The residents of the Institute recently picked Karma Yoga, selfless service, as the teaching to practice during the month of April. Selfless service can conjure many images but may not be very clear to us, so I wanted to explore the roots of this form of Yoga practice.
Karma means action and reaction. Thus, one way to understand Karma Yoga is action that is done with body, mind and spirit in a harmonious union. Ask yourself, ” What would my actions look like if the spiritual aspect of my being were equally active with the body and mind?”
Imagine actions rooted in or guided by the qualities we associate with the spiritual Self – peace, compassion, joy, and a sense of oneness with all of life. Masters of all spiritual traditions teach us that we are all one, so we can practice allowing our behavior to be guided by a concern for the well-being of everyone, not just for ourselves.
Karma Yoga is also defined as perfection in action. This means to me that it is done with a focused mind, a caring heart and no concern for personal gain.
Karma Yoga deepens in a few ways. First of all, it grows as we grow less dependent on the results of our efforts, which frees us from the tension and expectation that can dominate our experience. Karma Yoga also deepens when we live in an environment that supports spiritual values—that reaffirms to us that happiness is not something to be acquired or achieved.
Perhaps the most powerful way this practice develops is from our own experience—the joy we derive from giving ourselves whole-heartedly in service to someone or some higher purpose. Many people who work in service of others find tremendous fulfillment in the act of serving, giving, or even praying for others.
Personally, I can think of nothing more enjoyable or gratifying than teaching Yoga, and helping others experience a sense of their own true nature. Many Yoga teachers I know tell me that they love to teach because of how much it serves them to be fully present in such a loving way.
While we may not always be able to practice the headstand or self-inquiry meditation, there are endless opportunities to do things with mindfulness and care. Sri Swami Satchidananda taught us that everything we do can be Karma Yoga–even our eating and sleeping–if we do it with the attitude of keeping ourselves in good condition to be useful in the world.
We can all easily incorporate this Yoga into our lives simply by approaching our daily activities with this attitude of service. As our hearts and minds become naturally inclined to act as instruments of a Divine Will, we will find such profound happiness that we will look for opportunities instead of feeling burdened by them.