In this article, we’ll be looking at how to practice Bhakti yoga meditation properly, and the benefits you will get out of it.
But first: What is Bhakti yoga?
Bhakti yoga is an ancient meditation technique that stems from Hinduism and Buddhism. Today it is mostly associated with yoga [READ: Best Techniques].
The practice aims to make the mind one with a deity, object or person. For instance, Buddhists would use the technique to become one with Buddha.
However, you can also practice by meditating on a relaxing object, such as a crystal.
Bhakti is part of a trinity of meditations. Traditionally, there are three stages involved in the practice:
- Traditionally, monks would begin by doing samatha meditation, which creates calmness and focus.
- After Samatha, they’d perform Dhyana meditation, which is the entry point to oneness.
- They would then come to Bhakti yoga practice, which they would use to become one with their deity.
If you are interested in following the traditional path, it is essential to do Samatha and Dhyana first, before you do Bhakti.
What Is Bhakti Yoga Meditation
Bhakti yoga practices are all about expressing devotion and love for an object, person, or God(s) [Harvard]. This could be a religious exercise, similar to biblical / God meditation, but it can also be about love and devotion for non-religious entities.
The term itself literally means to “show devotion and love to”.
In other words, practising Bhakti yoga is about showing love and devotion to a deity by silencing the ego and making the mind one with the object of devotion. For instance, Hindus will practice Bhakti yoga while focusing on one of the Hindu gods.
That is the traditional way of practising.
In the 21st Century there are more modern, less-religious ways how to practice Bhakti yoga. For instance, someone who is not religious might practice Bhakti yoga by meditating on a natural element, like water, or by meditating on a personal item that means a lot to them, such as a family heirloom. This is very similar to the Buddhist method Samatha.
In the 7th century and 10th century in India, Hindus meditated in devotion to Vishnu and Shiva. They would practice becoming one with these deities.
This gave rise to the Bhakti Movement and to the different Bhakti yoga practices you have heard about. It became a spiritual movement united under the principles of the Bhakti movement.
The movement led to the creation of poetry and the poetic saints, who wandered from temple to temple singing praises to Vishnu and Shiva .
The movement found its full strength between the 15th and 17th Century CE.
During this period the movement was heavily influenced by the development of Hindu and Indian culture, reaching so far as to make its impact upon Sufism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Christianity. Bhakti also became very popular in Theravada Buddhism, where monks would use the technique to show devotion to Buddha.
Today, Bhakti yoga practices can take many forms, and they do not have to be done as devotion or worship, as they traditionally were. So let’s discuss how to practice Bhakti yoga the modern way.
You don’t need to be devoted or a worshipper to practise Bhakti yoga.
Rather, the term now refers to the practice of making your mind one with a specific object, an object which is considered highly positive and sacred or spiritual.
If, for instance, you are a lover of water and appreciate how water flows so freely and powerfully from one place to the next, you might like to sit beside a river and meditate on the flowing tide. You will find this immensely liberating.
I love to practice Bhakti yoga by meditating on the elements.
Sometimes I’ll sit beside a waterfall and meditate on water, or light a candle and meditate on the way the bright amber light shines its energy in all directions without shadow. This makes me aware of how I can be compassionate and loving to all, without the need to take sides or harbour prejudices as many people do.
What It’s All About
Practising Bhakti yoga is all about giving yourself to the divine.
In The Journey Within: Exploring The Path Of Bhakti, Radhanath Swami says:
“True yogis serve without wanting recognition or praise. They are happy to give credit to others and interested simply in doing their best to give pleasure to the divine and benefit others.”
How To Practice Bhakti Yoga Meditation
Here’s how to practise Bhakti yoga meditation properly: Traditionally this would be performed in a dedicated meditation space.
- Take a few moments to relax
- Once your mind is calm and centred, choose a subject on which to meditate. Choose a subject that is highly positive and which contains traits that you would like to have in yourself. For instance, if you would like to feel freer in life, you might like to meditate on a clear blue sky. Remember that the Bhakti yoga practice is a method for oneness, so whatever object you meditate on you will be aiming to become one with.
