In the West, most people think Yoga is the art of pretzel poses. You pay a lot of money for props, mats, and clothing, then go to a studio full of Instagram models to find out just how inflexible you are.
The asanas (or postures) are just one aspect of Yoga. In fact, many believe that Patanjali was talking about finding a comfortable seat for long meditations—not moving about like a gymnast.
Just as there are many different styles of asana to practice these days (Jivamukti, Vinyasa, Yin . . . just to name a few), there are also many different types of Yoga in the broader, philosophical sense: Bhakti, Karma, Jnana, and Raja.
Bhakti Yoga is Yoga of the Heart. But it is more than that. It is offering everything you do, say, and feel up to something larger than yourself, whether that is your preferred definition of the divine or simply the Greater Good.
Yoga is first and foremost an energetic practice. The physical practice is meant to keep the prana, or life force, moving through the body. When the prana gets stuck, energetic and physical inflexibility occur. As holding patterns in the body impede prana, practicing asanas provides the muscular releases needed to allow the energy to once again flow.
Yoga gets emotions and energy flowing, whether you want it to or not. Even if you only go to Goat Yoga once a week and you spend half the class petting the animals, it can get to you. Which is why you so often see regulars who suddenly disappear from class with no warning.
Once the Yoga starts working, it gets hard. Not pretzel-pose hard; “oh my god, everything I thought was true is just this story I told myself so I wouldn’t huddle in the corner crying” hard. And then you find yourself huddling in the corner, crying.
In the West, the idea that our physical and emotional selves are intimately connected is still new. As a result, we are often ill-equipped to deal with the releases that result from Yoga. But when we open our hearts—as Bhakti Yoga teaches—the world becomes a much smaller, more intimate place. As we release old holding patterns that no longer serve us, we make room for compassion—for ourselves, for others. We are able to hold space for others, and in doing so, serve.
So, the next time you take a Yoga class and you find yourself fighting tears, don’t. Let them come. And don’t give up.
Because it is working.