Bhakti Yoga

Monday, December 10, 2012

Some of you may have read a post I wrote last year in which I describe various types of yoga. 
If you missed it, you can read it here. If you just want the gist of it, I outline several yogic paths all of which have the same goal: that of creating a practice which aims to achieve enlightenment through yoga. One of those paths is the yoga of devotion or bhakti yoga. 

Bhakti yogis might not ever do an asana in their entire lives. Theirs is the yoga of worship. They pray, they chant, they devote all that they do to their higher power. In the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 12 outlines the practice of bhakti yoga. It begins with a question posed by Arjuna to Krishna who says,

"One man loves you with pure devotion; another man loves the Unmanifest. Which of these two understands yoga more deeply?"

To which Krishna replies,

"Those who love and revere me with unwavering faith, always centering their minds on me--they are the most perfect in yoga." (Stephen Mitchell translation, page 144)

One form of bhakti yoga which has become popularized among Western yogis is kirtanKirtan is actually an Indian song-form in which there is a leader or a caller and a group of responders. In other words, it's call and response style chanting. Typically, the chants are chants to gurus (teachers), deities, or they are mantras. The chants themselves are highly repetitive and can last for just a few minutes or for hours. They are accompanied by instruments like harmonium or tablas, or are sometimes a capella. My favorite bhakti yogi is Bhagavan Das and he plays an ektara which is a single-stringed plucked instrument.


This practice can be so sweet and devotional. Essentially, you give yourself over to the chant or to the music. You don't have to think about what to do or what to say since the chants say the same thing over and over. You can just feel the music and be surrounded by the vibratory quality and do the damn thing.

This past Friday night, my little sangha (community) held a kirtan. I have dabbled in kirtans in my day and chant devotionally in my own practice, but this time, I had the opportunity to lead some chants. It was incredibly inspirational and deeply moving to feel so connected both musically and spiritually. 

I recorded myself singing a chant. Here is a clip of me on the harmonium in my bedroom. High quality, you can imagine.


video

The words are "cit ananda rupa, shivo ham, shivo ham"
A devotional chant to Shiva. In Shiva, I am bliss.

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