God is Loving,” is the everyday God of most believers. This tends to be a kind of Sky God throwing thunderbolts of judgement down on his disobedient children. This is kindergarten spirituality.

A Personal Discovery

playing guitar to express the path of bhakti yoga

Devotional Guitar Playing

So the first step for those drawn to the Path of Bhakti Yoga is to be an expression of Love. This is to engage with what it is you love and how you love to express.

You affirm intellectually, at least in the beginning, that this is the purpose of your existence (St Theresa of Avila – (1515 -1582). It is to acknowledge that Creation created you to KNOW itself through you as a unique expression of LOVE in FORM.

So the KEY FOCUS of Bhakti Yoga is to FEEL what it is you LOVE. This is the most fun way to engage in living a Yoga lifestyle. It is also challenging because it requires that you FEEL the reality of who you are created to be rather than who you think you should be.

One of the loves of my life is to sing and play guitar. I sing folk songs and songs that have accompanied me through my life by artists such as Van Morrison, Leonard Cohan, Neil Young and others of that era.

Some ten years ago I discovered what is called Heart Song at the Earthsong Camp in Ireland.

I later discovered some years later, while attending at the same camp, what is called Kirtan. I fell so much in love with this form of devotional singing and have been drawn to explore it in my own way.

Stay close to any sounds that make you feel alive – Hafiz.

How to Practice Bhakti Yoga

Devotion in Action

The 1st step in learning HOW TO practice Bhakti yoga is to begin with intention.

Let your intention be, “I intend to follow my true heart’s desire.”

You can use this phrase or explore similar kind of phrase of your own choosing. This invites you onto the Yoga path of devotion because it is related to the heart and is not goal setting.

To follow what you love is something you are invited to practice each and every day.

I love writing. I love singing. I love gardening.

All of these activities are devoted to the celebration of Divine Presence. All of these, when I remember, are offered up in service to the highest good. (Karma Yoga).

There is no, “I must do this.”

It is more that if I don’t do these things, my experience of everyday living feels less fulfilled. Bhakti Yoga really is the sweetest path of Yoga and it is so easy to incorporate it into your everyday life.

In this way, in the words of a Van Morrison song:-

When you live the life you love you get the Blessing from above.

Live the life you love and not only will you get the blessing from above but you get to bless others. (Vacillation IV – W. B. Yeats)

The Challenges of Bhakti Yoga

the challenges of the path of bhakti yoga

Living a Loveless Life

It may seem strange but there are, in my experience, all too many people walking in the world who do not know what it is they love.

This is often because their energy system – their personal Y-E-S to Life – was shut down during their early childhood. They learned to mistrust who they are and who they are created to become.

Bhakti Yoga opens up the possibility of re-enchantment.

You don’t even have to go to a yoga class. You don’t have to believe in a personal God. You don’t have to fit in. You only have to begin to trust the magnificence of the Light of your own Being (Hafiz)

There are traditional approaches to Bhakti Yoga but often these are tied to religion and religious organizations. It is useful to feel anchored in a tradition but the challenge can be that you get tied up in the tradition and then cannot go exploring for yourself.

You have to begin the quest to live the purpose of Love as it created you as the sweetest thing to dance through.

Only you can do this. No one can really stop you other than the voice in your head.

Yet there’s no one to beat you
No one to defeat you
‘cept the thoughts of yourself feeling bad.

From  To Ramona – Bob Dylan

Meeting the Challenges

The Challenge of Being True to Yourself

The Path of Bhakti Yoga is the path of exploring what the poet W. B. Yeats called “The deep heart’s core.” (Lake Isle of Innisfree).

In a very real way you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You needn’t call it living a Yoga lifestyle. Call it what you like but at least give yourself the opportunity of feeling fulfilled.

Songs of enchantment, Heart Songs and Kirtan(devotional songs) are only some of the ways that you can practice Bhakti Yoga. Singing has always come naturally to me although for many years I had no voice that I could really call my own.

Recognise too, that to follow the sweetest path of yoga is not always easy. You might want to follow what you love but your family, your tribe, your religious affiliation or your culture may disapprove.

Such was the case in my own life growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1960-70’s

I discovered I was in love with the teachings of Yoga.

On the Winding Stair

On the winding stair
My mother gave me a book
Inside was a treasure I didn’t know I had lost.

Now when I oft times think of my mother
I wonder
How come she knew the treasure was mine.

The book was a book on the subject of Yoga.

I KNEW I wanted to be a yoga teacher at the age of 17 years. Yet at the time Yoga was being cited on mainstream media as, “The Work of the Devil” by the fundamentalist Christian and self-declared Reverend Ian Paisley.

Now at the almost age of 70 years I am beginning to manifest my deep heart’s core wish through teaching the Journey of Yoga via this website and sharing what I love. This is an expression of Love (Bhakti Yoga) in action (Karma Yoga).

I wish that when you are lonely or in darkness that I could show you the astonishing light of your own Being – Hafiz.

Let the Journey Begin

bhakti yoga the path of love and light

Bhakti Yoga – Into the Light of Love

The above are pointers to how you might begin the Path of Bhakti Yoga and learn to fall in Love with who you are created to be. This is the intention of Creation. To KNOW LOVE through the form it creates and, especially on this planet, through the form of the human body.

While you might be told by other Bhakti traditionalists that, “We are not the body, “ in my experience this is being shared by people who have no direct experience of what this means and thus often become dis-embodied.

In the practice of Bhakti Yoga always remember to allow the body to love what it loves – (A Summer Day  Mary Oliver).

If you have any questions, comments or wish to share your experience of the Path of Love then please feel free to do so in the comments section below.

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Tony Cuckson

Writer - Storyteller - Musician at Yoga Journey for Life
Writer of Awakening the Heart - 21 Ways for Following Love's Message. Also author of Being Beautiful - Learning to Treasure the REAL YOU. Workshop Leader in Learning to Companion YOUR Greatness.
Tony Cuckson
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