Beyond the mat with the four yogas
Part I: Bhakti
By Nancy B. Loughlin

Published in News Press on April 14. 2015

It’s right there in the Sutras.  Through a yoga practice, you can reach the pinnacle of self-actualization, that transcendent oneness.

So you go to class four times a week.

If that’s all you’re doing, it won’t really matter where you can put your head because your head will always be up your (you get the picture).

Class isn’t enough.

The physical postures are a small part of yoga, yet asana dominates the American yoga landscape.  It’s not surprising given the cultural fixation on the body along with our penchant for quick fixes.  Practicing and throwing poses would be too easy.

You have to change your thinking and behavior.

A full yoga practice incorporates bhakti, the practice of love and devotion; raja, controlling your mind and internal nature; karma, the practice of action; and jnana, the cultivation of knowledge.

This is not an outlandish path, and sages speak it by many names. Remember the Bible’s Luke 10:27: “Love the Lord with all thy heart (bhakti), with all thy soul (raja), with all thy strength (karma) and all thy mind (jnana).”

It’s a universal principle.

Part I: Bhakti

Bhakti yoga is about surrendering to God.  This does not necessarily mean prayer or worshiping specific deities, particularly since there is wide discussion as to what God is in the first place.  A bhakti practice aims to connect you with source, spirit, transcendence as defined by you.

The bhakti path is love.

Unfortunately, love, as it is practiced in the West, is self-serving.  You love another person because you love the way that person makes you feel.  Your love is selective, thriving in a small nucleus that fades and disappears as it radiates outward.  Adopt the view that love is limitless, selfless and without bounds.  You’ll be on your way.

Beginning bhakti:

1.  Practice gratitude. Once a day, send a short thank-you email. A former teacher.  An author.  A co-worker.  “I really appreciate you.” Say why and expect nothing in return.

2.   Conduct a love inventory. Make a list of people you love. Then, write down the reasons why.  Imagine these people stop behaving according to your expectations.  Cross off the reasons one by one.  Do you still love them?

4.  Conduct a grudge inventory. Make a list of people who have harmed you.  Resentment and the bhakti path are incompatible. Stand in front of the mirror. Be inside your enemy’s skin, and speak as if you are that person.  Why did you do what you did? What needs were you trying to meet? What mighty battle are you waging? What are your demons?

Seek to understand rather than condemn or retaliate. People only do what makes sense to them at the time, and often hateful acts are committed out of energetic wounds: fear, guilt, shame, grief, denial and dishonesty, illusions or irrational attachments.

Forgive, and be grateful for the lessons.

4.  Make a list of people who annoy you, and be sure to include public figures, politicians, criminals and anyone who holds different opinions.

The object of your derision is a flip-side of you. If you don’t believe me, make a list of personality traits that you despise, and be specific.  Upon deep reflection, you’ll see that you’re describing shadows of your own personality.  Other people are funhouse mirrors.

And re-read “Catcher in the Rye” ASAP.

5.  Monitor your speech. Coach, don’t criticize.  Talk about what you support rather than what you’re against.  You are what you talk about, so don’t talk crap.

6. Commit to a daily Metta Meditation. Lie on your back, and slide a block or bolster between your shoulder blades to lift your heart.

Author Gil Fronsdal suggests this loving-kindness meditation:

“May I be happy.  May I be well.  May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.”

“May you be happy.  May you be well.  May you be safe.  May you be peaceful and at ease.”

“May the world be happy.  May the world be well.  May the world be safe. May the world be peaceful and at ease.”

Next week:  Raja Yoga