The Paths of Yoga: What is Bhakti Yoga?
“All paths of yoga lead to the same experience. The realisation is the same; it is only the means that are different.”
Yoga is a vast and inclusive system of practices that offers a variety of ways to live a healthy, fulfilled life and to cultivate awareness.
The yogic tradition acknowledges that people have diverse temperaments, preferences and constitutions. Hence Yoga offers various paths to help all people reach the goal of Yoga in a way that suits them.
For example, Karma Yoga is the yoga of action or dynamic meditation, suited to very active ‘doer’ types.
Hatha Yoga aims to achieve energetic balance through physical postures and breath practices. This is ideal for those who are wanting or needing to “get out of their heads”.
Jnana Yoga is the yoga of wisdom and is suited to philosophical types who are always asking “why”.
Raja Yoga is the meditative, mystical path, suited to those who are wanting to develop discipline and focus.
Bhakti Yoga is the path of love and devotion. The word bhakti comes from the root ‘bhaja’ which means to ‘adore, serve, love, to be devoted.’ Bhakti is a suitable yogic path for those who easily feel devotion and who are more emotional by nature. Bhakti practices commonly include kirtan, chanting, worship, and hearing stories of the divine. Bhakti Yoga practices may also provide a balance to over-rigid attachment to the intellectual mind. These practices can release blocked emotions and bypass restrictive thought patterns.
The Bhakti path is the one that intellectuals, atheists and Westerners often find hardest to understand and it can easily be mistaken for, and degenerate into, blind dogma. However, those who practise and experience Bhakti report that it can take one’s practice of yoga to a level of unimagined bliss. Thus, while a healthy scepticism is not to be discouraged, it is also worth keeping an open mind to the possibility that bhakti may unfold on your yogic journey.
“The purpose of bhakti is to develop intense concentration towards one object. This occurs spontaneously if there is a feeling of bhakti towards that object. All one’s energy is focused in one direction. This in turn leads to higher sensitivity and receptivity of the body-mind… Bhakti must be felt, known and experienced for oneself. Real bhakti cannot be created artificially for it is an expression of bliss, of something beyond the wildest flights of imagination”.
A person may be drawn to one of the above paths, they may follow the practices of several paths simultaneously, and their preferred path may change over time. A person may also be following a spiritual path with many similarities to a yogic path, without being aware of the Indian yogic system at all. Overall, the important thing on the yogic journey is to explore, recognise and pursue the paths and practices that suit you, while acknowledging and accepting that your way is not the only way.
At Manly Yoga, we have something for everyone, no matter their age, wellbeing or interests. Hence we offer various avenues for people to develop their yoga practice – from philosophy groups, to hatha yoga classes, kirtan, and meditation and mindfulness workshops and courses. See what’s coming up at https://www.manlyyoga.com/whats-on/
This article was adapted from a lecture on the “Classic Paths of Yoga” delivered by Manly Yoga’s Director, Alana Smith, for the IYTA teacher training diploma on 3rd February 2018.
 Saraswati, Swami Satyananda, “Bhakti Yoga (Part 1)” Yoga and Kriya (1981), p.449
 ibid., p.447