Posted by on Aug 24, 2012 in Blog | Comments Off on Bhakti


When I first started taking yoga classes about 12 years ago, I had no idea what to expect other than I had heard it was good for flexibility and had hippy connotations.  In that first class, the instructor announced that we would be starting and ending our classes with a collective chanting of OM.  Uh, what?  My uber-cynical, hyper-secular grad student self cringed at such a frank encounter with spirtuality.  In public?  Out loud?  Is it religious?  I closed my eyes and said nothing as the sound vibrated around me.  To be honest, I don’t think I uttered a single tone the entire time I was practicing Ashtanga.  I was there for the beef- no cheese, please.

From where I’m now sitting, if I attend a class that is completely devoid of any sort of spiritual or philosophical dimension, I feel short changed.  I’m not expecting nor looking for a preacher and I definitely don’t want to be bombarded with information or proselytizing while I’m practicing.  But I have come to look forward to some meditation, maybe some chanting, a few reminders of the myths and magic that informs the postural sequences, and definitely a big, resonant OM.

Bhakti Yoga refers to the devotional branch of yoga.  This practice involves the reciting of mantra, kirtan (devotional chanting), or prostrations in honor of the divine.  To say that I felt isolated from and unfamiliar with this sort of yoga would have been an understatement.  I had spent the years that spanned my late teens to well into my 20s distancing myself from anything and everything remotely spiritual.  I felt I had been burned by the misogyny, patriarchy, hypocrisy and homophobia of the Church in which I was raised and had generalized my discontent with the system to all things mystical.  I was done.  Until I wasn’t.

While I still don’t feel especially aligned with anything specifically religious, I’ve at least created some sort of curiosity within myself that has also made space for possibilities.  I enjoy meditation for the calm it creates.  There is something stirred when participating in kirtan.  And when things were incredibly hard for a time in my life, I took a stab in the dark and found a mantra that resonated with me (how can invoking a god for the removal of all obstacles and hinderances in your life be wrong?) and recited it silently with a mala for months.  Om vighna nashanaya namah.  And then news of my son.

I can feel it when I stand at the head of the room, when I’m welcome to incorporate devotional prostrations, where I can use mantra, when meditation can be taken somewhere a bit more spiritual.  But when I feel the energy of non-acceptance, the signals I was personally sending out for years, is where I need to consider a sensitive plan of action.  I was never looking for this… for this path, for this new mind space, for an openness to the divine (whatever that means).  But over the years my sharp edges have been worn down by the warm sands of resonant words offered by sage teachers.  I don’t pretend to have any answers and there is plenty of room for nonbelievers of all kinds.  And maybe I’m still one of them.  I’m not sure, really. But I feel okay with this liminal space of uncertainty, or of possibility.  My formerly closed door has creaked open and a draft of something akin to being okay with some mystery in life has tumbled in.

What does devotion mean to you?

All content by Lisa Veronese. Please do not publish or copy my material without my consent.