The Bhavas are four spiritual attitudes to cultivate as a student of yoga, or really as a student of anything! The Bhavas are:
- Duty (Dharma)
- Knowledge (Jnana)
- Detachment (Vairaigya)
- Self-Reliance (Aiswarya)
Duty, or Dharma, is an important concept in the Yoga Sutras as well as in the Bhagavad Gita. The idea here is to know your duty, understand what you have to do, and then perform that duty with a neutral attitude, without regard to whether you like or dislike the task. Some examples are going to yoga class regularly even when you don’t feel like it, studying and doing your homework for school, making phone calls at the office, or taking out the trash. Regardless of whether you enjoy taking out the trash, pickup is on Tuesday morning, so it’s your duty to take it out on Monday night with no complaining! To cultivate your sense of duty, try doing meditative yoga asanas, like a series of sun salutations or half-salutes.
Knowledge, or Jnana, goes hand in hand with duty. We should strive to know ourselves at every level: body, thoughts, speech, and emotions. Knowing yourself will help you to better know and understand your duty as well. To cultivate self-knowledge, work on concentration exercises (like, for example, counting meditation), and yoga asanas that require concentration, like balance poses. Pranayama breathing exercises (like these) are also helpful here – pranayama helps you learn your breathing patterns and how to calm your emotions using your breath.
Detachment, or Vairaigya, means living in the world without being of the world. We work not to get caught up in the trivial details of the world around, instead keeping a sense of our true Self, which remains unchanging. This also feeds back into duty – we do the right thing because it’s right, and with detachment from the results, without thought of reward. Overall, cultivating detachment in our lives usually means cultivating an attitude of humility and surrender. Yoga asanas that can help with this include forward bends and twists. These postures encourage us to surrender and relax into the pose: if you’re tensing your muscles and pushing hard, it’s more difficult to succeed with forward bends and twists, but if you let go and surrender to the pose without trying to push, you’ll often find that you can bend just a little bit farther, twist just a little bit deeper.
Self-Reliance, or Aiswarya, can also be referred to as willpower or self-confidence. It’s that deep inner sense that you can do what you need to do. Self-reliance comes from knowing yourself well and having a attitude of humility. Maybe we could also call it integrity! Backbends are yoga asanas that will help with this bhava. Backbends can be scary because you’re dropping your head backwards, unable to see anything coming toward you, so doing backbends develops confidence and strength. Backbends also work to open up the chest, heart, and shoulders, which helps posture – if you’re standing with chest open, shoulders back, you’ll project a much more positive, confident attitude than you would by hunching over!
For me, the bhavas are interesting and helpful to keep in mind as I follow the path of karma yoga, which requires following my dharma with a sense of service and without regard for reward. But the bhavas are useful for any yogic path, or for people following a different path entirely: the characteristics described by the bhavas are useful to cultivate no matter what your faith, religion, or spiritual path!