What is Bhavana?
Welcome to my very first blog! It's taken a while to write it but first I'd like to acknowledge my thanks to my yoga peer, Michael Wegerer for inspiring me to give it a go and his tremendous support.
I learnt that everyone has the potential to write and to trust the words from personal experience. This blog is about my experience with Bhāvana in my Yoga teaching, study and practice.
So, what is Bhāvana? The word “bhāva” means "to become” and “ana” means “instrument of”, defining Bhāvana as an “instrument of becoming” something. In other words, to manifest or cultivate something that is helpful.
A Bhāvana can be an image, idea, visualization, feeling, quality or emotion which enables you to inhabit a posture or prāṇāyāma technique in a new way. For example, an image of the morning sun in your mind as you raise your arms up on the inhale, feeling fresh like a new day, is a bhāvana. Somehow the image of the morning sun manifests a quality of something new, light and fresh with each breath and movement. However, it does require some 'buying in' to this idea - a mental and emotional engagement into the process in a direct way and the imagination to add the feeling a new day brings. Working in this way, combining reality with something imaginary enhances the experience of a posture from the inside in a completely different way to doing your practice without bhāvana.
In prāṇāyāma (regulated breathing), Pratiloma Ujjayi, in my experience lends itself very well to create a bhāvana of "space or freedom" in the breath, compared to the more commonly used balancing breathing practice, Nadi Sodhana. My experience of Pratiloma and that of my students' was an interesting reflection for me. By the end of the programme, students felt, in their words, "calmer, restored, relaxed, and/ or meditative” – but no mention of feeling "space". This was a surprise to me at first. As a teacher, I have to remind myself that I am in a different place and experience will be different each time students come to class. The important thing is that the bhāvana was useful in deepening experience of the breath, and I am happy with that.
I mention earlier that bhāvana can be a visualization. Allowing students to visualize the posture before performing it develops memory and concentration. There is scope for visualization to benefit the student in other ways too. For better sleep, an evening practice could be to visualise the setting sun while inhaling and relax while exhaling. Or, for gaining confidence, a morning practice may be visualise the life force coming into the body on the inhale, and feel support with the ground while exhaling. Working in this way, bhāvana/ visualization is very accessible and safe to use with the help of a teacher.
Creative visualization or mental rehearsal, however, refers to the practice of cultivating positive results in your life by using your imagination to create mental pictures of specific outcomes. It is imagining exactly what you want to achieve, and then mentally rehearsing what you need to do to achieve that goal. It is a powerful mind exercise frequently used by athletes to increase their performance and is a "game changer" in a plethora of personal development books.
One morning as I sat with mental images of my personal goals, I had an “aha" moment that I was actually practicing bhāvana – what I need to do to become the person I need to be, to create the quality of life that I want.
I will say that some days the images are clear and some days they are not. Like Desikachar, defining bhāvana as a positive attitude and an emotional commitment, keeps my practice clear; and it enables me to dream, THINK BIG, discover new things about my abilities, and achieve more of my true potential.
I invite you to explore bhāvana to enrich your practice and self-development.
In Search Of Mind by T.K.V Desikachar
The Viniyoga of Yoga by T.K.V Deiskachar, Kaustub Desikachar and Frans Moor