Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Yoga: the Yoga of Devotion

Published on October 30, 2023

The power of an open, loving heart is immeasurable and unmatched in its ability to transform one’s life. It can connect us to something greater than ourselves, to transcend the limitations of our individuality and merge with the divine. Bhakti Yoga, also known as the Yoga of Devotion, is a path that leads us directly to the heart’s deepest reservoirs of love and devotion. It is a sacred journey that invites us to surrender ourselves completely to the divine, to immerse ourselves in the ocean of devotion, and to experience the boundless joy that comes from connecting with something greater than ourselves.

What is Bhakti Yoga?

Bhakti means “devotion” or “love”, and this Sanskrit term originates from the root word “bhaj,” which translates as “devotion, worship or to serve God”. The word “yoga” translates as “union” or “to yoke”. Thus, Bhakti Yoga is understood as the path of devotion to find spiritual liberation and union with the divine.

Bhakti Yoga is one of the four main yogic paths to enlightenment. Bhakti means “devotion” or “love” and this path contains various practices to unite the bhakta (Bhakti Yoga practitioner) with the Divine. Bhakti Yoga is considered the easiest yogic path to master and the most direct method to experience the unity of mind, body, and spirit. While Hatha Yoga requires a strong and flexible body, Raja Yoga requires a disciplined and concentrated mind, and Jnana Yoga requires a keen intellect, the only requirement for Bhakti Yoga is an open, loving heart. But Bhakti Yoga complements other paths of yoga well, and it is said that jnana (knowledge or wisdom) will dawn by itself when you engage in the devotional practices of Bhakti Yoga.

This deeply spiritual practice draws heavily on the Hindu pantheon of deities. Each of these deities is seen as representing a humanized aspect of the single Godhead or Brahman, much the same way the Christian saints represent specific attributes and qualities of God. The use of Hindu deities in Bhakti Yoga can be a large obstacle for Western practitioners, especially for those with a deeply religious background. But the use of the Hindu deities is not required for this practice—in fact, finding your own object(s) of devotion will be all the more effective in achieving yoga (union) with the Divine.

Origin and history of the Bhakti movement

The practice of Bhakti dates back thousands of years, with its origins rooted in South India during the 6th century CE. However, it wasn’t until the medieval period in the 15th century that the Bhakti movement gained prominence and became a significant force in Indian spirituality.

The Bhakti movement emerged as a response to the rigid caste system and the dominance of ritualistic and intellectual forms of worship. It sought to democratize spirituality by emphasizing the power of devotion and love towards a personal deity.

The movement saw the rise of numerous saints and poets who expressed their devotion through music, poetry, and dance. These saints, known as Bhaktas, hailed from different regions of India and composed devotional hymns in various languages such as Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, and Gujarati.

Some of the prominent Bhakti saints include Mirabai, Surdas, Kabir, Tulsidas, and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. They spread the message of love and devotion through their writings and teachings, inspiring people from all walks of life to embrace Bhakti as a spiritual path. These saints preached the idea of surrendering oneself completely to the divine and experiencing a deep connection through love and devotion.

One of the defining features of the Bhakti movement was its inclusiveness. It transcended the boundaries of caste, gender, and social status, welcoming anyone who sought a personal connection with the divine. This inclusivity played a crucial role in breaking down barriers and fostering a sense of unity among diverse groups of people.

How to practice Bhakti

Bhakti Yoga involves developing a deep sense of love and devotion towards the divine. This selfless devotion can be directed towards a specific deity, such as Krishna, Ganesha, Shiva, or any other form of God that resonates with the practitioner. Through constant remembrance and contemplation of the chosen deity, one seeks to establish a personal and intimate relationship with the divine.

The practice of devotion often involves various rituals, prayers, chanting, and singing of devotional hymns or mantras. These acts of devotion are not mere external rituals, but rather tools to purify the heart and awaken the inherent love and devotion within. By offering one’s thoughts, words, and actions to the divine, the practitioner cultivates a sense of surrender and selflessness.

The ultimate goal in the practice of Bhakti yoga is to reach the state of rasa (essence), a feeling of pure bliss achieved in the devotional surrender to the Divine.

The Nine Limbs of Devotion

There are nine main practices of Bhakti Yoga that can be practiced independently or together. Each of these limbs creates a specific bhava (feeling) that appeals to different inner constitutions of practitioners.

