• TRADITION: Hinduism
  • NEED: Health, Stress Relief and Relaxation, Relationships, Positive Attitude, Spiritual Development
  • LEVEL: Beginner

Bhakti is one of the four main paths of Yoga. Through this practice, the love for God that lies dormant within us begins to awaken. Bhakti teaches how to think with the heart instead of the head.

What’s behind the name of this meditation practice?
The Sanskrit word bhakti comes from the root bhaj, which means “to adore and worship God.” Bhakti Yoga is the union with God through love and devotion.
What’s the concept?
Bhakti, in its most general form, is the intense reverence of God in the hearts of people from all religious backgrounds, says Radhanath Swami, one of the West’s most prominent Bhakti yogis. The soul’s dormant love for its creator is the very essence of our being, and Bhakti Yoga helps us to awaken it. Bhakti Yoga harnesses the intensity of emotion to elevate consciousness. It is the path of pure, ecstatic love through a personal relationship with God. Meditating in the Bhakti Yoga tradition involves directing our feelings toward a particular aspect or form of God. For Bhakti yogis, it’s Krishna, worshipped by millions of Hindus as the Supreme Being. With this practice, we become so engrossed in love that we become love—the natural condition of our souls.
How did this meditation practice originate?
The Bhakti movement, a period of Indian spirituality that began in seventh century in Southern India, emerged from the writings of mystics who illuminated the devotional essence of the Vedas, a vast collection Sanskrit writings that were then accessible only to the privileged caste. These mystics expressed their longing for God through songs and poetry and introduced a new aspect of spirituality that engaged the masses. Even a member of the lowliest caste could access God through devotion. This revolutionary concept rapidly spread through India, and centuries later, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought it to the West. Americans know Bhakti Yoga devotees as Hare Krishnas.
What’s unique about this meditation?
No stiff postures or silent contemplation here: Bhakti Yoga meditation is full of life and movement, euphoria, tears, and outbursts. It is a celebration of emotion and a practice that makes us think of God in all His many roles, including friend and confidante. Kirtan (devotional singing) plays a prominent role in this practice.
What are its chief benefits?
Bhakti Yoga meditation is a practice in opening the heart, which leads to greater love for ourselves and others. Swami Sivananda, one of the greatest yoga masters of the twentieth century, explains: “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 vanishLove for God is as sweet as nectarby tasting, one becomes immortal.”
Is there evidence of its effectiveness?
Bhakti Yoga and the positive psychology movement share core values—cultivating gratitude, altruism, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, happiness, and mindfulness—and studies show that these qualities lead to greater social and emotional intelligence. Kirtan singing and mantra repetition stimulates acupressure points on the roof of the mouth, producing a biochemical transformation in the brain. Religious devotion itself holds many medical benefits: a 1999 study proved that saying a few prayers actively strengthens the immune system, and a 1998 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that depressed patients with a strong “intrinsic faith” recovered 70 percent faster than other patients.
Are there any side effects or risks?
Are there any controversies?
Bhakti Yoga isn’t tied to one organization, but The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is the most high-profile group in the U.S. Founded in 1966 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, it is known colloquially as the Hare Krishna movement. The organization faced serious troubles in the late seventies, after Prabhupada’s passing. Leadership skirmishes and schisms led to internal turmoil, followed by an array of successful court cases brought against the organization by former devotees for transgressions ranging from racketeering to brainwashing and child abuse. The latter, a $400 million lawsuit, led to many ISKCON temples declaring bankruptcy in 2002. While cult allegations soared in the seventies, and eighties, experts were quick to point out that the Hare Krishnas’ lifestyle and dress, while alien to Westerners, were typical of Indian religious groups.
How can it be learned?
Bhakti Yoga is a tradition that benefits greatly from practicing within a community; joy is contagious, and nothing matches the intensity of a good kirtan to conjure devotional emotions. Our relationship with God, however, is personal, so it’s perfectly natural to practice this meditation on your own.
Are there any charges for learning?
Bhakti Yoga centers host frequent kirtans and events. Many are donation-based. At the Bhakti Center in New York, weekly kirtans, community events, and talks are free, giving guests a chance to mingle with resident Bhakti yogis and learn more about the tradition.
How is this meditation practiced?
There are many aspects to progressing on the Bhakti Yoga path that can be learned by delving deeper into the tradition as a whole. To meditate in the Bhakti Yoga tradition, however, we can focus on several key aspects.

The first step is to focus all your attention on a single form and name of God, traditionally Krishna. A relationship is built by experiencing God with all the senses and relating to Him personally. Think with your heart instead of your mind: What does God look like to you? How does He feel? Keep that picture close in your heart as you chant or sing a mantra of His name: Hare Krishna hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna hare hare, hare Rama hare Rama, Rama Rama hare hare. Remember that God is the truest of friends and loves you more than anything. Our step-by-step guided meditation is available on this page.
Can anyone practice this meditation?
Bhakti Yoga meditation can be practiced by anyone who wants a closer relationship with God—no matter what their faith.
Who are the well-known practitioners?
The best-known teachers and authors in this field include:

Radhanath Swami
Shree Maa
Mata Amritanandamayi
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Krishna Das
Durga Das
Is any equipment or material required for practice?
Kirtan CDs or any other forms of devotional music are helpful, but not essential. Bhakti yogis meditate in front of an altar with pictures or figures of Krishna. Design an altar that feels sacred to you with the spiritual deity of your choice. Having a dedicated space for your practice is important, even if it’s just a small corner of your bedroom or den.
Bhakti Yoga Meditation
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