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9 Bhakti Yoga Practices by Austin Richman

What is this Bhakti Yoga? Learn about this pathway of love and devotion and the different practices you can implement into your life from cambio co-founder and Bhakti practitioner, Austin Richman. Let us know what sticks out to you, how you practice Bhakti and any other ideas you have to Austin at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



9 Bhakti Yoga Practices

At some point in the journey of every sincere yogi’s path the question arises, what is the goal of yoga? Some say yoga is the goal of yoga that it is the journey and the destination, which is true but is somewhat of a reduced answer. For more clarification we can look back to the seminal teacher of yoga, Patanjali and his illuminating work, the Yoga Sutras. We can infer a lot about what the goal of yoga is as Christopher Key Chapple enumerates in his book “Yoga and The Luminous” any one of the accomplishments known as “restraint of the mental fluctuations (chitta vrtti nirodha), discernment (viveka), aloneness (kaivalya), or one of the various samadhis” stand out as the various goals. The problem of which practice to use arises in this text which is more referential than instructional and many modern scholars today express that it is more of a collection of all of the best philosophies and practices of the time rather than just a straightforward uni-directional practice/path and goal. The Yoga Sutras offer very little in the way of advising around belief or faith, in fact the only mention of any practice having to do with any religiosity is to “Om” to invoke resonance with the supreme power, Isvara. Though isvara pranidhana is a very important practice in the book, a lot seems to be left out about just how to practice it and even what it is. 

    Whereas the Yoga Sutras are entirely of the shastra category of ancient text, meaning it is only concerned with being a compendium of sorts, the Bhagavad Gita is both instructional and a narrative, giving the reader more insight into what some of these more esoteric and ancient practices are meant to be. The Gita outlines four types of yoga and exposes more about what these practices are than the sutras and exactly how to practice them. It even takes the time to order them of which practices are most preferable (and to this point, scholars and sages have been arguing about it ever since). However, it seems pretty clear cut when in the very end of the last chapter, Krishna, the Lord, tells Arjuna, his mentee, that “By devotion to Me he comes to know who I am in truth, Then having known me in truth he enters me immediately.” (Book XVIII, verse 55). Now by this he is referring to Bhakti Yoga as the easiest and fastest way to achieve any and all of the greatest of accomplishments possible through this thing we call yoga. So, for those out there like me that thought experiencing the individualized state of oneness known as Atman Bhakti has another idea altogether.

    Where as up until now to discover what the intents and purposes of yoga are, we have been relying on the shastras but to go beyond the ego in the practice of Bhakti, it is necessary to open ourselves up to the other type of famous ancient writing from India known as the Puranas. Puranas are purely narrative but are meant, despite their miraculous and farfetched claims, to be taken as truth and not fiction. A yogi is someone who practices yoga but in Bhakti, a Bhakta is the practitioner, and according to Edwin Bryant whose tome, “Bhakti Yoga: Tales and Teachings From The Bhagavata Purana” there are nine practices in the Vaishnavite tradition. It is worth noting that there are many types of Bhakti, Shaivism perhaps the most widely practiced and Vaishnavism right there as well but many modern Hindus do not classify themselves as such and it is also commonly accepted that if you follow Shiva you also follow Krishna or Ram and vice versa. 


    The 9 practices of Vaishnavite Bhakti Yoga are:


  1. Sravana (hearing)- one can not be a bhakti yogi if they have no one to devote themselves to, so hearing about the holy tales of God (remember that Hinduism is largely monotheistic and only confuses the matter by interpreting that supreme being as one of many manifestations). As one begins to hear stories of these auspicious characters, the bhakta then becomes attracted to one over time and is prepped for the following practices.


  1. Kirtana (chanting)- specifically this is chanting either the name of the specific incarnation of the lord or chanting stories about them. The practice is centered around mantra which is not just a symbol or name representing that God but actually the divine presence itself. This is obviously the most popular form known of in the west, but it is worth noting that many puranas denote this particular practice as the recommended spiritual practice in the day and age in which we live (Kali yuga). Japa is also under the helm of this practice which is the private recitation of the name of the lord. Whether done in private or public, the purpose is to cultivate a love for the deity of choice.


  1. Smarana (remembering)- this exercise is meant to eliminate extraneous thoughts and focus the mind wholy on God and God alone. The practice itself requires much study as a construct of the mind requires elements of maya to develop this skill so details like places, events, what people did and/or wore are all meant to keep the mind stabilized in this effect. In this way, this step of Bhakti is often compared to jnana or samyama but one must remember that this is only a part of a larger practice whose goal is said to exceed that of both Raja Yoga and Jnana Yoga (yoga of wisdom).


  1. Pada-sevana (service to the feet of the lord)- In the Indian history the feet hold special significance where one who is close to them receives humble blessings and is a showing of deep and reverent love. Service is a purification process in and of itself as it requires one to put the needs of another before their own and doing so in such a way negates any half-hearted attempts at devotion and demands full love to the beloved.


  1. Arcana (worship)- In this practice one would imbue an idol with all of the qualities of their chosen deity in a real and complete way. Since the human experience is limited to the filters of sense and perception that are inferior to God, conceiving a material form of God as a vehicle for worship is necessary to begin to invoke a more personal and intimate relationship. Offerings such as food and flowers are laid at the feet of such statues and are done so in a way that is with devotion, otherwise the thing being offered is meaningless. One of the preeminent commentators on the Bhagavata Puranas, Jiva Goswami states that “the highest form of arcana is to worship all living entities”.


  1. Vandana (offering respect)- though this may seem to overlap with the previous limbs of service and worship it allows the bhakta another way to engage in a practical and physical way. A vandana may be performed by prostrating the body placing a stone where the fingers reach and then beginning their next prostration from that point. This type of vandana is performed in holy places where the deity may have been born or performed a notable act.


  1. Dasya (servitorship)- this state of service, rather than being of action like pada-sevana, is one that exists in the mind, to be of service in thought and intention to the lord. On one hand, to see God in all things, and also the supreme in God- the latter being more of an abstract practice but a valiant and gallant one nonetheless.


  1. Sakhya (friendship)- here the practice also requires a state of mind that that cultivates an attitude of well wishing others no matter who or what circumstance. It seems that the intent of sakhya is to really nail down just what friendship is and how in wishing for the well-being and fortune for others, Jiva also expounds that we must strive to be “peaceful, equanimous, pure, and affectionatte”.


  1.  Atma-nivedana (self-surrender)- last but not least to practice bhakti, the yoga of devotion, we must offer everything to the lord. As if everything up to this point has been priming one to be able to get to this ultimate show of devotion wherein the bhakta considers themselves to be nothing short of property of the Lord.

    This is a lot of information and a lot of work that makes asana, pranayama and meditation seem quite like a whole other world of Yoga. Bhakti is the most commonly practiced type of Yoga in the East and in the West is not known well by comparison. The good news to even the most novice of Bhaktis wanting to dip their toe is that remembering lists need not be the task to reach the goal, but rather by pure devotion alone one may receive the stated most exalted goal yoga can offer, that which is even beyond knowing by way of experience the true Self and that is to be bestowed with prema, the supreme love of God.

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