Bhakti as a practice, or using yoga’s texts as a “prop” during down times

Since I got back from my assessment in November, I have to admit my personal asana practice has been on the decline. Holidays, family, my brother and his wife having a baby, caregiving, and work have all contributed, but ultimately it comes down to my lack of discipline and motivation. My mentoring teachers have been patient with me and are encouraging to “get me back on the horse” in preparing for my retake.

One thing that has been keeping me going is reading the texts. Some days I will study the sutra-s, other days I will read an Upanishad and reflect on its deepness. I have been reading the Ramayana and the Bhagavad Gita as well.  The sutra-s speak at length about practice and many methods to attain “yoga” with a capital Y.

I.23 Īśvara-praṇidhānād vā, Or [samadhi is attained] by devotion with total dedication to God [Isvara], is a sutra that always comes back to me. Iyengar, from my studies, puts a lot of emphasis on how the last three niyama-s: Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana correlate to Karma yoga, Jnana yoga, and Bhakti yoga respectively. From what I have been reading and have experienced it seems like Bhakti is the highest practice.

I don’t think there is a good word in English for Bhakti. It is commonly defined as “love and devotion,” but I don’t think those terms give it the right context. I feel there is a strange tugging a sincere practitioner experiences towards an Ishta Devata, and then giving that Devata one’s attention. Take Ganesh for example. One learns that he is the first Ishta Devata to honor and that he clears obstacles in your path. One starts to utter the mantra “Om Gam Ganapataye Namah” first causally. Then one notices one’s life start to change. Then the mantra is uttered more often and with more conviction. More good stuff happens. Then it becomes a daily ritual. When one is ready, more Istha Devata-s start to come into your life.

Hanuman brings joy. In the Ramayana, he appears to Rama when his wife was kidnapped by Ravana. Hanuman shows how devotion works by using all of his siddhi-s (powers) to help Rama first locate his wife, then battle to rescue her. He also appears to Sita when she is downcast and gives her hope. In dark times in one’s life, one can utter “Om Hum Hum Hanumate Phat”, or listen to the Hanuman Chalisa, and joy comes the practitioner the way that it was brought to Rama in his time of desperation, and Sita in her time of distress.

I am pulling myself up by the bootstraps. I am in less-than-optimal physical shape, but am moving more toward what I need to do to pass my upcoming assessment this fall. But in many ways I feel my practice is stronger than ever in terms of Bhakti. I am coming to realize that Bhakti transcends the body and mind and keeps one pointed in the direction of yoga. I will keep you all updated.

Many blessings!

 

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12 thoughts on “Bhakti as a practice, or using yoga’s texts as a “prop” during down times

    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thank you Sonia! You are good at sensing when I am struggling and always offer wonderful encouragement. My sadhana has been difficult lately in a way it never has been since I have been practicing for 19 years. When I first started doing my teacher training in 2009, I complained to one of my fellow trainees that I felt like my practice and yoga ability had gone downhill. She disagreed and said that I am just now more aware with the training. For some reason, I think because of my mantra practice has taken that concept and multiplied it a thousand more times. The hardest thing to do is to be aware of something, and still remain detached and do your practice anyway. This yoga is hard stuff!

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      1. anonymous sadhaka

        Michael, the hardest thing besides that hard yoga is being vulnerable about it. We hear enough and more about the good and happy parts of the journey but the dark periods are when transformation is happening. Something my mother told me regarding my knee made sense. Loosely, it means that you cannot disturb a seed, it needs to take root and that happens in the belly of the earth, out of sight. And then one morning, you see new shoots. And your friend is absolutely right, it’s just more awareness and the irony is the subtler you can sense, the greater the pain. Once again, a big thank you.

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  1. ambfoxx

    Yoga is so complex. You remind me about the parts of my practice I neglect. I never skip the physical challenges, but I lose focus on the aspects of it that you discussed in this post. In a way, hard physical work is easy for me compared to spiritual discipline.Beautiful writing and honesty, as always. Thank you.

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks Amber! I have to preserve my energy throughout the day to teach, travel and talk to clients and do computer work. I don’t sleep a full night to take care of my mother-in-law. The physical is very difficult for me now. I was very drained after my assessment. Vladimir Jandov told me during this last assessment that it takes about a year to recover. I am thinking more like two.

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  2. Dhrishti

    I always appreciate when you share and I hope you experience the progress and success you seek. I’ve also read that bhakti is the highest practice but I find that statement or opinion gives me pause and caution. There are entire (Abrahamic and some non-Abrahamic) religions based on some level of bhakti and given the day and age we’re in, bhakti is almost invariably too-linked to emotion – which is not full bhakti, but is often mistaken for it. It’s important to sift out the bhakti that has no ebb or flow.

    You mention reading the Gita and I’m sure you are familiar with Krishna’s words that one’s path might not be someone else’s…. A statement like “bhakti is the highest” seems to contradict that to a degree. If it’s the highest then all should reach for it – though Krishna clearly says not all actually should. It reminds me of when one Christian denomination will recognize that another denominations are totally valid, but with the caveat that their path is a little closer to true Christianity than the other.

    In my experience, the real might of bhakti is that it is a thread which can (and probably needs to) be woven into other practices and paths as a strengthening component. Jnana without bhakti is as incomplete as bhakti untempered by jnana, and so forth.

    Peace to you! And be sure to keep us posted as you continue forward! 🙂

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks for your reflection on this piece. To rank order Karma, Jnana, and Bhakti is indeed foolish. Much like rank ordering broccoli versus carrots. They are very different vegetables. To say one man’s broccoli is superior to another’s carrot is equally ludicrous. I think by giving us the concept of Kriya yoga in 2.1, Patanjali recognizes that an infusion, not a separation of each path is essential for a complete sadhana.

      At this point in my path of Bhakti has been working out pretty well, whereas other times it was Karma and others Jnana. I can honestly say I am still quite inept at all three at this point, and that is why I am stumbling my words for my stumbling practice at the moment 🙂
      I appreciate that you have given thought to my assumptions on these concepts. I certainly don’t have any answers. I do appreciate your friendship and your practice.

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  3. babycrow

    Hello Michael, I am late commenting on your blog because I am uncertain what to say. You are struggling, but all I perceive is such depths of wisdom and stability and clarity. I’m sure you will find a way forward if you need to. The comments on your blog make it clear how esteemed you are and what support you can find even in the digital realm. Selfishly I hope the inclination to blog and share experiences grows a little in time. I miss hearing your unique voice. My thoughts are often with you.

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks babycrow! I have always appreciated your support. Like springtime, I am emerging from the cold winter with a budding practice. This winter has been tough. Even though I live in the tropics, it has been a difficult winter emotionally. You’ll probably hear more from my blog soon. Thanks again and many blessings to you and your practice.

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