For my birthday a few years ago, I was away at a three-day Bhakti Yoga workshop in Massachusetts. I did not know anything about Bhakti, but the workshop was one of my old man‘s 500-hour yoga teacher requirements and I did not want to stay home alone for my birthday, so off I went!
As it turns our Bhakti yoga is all about Love. And not necessarily the California-style-peace-love-and-granola-hippy-lovedbeads-tofu-tree-hugging kind of love or the steamy-between-the-sheets-ooh-la-vache kind of love. It’s the Capital L kind of love. It is the Love that is our very nature. It is the Love that exists in baby lambs and yellow crocuses hidden under the snow right now.
There are several kinds of Bhakti, called bhāvas. Wikipedia lists a few:
- śānta, placid love for God;
- dāsya, the attitude of a servant;
- sakhya, the attitude of a friend;
- vātsalya, the attitude of a mother towards her child
- madhura, the attitude of a woman towards her lover.
Our Bhakti yoga teacher at the retreat, William Mahony, suggested a few more including love for animals. I found this great definition online: “The trees, flowers, fire, earth, water, sky, sun, moon, stars, animals, birds, mountains, rivers, oceans, human beings constitute the body of the Lord. You should bow to them all without distinction. You should regard them as God Himself.” (Swami Sivananda http://sivanandaonline.org/public_html/?cmd=displaysection§ion_id=450)
One of the students at this retreat had an amazing practice of Vātsalya Bhakti. He and his two teenaged daughters keep contact with one another by text. They play a kind of game wherein he asks his girls how their days are going. One of them invariably answers “It’s a lovely day today.” This is in reference to a song from the 1940’s by Irving Berlin. The song portrays perfectly the delight this family finds in one another. They all have busy lives, but their song keeps them close and keeps the Vātsalya Bhakti alive and well.
I used to believe that the purpose of yoga was to still the mind (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra #2 – Yoga citta vrtti nirodha, yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.) Now I’m pretty sure it’s all about seeing love in yourself and others. It is indeed a lovely day today.