In this article I’ll be looking at how to practice Bhakti yoga meditation properly.
But first: What is Bhakti yoga?
Bhakti yoga is an ancient meditation technique that stems from Hinduism and Buddhism.
In Bhakti meditation, the aim is to make the mind one with a deity, object or person. For instance, Buddhists would use Bhakti meditation to become one with Buddha (you can do this by meditating on a Buddha statue).
This is similar to the Buddhist idea of oneness and is a powerful way of increasing inner peace.
There are three main Bhakti yoga practices that were used traditionally:
- 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 meditation, which they’d practice to be one with their deity.
So if you want to know how to do Bhakti yoga, start by doing Samatha and Dhyana (see the links above).
What are Bhakti yoga practices?
Bhakti yoga practices are all about expressing devotion and love for an object, person, or God. This can be a religious meditation similar to biblical / God meditation, but it can also be about love and devotion.
You might wonder: What does Bhakti mean?
The term itself literally means to “show devotion and love to”. [see our spiritual dictionary for more words]
When we practice Bhakti yoga we focus the mind on a deity in order to worship that deity and to become one with the object of meditation (which is the same process used in Dhyana meditation).
For instance, Hindus will practice Bhakti meditation while focusing on one of the Hindu gods.
That is the traditional way of practicing Bhakti.
But there are many other ways.
For instance, someone who is not religious might practice Bhakti 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.
The History Of Bhakti yoga practices
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 hear about. It became a spiritual movement united under the principles of the Bhakti movement.
The Bhakti movement led to the creation of Bhakti poetry and the poetic saints, who wandered from temple to temple singing praises to Vishnu and Shiva.
The Bhakti movement found its full strength between the 15th and 17th Century CE.
During this period the Bhakti 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 wouled use Bhakti meditation to show devotion to Buddha. (You can read more about the Bhakti movement on Sikh History.)
Modern Bhakti Yoga Practices
Today, practicing Bhakti yoga can take many forms.
It does not have to be done as “devotion” or “worship”.
You don’t need to be devoted or a worshipper in order to practice 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 the way in which 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 personally 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 that 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 harbor prejudices as so many people do.
What Bhakti Yoga Practices Are All About
Practicing Bhakti yoga is all about giving yourself to the divine.
In The Journey Within: Wxploring 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 practice Bhakti yoga meditation properly:
- 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 more free in life you might like to meditate on a clear blue sky. Remember that Bhakti meditation is a meditation 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 followthe Bhakti yoga tradition, 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. Proper physical alignment will help your energy (chi / qi / life force) to flow through your body freely. You can read more about good posture in my Zen meditation guide.
- Close your eyes and focus on the space between your eyebrows (your third eye chakra). You will feel a built-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 being 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.
- To increase the sense of oneness it is recommended to practice Shambhavi Mudra.
Another Bhakti Yoga Practice Is The Karma Yoga Style
The Karma Yoga form of Bhakti meditation is slightly different. Follow these steps for proper Karma Yoga Bhakti.
- Find a time and a place where you can meditate without being disturbed.
- Create a space which is 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 melding with them. You are becoming one. Your ego, your self, is melting into a dew. You are mixing with your deity, merging, coming together spiritually.
- Meditate on your deity for 108 breathss.
- 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 practicing Bhakti Yoga Meditation
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.
|Water||Freedom and power|
|The night sky:||Eternity and wisdom|
|Water||Freedom and power|
|Ghandi / Buddha / Mother Theresa||Compassion and kindness|
|Death||Death is a complex subject but generally when you meditate on death you develop your appreciation of time and your humbleness.|
|Cats||Playfulness (not all meditation subjects have to be serious)|
|Trees||Wisdom and patience|
|Waterfall||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||Self awareness|
|Angels||Hope and compassion|
|Gemstones||Different gemstones reflect different traits and characteristics|
|Colours||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.|
The Benefits Of Bhakti Yoga Meditation
There are more than 100 benefits of meditation.
Bhakti meditation techniques helps us to:
- 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.
And That Is How To Practice Bhakti Yoga Meditation In 2019
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 practice Bhakti yoga.
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Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher, author and journalist based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential. Don’t miss Paul’s inspirational and enlightening book: Your Best Meditation