  1. Shravana – “listening” to the ancient scriptures, especially potent if told by a saint or genuine bhakta.
  2. Kirtana – “singing” devotional songs, usually practiced in a call-and-response group format.
  3. Smarana – “remembering” the Divine by constantly meditating upon its name and form.
  4. Padasevana – “service at the feet” of the Divine, which incorporates the practice of karma yoga (selfless service) with bhakti (devotion).
  5. Archana – the “ritual worship” of the Divine through practices such as puja (deity worship), and havan or homa (fire offering).
  6. Vandana – the “prostration” before the image of one’s chosen image or representation of the Divine.
  7. Dasya – the “unquestioning” devotion of the Divine involving the cultivation of serving the will of God instead of one’s own ego.
  8.  Sakhya – the “friendship” and relationship established between the Divine and the devotee.
  9. Atmanivedana – the “self-offering” and complete surrender of the self to the Divine.

The most popular limb of Bhakti Yoga in the West is Kirtana (usually called Kirtan), with national and local Kirtan walas performing weekly in small to large cities. Bhakti Yoga can be practiced by itself or be integrated into other types of yoga or spiritual practices.

The benefits of Bhakti Yoga are immense, as Swami Sivananda writes, “Bhakti softens the heart and removes jealousy, hatred, lust, anger, egoism, pride, and arrogance. It infuses joy, divine ecstasy, bliss, peace, and knowledge. All cares, worries and anxieties, fears, mental torments, and tribulations entirely vanish. The devotee is freed from the Samsaric wheel of births and deaths. He attains the immortal abode of everlasting peace, bliss, and knowledge.”

The ultimate goal in the practice of Bhakti yoga is to reach the state of rasa (essence), a feeling of pure bliss achieved in the devotional surrender to the Divine.

Bhakti yoga benefits

The benefits of a consistent practice of Bhakti Yoga are immense—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. As Swami Sivananda writes, “Bhakti softens the heart and removes jealousy, hatred, lust, anger, egoism, pride, and arrogance. It infuses joy, divine ecstasy, bliss, peace, and knowledge. All cares, worries and anxieties, fears, mental torments, and tribulations entirely vanish. The devotee is freed from the Samsaric wheel of births and deaths. He attains the immortal abode of everlasting peace, bliss, and knowledge.”

On a physical level, the devotional practices in Bhakti Yoga can help reduce stress, anxiety, and promote overall well-being. The rhythmic chanting and singing in Bhakti Yoga can have a calming effect on the nervous system and promote a sense of inner peace.

On a spiritual level, Bhakti Yoga helps to purify the mind and heart and cultivate qualities such as love, compassion, and humility. The practice offers a profound sense of connection and union with the divine, allowing practitioners to experience a deep sense of joy, bliss, and fulfillment. It helps to dissolve the ego and foster a sense of oneness with the divine, leading to a heightened spiritual awakening and a deeper understanding of one’s true self.

Bhakti Yoga provides a path for emotional healing and transformation. By directing one’s emotions and desires towards the divine, practitioners learn to detach from the material world and ego mind to find solace in the unconditional love of the divine. This process helps individuals overcome negative emotions, such as anger, jealousy, and greed, and replaces them with positive qualities, such as forgiveness, gratitude, and contentment.

On a mental level, Bhakti Yoga helps individuals navigate the challenges of life with grace and resilience. Through the devotion to the divine, practitioners develop a deep trust in a higher power, knowing that they are not alone and that the divine is always guiding and supporting them. This belief system provides a sense of inner strength and peace, enabling individuals to face difficulties with courage and equanimity.

Bhakti yoga in daily life

Integrating the principles of Bhakti into everyday activities can transform our mundane routines into mindful and sacred rituals. One of the simplest ways to practice Bhakti Yoga in our daily lives is by offering our actions to a higher power. Whether it is preparing a meal for our loved ones, completing a project at work, or even doing household chores, we can infuse these actions with love and devotion. When we shift our mindset and see these tasks as opportunities to serve and express our gratitude, even the most mundane activities become conscious, sacred, and fulfilling.

We can practice Bhakti Yoga by looking for beauty and divinity in the simplest of things—a blooming flower, a gentle breeze, a kind word from a stranger. By cultivating a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for these small moments, we open our hearts to the divine presence that permeates every aspect of our existence.

