Yoga students often stay away from practicing devotion, commonly termed bhakti and known as īśvara-praṇidhāna in the Yoga Sutra, because of their doubts about that path. For instance, they suspect that it may interfere with their religious beliefs, or that it is a religious belief, and they don’t want one or the other.
Devotion is a loving relationship to something greater than us. It is a personal choice on the path of yoga. The Yoga Sutra presents it as an option, not a compulsion. But devotion or īśvara-praṇidhāna is a powerful practice. Therefore, no serious yoga student should reject it without understanding it. The presentation of Isvara, the Divine, and our relationship to that, has unique features in the yoga-darśana, the ancient system of yoga.
Bhakti or devotion calls for an internal loving relationship to Divine qualities. That relationship needs to be doable, conceivable for us. We all have loving connections with people in our lives, such as our mother, father, child, friend, or teacher. Connecting to the Divine is similar in many ways. But it is a unique connection, the only relationship that doesn’t change. It is always within us as a support.
The Yoga Sutra does not specify a form or deity. You can choose a form or deity that you wish to connect with, or it could be formless and transcendental. The key is your mind connecting to that Divinity with the right bhava, the feeling, of devotion.
Developing loving connection to the Divine presence within us is one of the most positive and powerful practices of yoga. All yoga students should give this wonderful path due consideration, and then make their own, personal choice!