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Jivamukti Focus of the Month: September 2013: Asana and Bhakti-What does love have to do with it?

sarva-bhutastham atmanam sarva-bhutani ca-atmani iksate yogayukta-atma sarvatra sama-darsanah Through the practice of yoga, the yogi sees the Divine Self in all beings and things. Bhagavad Gita VI.29

I think when you look at the Yoga Sutra deeply enough you discover that Patanjali’s yoga is bhakti yoga. Patanjali suggests that the most direct way to attain God-realization is to surrender your self, body, breath, heart, mind and soul to God. Sutra 23 of the first chapter states, Isvara pranidhanad va, which means, “by giving your life and identity to God you attain the identity of God.” Surrendering to God is bhakti, the path of devotion. Patanjali gives this directive as the most direct means to yoga—to samadhi, to the attainment of eternal happiness. We could refer to it as the one-step path. When you can unabashedly surrender all to God, your small, conditioned self with all of its negative emotions, frustrations, sadnesses and disappointments is left behind, and you become an instrument for God’s will. This is expressed in the prayer, “Make me an instrument for Thy will; not mine but Thine be done; free me from anger jealousy and fear; fill my heart with joy and compassion.” The nature of God is unconditional Love.

So why is it so difficult for us to surrender to this eternal love? Avidya is the cause of our reluctance. Avidya means ignorance of who we really are. Instead of remembering our true nature as eternal joy, we instead insist on a mistaken identity, one that revolves around our body, emotions and minds, as well as the unresolved issues with others, frustrated ambitions, complaints and blame that are housed in our mortal bodies. Our bodies are the storehouses for our unresolved karmas—all of our unfinished business with others — all of our small self concerns make up our individual self or jiva, whereas our true Self, the atman is eternal, bliss-filled — free from all suffering.

All great beings have eventually realized that only through surrendering to love is anything of real and lasting importance attained. The inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., come to mind: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is just too big of a burden to bear.” It is difficult to have love for God when you are filled with hate, anger, disappointment and blame towards others. Our negative karmas are intertwined with our relationships. For example, we get angry with someone and it is our anger that disallows our experience of happiness, joy or love. If we can’t resolve our relationships with others in the material world we have no chance of happiness and certainly no chance of relating to God. But how do we let go of hate and all the other negative emotions that afflict our souls so that we can surrender to love, to God?

Someone recently asked me if asana practice could be a bhakti practice. Asana practice must be a bhakti practice; it must be done with love and devotion to God if the ultimate aim is to be reached. The ultimate purpose of asana practice is to purify the body, to purify one’s negative karmas so that you can open up to Love, which is God. You cannot love God and hate God’s creation. When we can love all beings and things, the veil of ignorance will be lifted and we will be able to see clearly the Truth—the omnipresence of God. When we can let go of negativity, we can let God love us.

Each asana is connected to a chakra and to specific karmic relationships. Asana practice can be a magical practice that can shift one’s perception of self and other. By practicing asanas you can resolve the negative karmas involved in your relationships. Asanas are a very exacting science in this respect: standing asanas provide us with opportunities to purify our body by resolving our issues with our parents, home and money; forward bending with romantic, sexual and creative partners; twists with those we have hurt; backbends with those we feel have hurt us; the shoulderstand series with your relationship to yourself; child’s seat with your teachers; and headstand provides you with access to the sahasrara chakra and your relationship to God. If you practice asana to purify your body of the negative emotions associated with your relationships and release your soul of the burden of ignorance, the gateway to true love and happiness will be available to you. As you practice asana remember to think of those whom you have unresolved issues with and send them love. Through regular practice this love will become more and more sincere. Love is the only power strong enough to resolve negative emotions. It is only through the act of love that we come to the realization of Love—the goal of bhakti yoga. Practice asana so that you will be able to love God more. There is no greater goal to strive for in this lifetime.

—Sharon Gannon

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