Another powerful aspect of Bhakti Yoga is the practice of chanting or singing devotional songs. The vibrations created by these sacred sounds can purify our hearts and bring us closer to the divine. By setting aside a few minutes each day for chanting, we can create a space of peace and tranquility within ourselves. The simple act of surrendering our voice and emotions to the divine creates a deep sense of connection and unity with something greater than ourselves.

Final thoughts

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it is easy to get caught up in the never-ending cycle of work, responsibilities, and stress. But Bhakti Yoga teaches us that true fulfillment lies in connecting with something greater than ourselves, in cultivating a deep and unwavering devotion towards the divine.

In the depths of our hearts, there is a yearning to be in union with the divine. This intense longing is the fuel that propels us on the path of Bhakti Yoga. It is a flame that burns brightly, guiding us towards a life filled with love, compassion, bliss, unity, and selflessness. This transformative journey beckons one to discover the immense power of an open, loving heart.

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14 responses to “Bhakti Yoga: the Yoga of Devotion”

  1. Amarvir Singh Avatar
    Amarvir Singh

    Bhakti yoga is the easy path to God. If this path is followed with faith and devotion then one can evolve faster on the sptritual path. If one prays for worldly pleasures, then one will gain these pleasures only and not God. Therefore bhakti has to be without worldly desires and then one attains God or divine bliss

    1. Renee Avatar

      I quoted your beautiful comment in my paper, thank you.

  2. Kubara Dasa Avatar
    Kubara Dasa

    Bhakti aims for the love of God and a state of bliss is just a side effect. Haribol!

  3. VishnuDasa Avatar

    Through bhakti, one can see krishna before them as they see the material world. One must learn to trust Narayana and surrender his doubts unto him. When one does so, they are alike in pleasure and sorrow, always aware that Narayana is on his way. And one day, hearing the weeping heart of the restless devotee, the lord himself appears. And in his flawless stride, the devotee is absorbed into his limitless nature, both the lord and servant bound by each other’s love. he who questions, doubts, reviles, hates, neglects and tortures the devotee, his words will become dust beneath the feet of Giridhar Gopal. But he who praises, cares for, admires, adores, cherishes, and truly loves Narayana, he will be readily and immediately accepted by his lord.

  4. Amit Kaushik Avatar
    Amit Kaushik

    Knowledge and wiseness only give an awareness of the cosmic principle. Bhakti Yoga lets one see the independent manifested in all experience.

  5. Edward Hanania Avatar
    Edward Hanania

    Thanks, always nice to hear anything on “performance of action” as yet another way to connect to God

  6. yogiinmissouri Avatar

    I am a new yogi and a Christian. Please don’t obliterate me for asking this but I am very careful about playing with spirits. A lot people on here have said that this type of yoga aligns with you with God but what God are you worshipping? Again, I am NOT being critical. I just want to know if this is a leg of yoga with which I should participate as my faith is everything to me. I’m not really comfortable with this. Thoughts?

    1. Roland Roman Avatar
      Roland Roman


      Yoga is not about “playing with spirits”; it’s a methodology for developing your awareness. It does not indulge in the subject of “God” like religion, such as Christianity, would normally do. So, it is inaccurate to think that a deity is involved, let alone worship. It is simply a means of helping you cultivate oneness.

      You already are showing signs of dualistic thinking, which is contrary to that oneness which yoga would help you develop. It will be difficult for you to reap the benefits of yoga for as long as you cling onto your beliefs. I know that it is challenging, I grew up in the Catholic denomination. When you are instilled ideas of heaven and hell at an early age, you are setup to live in fear, which is not conducive to truthful living. Virtue comes from within; it can’t be instilled in you. But, it is up to you to make that courageous leap into learning about something new. People naturally fear what they do not know. Still, you wouldn’t have come here unless something “in your gut” led you to, which is a sign that you are on the right path but doubt still has its hold over you.

      Be gradual in your approach. I wouldn’t advise you to go “cold turkey” on your faith nor would I advise as to which method of yoga is suitable (as that is for you to discern), but slowly open yourself to this. Rely less on your “faith,” which is not really faith, but nothing more than a crutch to keep you in complacency, and learn to execute true faith, something which Christianity love to preach about, on delving into the unknown.

  7. Minnie Avatar

    The god is upon you.
    It’s a process of personal god.
    The one you feel a connection or any sort of love towards.
    Devotion and love are the key parts of this path.

