The Shree teachers decided to fill our Autumn with love by studying the Bhakti Sutras, 84 aphorisms attributed to the Sage Narada of the 10th century, which we will be talking about in classes for the next few months. The word Bhakti is used to describe many different things: religious devotion of a person of any spiritual faith, a practice of yoga including spiritual disciplines meant to connect one’s essence with the essence of the divine (such as praying, chanting, meditation), a trend within the history of Indian spirituality (the Bhakti Movement), and also the perfected state of consciousness – exclusive and continuous love of God (spirit, universe, oneness, etc.), leading to eternal, enlightened bliss.
In modern western yoga practice, this word is most often translated as “spiritual love” or “spiritual devotion”. But what does that mean? That it lies in the realm of the spirit rather than the physical. We first come to understand love in the human sense, the physical feelings of love that we experience in our everyday lives, and those feeling can (and hopefully do) lead to deeper and more abiding feelings of love which connect us to deeper aspects of our being than just our physical wants and pleasures. The word devotion itself connotes a surrender, a giving of yourself to something. So to me “spiritual devotion” is a surrendering of your spirit to its source.
Our study of this text will rely heavily on Bill Mahony’s beautiful book, Exquisite Love. In it he says “We experience bhakti in our lives by entering into the delights, joys, poignancies and commitments of our human love.” He lists many, many different types of bhakti or love – love for a lover, between 2 trusting friends, love that is characterized by peacefulness, that is calm quiet and strong, love between a parent and child, the yearning when separated from one’s love – all are expressions of love. There is also love of food, the ocean, a pet, a new pair of shoes. There are moments of love, like watching your child laughing on a swing, stepping out into sunshine, sinking into a hot tub, a hug from your partner or a friend. As there are different types of love some might say one is “higher” than another, but just as mercury is the same in a thermometer at the bottom as at the top, they are all expressions of One Love, and that essence that we call love is the presence of the divine itself.
Bill Mahoney writes “It is through love that one knows God, for God is love. Since God is love, God lives in the heart of one who loves. Accordingly, when we feel love, we are actually experiencing God.” (I’m quoting his text verbatim, if the G-word doesn’t resonate with you plug in spirit, universe, or any other word that does.) By simply opening yourself up to all the ways in your life that love presents itself we open ourselves to a “spiritual” experience, and a connection to something greater than just our physical beings with all it’s “delights, joys, poignancies and commitments.”
Bhakti Sutra #1 says “Speaking of it makes it manifest.” Speaking about or naming something has tremendous power, speaking is the primary creative force of human existence. When we speak, we make manifest our desires. What do you love? What are you unconditionally devoted to? Speak it to yourself. Speak it to those around you. When we give voice to something, anything, it makes it more real, brings it forth into existence. Feel how love grows stronger as you acknowledge it, as you invite it more into the forefront of your life by noticing all the ways it appears for you.
Off the Mat:
Expand your definition of love. Notice throughout your day the things that bring your heart happiness, even if it’s just for a few moments. After you’ve done this for a few days, practice letting go of whatever experience brought you the feeling of love, and allow yourself to just experience love without it being conditional on any outside influence. The more you do this the easier it gets, and the more love grows.
On the Mat:
I once heard Desiree Rumbaugh say that love is always unconditional – it’s commitment that is conditional. So in my classes this week we worked on embodying our love with full commitment and devotion by keeping the muscles toned and supportive of the bones and joints, and by working to straighten our arms as fully as we could in poses like Urdhva Dhanurasana and Handstand.
For the Anusara Junkies:
Open to Grace:
Fill up with feelings of love for who or what you are devoted to.
Place your hands (or feet) and stand strong in your devotion.
Breathe in and Invite love into your experience of this pose, and let it fill you up on the inside.
Commit fully to what you love with every muscle of your being, embracing the divine with the physical.
Hug the bones with the muscles like you are hugging your beloved.
Make space for your love to grow and evolve by widening your sit bones back and apart.
Settle more deeply into commitment as you settle your tailbone down into the space you’ve created.
Offer your love and devotion back out through the vehicle of the breath and this pose.
Let every part of the pose and your being emanate love.
Radiate bhakti through every cell of your body, every aspect of your pose and your being awake and alive with devotion to what you love.