Yoga, an ancient spiritual, mental, and physical discipline originating from India, has taken the world by storm over the past few decades. With countless styles and practices available, yoga is undeniably a diverse and expansive discipline. However, for many, the term ‘yoga’ conjures images of flexible postures, breath control, and meditation, often overlooking its spiritual essence and its varied paths. Among these paths is Bhakti Yoga, a unique and profound approach. So, what sets general yoga apart from Bhakti Yoga? Let’s dive in.

1. The meaning of yoga

To start, it’s crucial to understand the broader meaning of yoga. The term ‘yoga’ derives from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which means to ‘yoke’ or ‘unite’. At its core, yoga aims to unify the individual soul with the universal consciousness or the divine. While this union can be achieved through various methods, the common Western perception of yoga focuses mainly on the physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana).

2. The paths of yoga

Yoga is a multifaceted discipline with different paths, each offering a distinct route to the same goal: spiritual realisation. Some of the major paths include:

  • Karma Yoga: The yoga of selfless action.
  • Jnana Yoga: The yoga of knowledge and wisdom.
  • Raja Yoga: The royal path focusing on meditation and self-discipline.
  • Bhakti Yoga: The yoga of devotion and love.

3. Bhakti yoga in-depth

Bhakti Yoga stands out as it emphasises devotion, love, and surrender to the divine. The essence of Bhakti is the emotional connection and love for a personal deity or a divine form. Practitioners use chanting, singing, and rituals as tools to cultivate this devotional energy and to connect with the divine.

The distinct features of Bhakti yoga:

  • Emotional Connection: While all yoga paths aim for a union with the divine, Bhakti is unique in its intense emotional bond. Bhakti yogis pour their heart and soul into their devotion, often expressing it through chants, hymns, and dances.
  • Surrender: Bhakti Yoga is about surrendering one’s ego and personal desires, entrusting everything to the divine. This surrender is not about giving up but about recognising a higher power and aligning oneself with it.
  • Accessible to All: One doesn’t need to be physically flexible or intellectually profound to practise Bhakti Yoga. It’s accessible to everyone, irrespective of their background or capabilities.

4. The Intersection of Yoga and Bhakti Yoga

While it might seem like yoga and Bhakti Yoga are different entities, they are intrinsically connected. Many people integrate elements of Bhakti into their regular yoga practice. For instance, chanting ‘Om’ or singing devotional songs at the beginning or end of a yoga class can be seen as a form of Bhakti.

The difference between Yoga and Bhakti Yoga – A summary

While the physical postures and techniques of yoga are beneficial for mental and physical well-being, Bhakti Yoga offers a deeper, emotional journey of love and surrender. Both paths, though different in approach, lead to the same ultimate goal: a union with the divine. Whether you’re drawn to the physical practice or the devotional path, yoga in all its forms offers a holistic journey of self-discovery and spiritual growth.