Bhakti yoga in addiction recovery: A beginners guide
When most people think of yoga, they think of a group of toned people wearing lycra performing a series of poses in a yoga studio. While there is nothing wrong with this, it is not the full story of yoga. Read on to find out about bhakti yoga.
What is Bhakti Yoga?
Bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion to God and is one of the four paths to yoga mentioned in the Vedas (the oldest scriptures of Hinduism). When someone practices bhakti yoga consistently, they can reach blissful states and become intoxicated with God. Eventually, someone who follows this path resolutely begins to experience all things and all beings as divine.
While the end results of practicing bhakti yoga are powerful, it is not complicated. Anyone can do it. This article outlines how you can practice Bhakti Yoga and what you can expect to get from doing it.
What does the word ‘Bhakti’ mean?
The Sanskrit word ‘Bhakti’ comes from the root verb ‘bhaj’ which means to share, divide or partake. It also has the connotation of being attached to or devoted to someone. Bhakti yoga, then, is the practice of being devoted to God.
A Brief History of Bhakti Yoga
The roots of Bhakti Yoga can be traced back to the Vedic period in India where there was a strong emphasis on rituals and sacrifices as a way to please the Gods. This later developed into devotional practices such as puja (worship) and singing hymns.
Bhakti yoga really came into its own in the 6th century CE, with the rise of devotional movements such as Bhakti Marga (the path of devotion) and Vaishnavism (the worship of Vishnu).
These movements were led by saints and mystics who emphasised love, devotion and service to God as a path to spiritual liberation. One of the most famous of these was Ramanuja who taught that bhakti was the only way to attain moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death).
How to Practice Bhakti Yoga
There are many ways to practice bhakti yoga, but some of the most common are:
Prayer for Bhakti Yoga
Most of the world’s religions connect to the divine through prayer. To do this, you do not necessarily have to recite a Hindu prayer. You can use the prayer of any religion, or you can even use your own prayer.
Puja for Bhakti Yoga
Puja is a religious ritual that is performed in order to worship a god or goddess. It is usually done by making offerings of flowers, food, and water. The word puja comes from the Sanskrit word pu, which means "to honor."
One of the most well-known forms of puja is the Canang Sari which the Balinese people give to the Gods each morning.
The Canang Sari usually consists of an arrangement of flowers and an incense stick, which are blessed by dipping a frangipani flower in holy water and using it to spray the water over the offering. A prayer is then spoken, as the smoke from the incense carries the prayer to the Gods.
Japa for Bhakti Yoga
Japa is a type of bhakti yoga that involves repeating the name of God or a mantra a certain number of times. This may be done with beads, called a mala, or without them. Malas are often made of 108 beads, which represent the 108 Names of God.
Japa can be done at any time and in any place, although it is often done while sitting quietly with the eyes closed. It can be done aloud or silently, although silent repetition is generally considered more powerful.
The main purpose of japa is to help focus the mind on God and to develop a deep feeling of love and devotion. It is also said to purify the heart and create positive karma.
There are no hard and fast rules for how to do japa, but there are some general guidelines that can be followed. First, it is important to choose a mantra that has meaning for you and that you can connect with emotionally. Second, it is best to repeat the mantra slowly and with feeling, rather than just reciting it mechanically.
Third, it is important to keep your mind focused on the meaning of the mantra as you repeat it. If your mind wanders, simply bring it back to the mantra and begin again. And fourth, it is often helpful to set aside a specific time each day for japa, so that it becomes a regular practice.
Japa can be an incredibly powerful tool for spiritual growth and transformation. It can help to still the mind, open the heart, and connect us with our deepest truths. Give it a try and see for yourself!
Kirtan for Bhakti Yoga
The word Kirtan comes from the Sanskrit root meaning to call, recite, praise, or glorify. Kirtan, therefore, is a way of praising or glorifying the divine. Kirtan can be done in a number of different ways, like poetry (more on this later), dance or oral recitation. The most popular form of Kirtan, though, is call and response singing. Most Kirtan is in the form of a mantra that relates to Radha, Krishna, Sita or Rama.
Kirtan first became popular in the sixth century, in South India, before spreading around the country. In modern day, Kirtan has developed a following in many other countries. It is now practiced in yoga studios, spiritual centers and other places across the globe.
People attending Kirtan often become overcome with emotion while they are singing. If you attend a Kirtan, you may see people weeping with joy, or even falling into something resembling a trance.
Poetry for Bhakti Yoga
Some of the most famous poets of Bhakti Yoga include Mirabai, Kabir, and Sri Ramananda. These have inspired countless people with their beautiful poetry about love, God, and spirituality. Their words have touched the hearts of many and continue to do so today.