  8. Padmani Kumari Avatar
    Padmani Kumari

    Wonderful..Now i understand the conditions or rules which we follow for silence program..thanks a lot

  9. Adam Bernstein Avatar
    Adam Bernstein

    yogiinmissouri, God is God. There is only one God. One sage named Parasara defined God (“Bhagavan”) as the possessor of all six opulences in full. The six opulences are: wealth, strength, knowledge, fame, beauty and renunciation. You can find someone who is very wealthy, but someone else will be wealthier still. However, God is fully wealthy. No one can be wealthier than God, who is the source of everything and who in one sense is everything, and yet He remains a unique person.

    If you properly understand this definition of God, you will see that the God of the Christians and the God of the Yogis is the same. In Bhagavad-gita (“Song of God”), Krishna reveals that He is that same God. By His own sweet will (“atma mayaya”), He appears again and again in His various transcendental forms to reestablish dharma (morality) and to annihilate the atheistic demons. Sometimes He sends His empowered representatives, and sometimes He appears Himself. He appears as Rama, Narayana, Narasimha, and Krishna at various times.

    Other “Devas” like Laksmi or Siva or Brahma, Indra, Varuna and so on are not actually Bhagavan, but are His agents, energies or representatives who perform specific functions in connection with the creation, maintenance and destruction of the material world. As explained in Bhagavad-gita, all these partial representatives of God are in one sense Krishna, because they are emanations or extensions of His power. Yet they are never independent from or equal to Him, because He remains the unique source. Therefore in Bhagavad-gita Krishna says that those who worship other gods actually worship only Him, but if they do not completely know His ontological reality (tattva) they cannot approach Him fully. They fall down. Those who worship Devas go to Devas (in their next life); those who worship ancestors go to dwell with the ancestors,; those who worship powerful spirits or ghosts go to dwell among such beings, but only those who worship the Supreme God (whom Krishna is declaring Himself to be) will go to Him.

    So you can be a Christian and a devotional, bhakti yogi at the same time. If you accept Christ as Supreme Lord, and understand Him as such, that understanding is not incorrect.

    However, many Christians become very disturbed about God being worshiped in any other form such as Krishna or Narayana or Vamana or Kurma. They are not familiar with the Puranas such as Srimad Bhagavatam and the amazing theistic philosophy they expound. They take “only begotten son” to mean that Jesus is the only personal form of God with whom one can have a relationship, and “no man cometh to the Father but by Me” to be practically condemning all other forms of worship and devotion. When my wife was a child in Catholic school, she was trained it was a sin even to attend a Lutheran service!

    But the attitude of the genuine bhakti yogis is, whatever practices awaken genuine love of the One Supreme God should be accepted as bona fide, regardless of church or specific doctrine.

    Christians (and Jews and Muslims) may have other traditions based on Mosaic law or Pauline teachings that make them recoil from worship of images (vigrahas) or that reject the ideas of reincarnation and karma. That is okay. They can still practice Bhakti yoga in their own way. The great exponent of Bhakti Yogi in 15th-16th c. India known as Sri Krishna Caitanya encouraged everyone to practice by chanting whatever holy names of God they knew, such as Allah or Jehova or Christ or Elohim or Buddha. God has invested His holy names with great power, and they should be revered and repeated in heartfelt, prayerful mood, and this is a powerful form of yoga that helps one meditate on and become passionate about serving God.

  10. Beatrice Devereauy Avatar
    Beatrice Devereauy

    I’m so inspired by Bhakti yoga and the power of devotion. I’m fascinated by the way it can help open up my heart. I’m looking forward to trying it out

  11. Benjamin Weber Avatar
    Benjamin Weber

    As a musician, I’ve always believed that music has the power to connect us to something greater than ourselves. Learning about how Bhakti yoga incorporates music and chanting as a form of devotion is truly inspiring.

  12. Mariana Gomez Avatar
    Mariana Gomez

    Singing devotional songs in a call-and-response group format sounds like so much fun!

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Timothy Burgin Avatar
About the author
Timothy Burgin is a Kripalu & Pranakriya trained yoga instructor living and teaching in Asheville, NC. Timothy has studied and taught many styles of yoga and has completed a 500-hour Advanced Pranakriya Yoga training. Timothy has been serving as the Executive Director of since 2000. He has authored two yoga books and has written over 500 articles on the practice and philosophy of yoga. Timothy is also the creator of Japa Mala Beads and has been designing and importing mala beads since 2004.
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