[One of my dearest friends is Thomas Amelio/Shivananda who has been a friend and teacher of mine since I was at Kripalu Center. A life long seeker his wisdom arises from deep practice.]
Devotion was a word, and a quality, very much present in my life during my ashram years; in addition to hatha yoga, pranayama, “sattvic” (pure) diet, and other yogic practices, some form of “bhakti yoga,” or devotion, was part of my daily life. This usually included chanting of scripture, kirtan, dance, ritual, and so on. Devotion adds a kind of a heightened flavor to life, a warmth in the heart that cannot be quite replaced by anything else.
Once I moved to NYC, however, I began to focus on other aspects of myself, and the word “devotion” fell out of my daily awareness. Fifteen years later, I see how much an attitude of devotion can sweeten the experience of life, soften rough edges, and enrich our meditation practice.
Devotion does not have to be “to” something, and does not require a traditional religious belief. Of course in the Vedic traditions there are many practices—mantra, puja, focusing on a yantra (geometrical symbol of deity), chanting, dance, scripture, etc– designed to awaken a sense of love for the greater “All” that is formless and is our true ground of Being. Similar practices can be found in most religious traditions.
In our private experience of meditation we can add any simple element, tailored to our personality, that awakens our sense of love and compassion.
Simply placing our hands in Anjali Mudra (prayer position over the center of the chest) and smiling slightly, can add a devotional feeling to any meditation practice. Daily sending love, kindness, and healing to the world are also a wonderful ways to awaken feelings of devotion.
You can also think of anyone you love; one who inspires you (living or dead); a beloved pet: etc., and notice what arises in the body. Then meditate on that feeling until it expands, and fills you, forgetting the original object that started you off. Candles, music, scent—anything that elevates the senses–and then lifts you beyond them—is great.
Experiment and explore! *