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The first time I chanted mantra, something lit up within me that I had not known was there. It felt as though my heart was opening up wider than it ever had before. I had never obtained this kind of feeling from my yoga practice before. It was completely blissful, almost euphoric.
I was introduced to Bhakti Yoga during my first Yoga Teacher Training in 2011 with Herizen Yoga for Women. We rose at dawn, and practiced silence until we gathered for meditation and mantra. We were introduced to Gods and Goddesses from the Hindu religion and taught how to utilize the many tools and techniques of Bhakti Yoga to make positive changes in our lives. Upon completion of that training, I felt like I had a whole new toolbox to help me navigate my world.
The word Bhakti comes from the root “bhaj” which means to “adore or worship God”. Bhakti Yoga is an expression of devotional sentiment held in the heart, based on compassion and devotion to Divinity. It can also be translated as “Devoting yourself to your personal relationship with God” or “Union with the divine through love and devotion”.
The term “God”, as we all know, can take many forms and mean different things to all of us. It may be a deity with a name and face or a more general concept of the Universe in an energetic form. I think the main unifying concept is that is that it refers to something greater than ourselves. The idea behind Bhakti Yoga is to devote yourself to your own personal “God,” whatever form that takes.
In Bhakti Yoga we often use mantra and mudra as vehicles to take us deeper into our practice. Mudras are hand gestures which can be powerful tools used during yoga or meditation to channel our body’s energy flow and draw our awareness inwards. Mudra can help us to improve concentration, restore balance and find peace and tranquillity. Mantra can be translated as “that which liberates the mind”. We use mantra to focus the mind and in Bhakti Yoga, we believe it is the quickest route to connect us with the Divine.
Kirtan is one of my favourite practices of Bhakti Yoga. The word kirtan comes from the root “to cut through” and can be translated as “a practice for cutting through the idea of separation, for connecting to our hearts and connecting to the moment through sound.” A “kirtan” usually consists of a call and response form of chanting and is typically accompanied by musical instruments such as harmoniums, drums and rattles.
In Bhakti Yoga, we work quite a lot with the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Quite often we’ll chant a specific mantra over and over again to invoke the energy of a deity to offer ourselves over to, give thanks or call upon their help when we’re going through something challenging in our lives.
Each deity is associated with specific traits and once you get to know more about them, they can be very helpful! Of course, when we call upon a God of Goddess, what we’re really doing is calling upon those qualities in ourselves. Invoking a deity can help us to find what we are seeking from within.
Prior to my first yoga teacher training, in my first few years of establishing a deep asana practice, I started to see relationships between how my physical practice related to my physical world. When my core finally became strong enough to execute advanced arm balances, I saw that my inner core - my inner strength - was also at it’s strongest. It was during that time that I was able to make significant changes in my life to create the world I had always dreamed of living.
Exploring Bhakti Yoga has taken my relationship with yoga to an even deeper level. It has taught me that yoga is about so much more than my physical practice. It is actually about how we perceive the world and how we choose to show up in it. Bhakti Yoga has taught me about divine love and how to offer my practice over to something greater than myself. It has taught me that living with reverence for something higher than ourselves can also help us to become more joyful and loving within and enable us to navigate the challenges life presents with more compassion and grace.
I chanted mantra a lot during the three months Shala was closed for COVID-19. I would go to the river almost every day and chant for my family, chant for the community, chant for the collective….for all of us. When we chant a mantra, we are connecting ourselves to every other person who has ever chanted that mantra. In these times of great uncertainty and isolation, having a means to connect with others (even in an energetic way) and having something higher than yourself to devote your practice to can be a great resource and comfort.
At Shala Yoga, we are striving to be a space where we can have these greater conversations and look at yoga, not only from the physical perspective, but from the mental, emotional and spiritual perspective, so that we can we can integrate the principles of yoga into all areas of our lives.
If you’re curious about Bhakti Yoga, we invite you to join Christine Selda and Gin Perry on Thursday or Friday mornings at 9:30am. Let’s continue the conversation there <3