Strictly speaking, poetry in Bhakti Yoga involves Hindu deities. However, the poetry of Rumi, a 13th-century Persian Sufi mystic, spoke often of the divine (who he often referred to as the “beloved), and can also be considered Bhakti Yoga:
“Eternal Life is gained
by utter abandonment of one’s own life.
When God appears to His ardent lover,
the lover is absorbed in Him, and not so much as a hair of the lover remains.
True lovers are as shadows,
and when the sun shines in glory the shadows vanish away.
He is a true lover to God to whom God says
“I am thine and thou art Mine.”
Alcoholics Anonymous and Bhakti Yoga
AA is probably not the first place that you would connect with an ancient spiritual practice, but a big portion of AA literature talks about getting closer to God, meaning that you could consider it bhakti yoga.
Alcoholics Anonymous members also recite prayers at either the start or end of meetings, and talk about connecting with God or a higher power as being one of the most important elements of their programme of recovery.
The Twelve Steps, while being a great way to get sober, also act as a way to remove the obstacles that are in the way between us and God. Six of the steps actually speak about God!
People who attend AA are encouraged to commit to spiritual practice that includes praying, to help them progress on the path towards God.
What You Can Gain From Practicing Bhakti Yoga
Here are just some of the benefits you may get when you practice Bhakti Yoga consistently.
Stronger Connection With the Divine
When you incorporate bhakti yoga into your life, after a while you may experience a deep connection with the divine. You might feel this through a more keen intution, by seeing signs that point you where you should go in life, or by feeling the presence of God.
You may also start to experience God both within you, and also outside of yourself. People begin to shimmer with divinity, and you feel God when you are in nature.
It is difficult to think about yourself so much when your focus is on God most of the time. Practicing bhakti yoga will help you to reduce your ego, which has the knock-on effect of allowing life to flow more easily.
More Energy and Vitality
As you progress along the path of bhakti yoga, you may find that you have more lust for life, and do not tire so easily. This is because you are connected to God, a powerful source of energy. You will also be less likely to burn yourself out doing things that you think will make you happy, as you will have found a way of life that makes you truly content.
The consistent effort involved with bhakti yoga will help you to hone your self-restraint, which will reap dividends for you in other walks of life.
Greater Wisdom and Understanding
You may be granted a more profound insight into the way the world and the elements within it operate when you are engaged in bhakti yoga.
A More Surrendered Attitude to Life
In bhakti yoga, you realise that you are not the one running the show. This allows you to tighten your grip on the reigns. It allows the universe to flow naturally, without trying to impede its progression
This is difficult to do at first, but with practice you will find that this surrender becomes easier, and allows you to enjoy life more.
Less Attachment to Material Things
You are unlikely to completely renounce all worldly attachments while practicing bhakti yoga, but you may find that objects that you used to be enamored by no longer hold your attention for that long. You might have previously lusted after new clothes and a nice car, but when finding the divine, these items start to lose their appeal.
Greater Joy in Life
As you become enamored by the “beloved”, you begin to feel a sense of joy and marvel at life.
More Patience and Tolerance
When you really know that the universe is transpiring as it should be, and that all people are a divine expression, how could you not be patient and tolerant of others?
Deeper Understanding of Spiritual Teachings
As you practice bhakti yoga, you will begin to understand spiritual teachings that in the past may have baffled you.
Easier to Stay Sober
Following the path of Bhakti Yoga makes it much easier to stay sober. Whether you have a substance addiction problem, or a process addiction (like sex, gambling or shopping), gaining a connection with the divine helps. The desire to drink, take drugs or engage in other addictive behaviours will start to fall away as you follow this beautiful journey.
Different Types of Yoga
While bhakti yoga is certainly one of the most popular types of yoga, it is not the only one. Here are brief overviews of some of the other main types of yoga, as outlined by the Vedas:
Karma Yoga: This is the yoga of selfless action. It is about doing good works without expecting anything in return.
Jnana Yoga: This is the yoga of knowledge and wisdom. It is about gaining spiritual understanding through study and contemplation.
Raja Yoga: This is the yoga of self-control and discipline. It is about mastering the mind and the senses through practices such as meditation and breathing exercises.
Bhakti Yoga can reduce addictive behaviours
Practicing Bhakti Yoga not only helps reduce addictive tendencies, it also gives you a host of other benefits. After reading this, if you feel called to start Bhakti Yoga, the first step should be practicing it with others. Head to an AA meeting, go to a yoga center to practice Kirtan, or speak with a devotee. It could be the first step you make on an amazing journey.