There are so many different ways to classify Yoga philosophy, and one way is to look at the different schools of Yoga. In classical terms, there are 4 paths- Karma Yoga (yoga of action), Bhakti yoga (yoga of devotion), Jnana yoga (yoga of wisdom) and Raja yoga (royal yoga).
There were times when I was attracted to different yoga schools throughout my journey. My journey started with Raja Yoga, by observing yamas and niyamas, doing asanas and pranayama, and following the 8 limb path, like most people start their yoga journey in the West. But when I was introduced to other schools, I realized how intertwined they are. Now, if I don’t practice one of them, my own practice doesn’t feel full and complete. I can’t imagine not practicing Jnana yoga, studying scriptures, especially Vedanta which satisfies my analytical mind and soul at the same time. In the same way, I can’t imagine not practicing Karma yoga, doing selfless service either in the form of volunteering, fund raising or simply offering up fruits of my actions. However there is one path, Bhakti yoga, which holds the other 3 together for me. Without Bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion, my practice would be dry and incomplete.
They say there are 9 different ways of practicing Bhakti yoga. In the East, Bhakti yoga is seen as a devotion to a Divine being, a god, goddess or a guru as the manifestation of Divine. In the West, it’s typically perceived more as devotion to whatever one feels like representing Divine. I was introduced to Bhakti Yoga through Kirtan, or devotional chanting. I was immediately hooked. To me, Kirtan feels like you’re at a stadium concert with your favorite band, but you’re actually on the stage with the band playing and singing your lungs out together. It’s that great! It’s like a flight for the soul, where you start soft and rise above slowly until you completely let go and crack open, without knowing you’re full with Divine and you slowly come back to self but always keep a piece of that experience with you. Ever since then, chanting has become a part of my practice, especially in my long commute to work every morning and evening.
I must say I was very lucky with the grace of a Guru and from time to time I still pinch myself how in the world I deserved this Grace. Only if one feels the call and if it resonates with you is Guru Yoga a practice to follow. It is definitely not for everyone, but it’s very rewarding.
Another important piece of my Bhakti yoga practice is my Altar. I have symbols or pictures of the Divine ones that resonate with me to remind me I’m not alone. I have objects of Divine beauty, a sea shell, or a rose pedal that reminds me the beauties of this world as Divine manifestations. Every time I sit on my altar, I commune with them before I start my meditation practice.
Everything, if done with devotion, can be a Bhakti yoga practice. In my personal practice I use yoga asanas as a way to show devotion. I throw myself, I throw my heart into my mat with devotion. Especially I practice Surya Namaskar, Sun Salutation, my core asana practice for devotion. It’s the intent that counts!
Kapalbhati is my favorite Bhakti yoga pranayama . Like I said, everything if done with devotion can be Bhakti yoga. In Kapalbhati, I visualize Light or a manifestation of Divine in the form of Guru or saint in my 3rd eye. I inhale towards the Divine, stop and merge for a second and I bring back a piece with me when I exhale.
After all, Bhakti yoga practice is to pretend to unite with Divine until you realize you’re the Divine itself.