- Another great option is to meditate on a mantra.
- To follow the traditional Bhakti yoga practice, create a meditation space dedicated to your deity / subject. Fill this space with images, sculptures, candles, relaxing features, and other items that will help you to relax and to connect to your deity.
- Sit comfortably and with good posture. You should feel stable, relaxed, and comfortable. Correct physical alignment will help your energy (chi / qi / life force) to flow through your body freely.
- Close your eyes and focus on the space between your eyebrows. You will feel a build-up of energy in this area.
- Ask your deity / subject to become one with you.
- Meditate on your subject in the traditional sense. Focus on your subject.
- Once you feel that you are in contact with your deity / subject, imagine becoming one with them.
- Imagine there is no distance between your consciousness and the subject. You are merging to become one. This is bhakti meditation, this state of meditative oneness and inner peace.
- Continue to meditate on your subject for 108 breaths.
- At the end of the Bhakti session, thank your deity / subject for coming to you.
- Open your eyes.
- Sit still for a few moments, gradually returning to your normal state.
You might also like to try these contemplation exercises.
Karma Yoga Style
The Karma Yoga Bhakti practice is slightly different. Follow these steps for proper Karma Yoga Bhakti practice.
- Find a time and a place where you can meditate without being disturbed.
- Create a space dedicated to your deity, include images, candles and anything else you find helpful.
- Sit straight with good posture, making sure your spine is in proper alignment so that energy can flow naturally through your body.
- Put your hands in a mudra position (for instance, with the tips of the thumb and forefinger touching).
- Close your eye and focus on your Third Eye Chakra (the space between your eyebrows).
- Ask your deity to be one with you. Welcome the deity into the room, and then into your mind. See them approaching you. Feel them with you.
- Focus on the object of worship (this could be an image of your deity, your own breath or anything else). As you focus, imagine the object / deity becoming one with you. Feel your mind merging with them. You are becoming one. Your ego, your self, is melting into a dew. You are mixing with your deity, coming together spiritually.
- Meditate on your deity for 108 breaths.
- When you are ready to finish, express gratitude to your deity, thanking them for being with you.
This Bhakti meditation technique is a powerful means of personal and spiritual transformation. You will find it wonderfully effective.
What to meditate on
When you do Bhakti yoga meditation, you are aiming to become one with an object, person or God.
The subject of your bhakti meditation practice should reflect the trait you wish to develop in yourself.
If, for instance, you would like to develop your sense of compassion, you might like to meditate on Ghandi or Buddha. For freedom, meditate on water.
It’s up to you what subject you choose to meditate on. But here are a few ideas along with the traits they represent.
Freedom and power
The night sky:
Eternity and wisdom
Freedom and power
Ghandi / Buddha / Mother Theresa
Compassion and kindness
Death is a complex subject but generally when you meditate on death you develop your appreciation of time and your humbleness.
Playfulness (not all meditation subjects have to be serious)
Wisdom and patience
Power (I personally like to meditate at Niagra Falls, of which the truly wonderful classical composer Gustav Mahler said “At last, Fortissimo!”. I guess he appreciated the power of the falls as much as I do).
Your own reflection / visage
Hope and compassion
Different gemstones reflect different traits and characteristics
Different colours reflect different mentalities and emotions. Green, for instance, reflect nature and health, where black represents power and authority, and yellow happiness. Meditate on the colour that reflects the trait you’d like to develop.
Your own breath
Meditating on your own breath will calm and centre you.
Bhakti Yoga Benefits
The benefits of Bhdkai yoga include:
- Improve your perspective
- Reduce the effects of your ego
- Increase humility
- Through perspective and humility, Bhakti helps to remove stress and anxiety
- Bhakti promotes the production of positive mental states like love and awe.
There are infinite subjects on which to meditate. Ask yourself what trait you’d like to develop. Find a subject that reflects that trait. Then meditate on it.
And that is how to practise Bhakti yoga.
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