Karma Yoga is the premise of the Bhagavad Gita: action without thought or need of reward. Many yogis today are finding that their practice of Yoga is being pulled off the mat and into the world, and for most, it’s manifesting as selfless service to others. Bringing yoga to those who need it most is a dream for most of us who love the practice, and now many are putting that Karma Yoga dream into action.
In Boston, teacher Sue Jones has started YogaHope, which brings yoga to homeless shelters, substance abuse treatment programs, and domestic violence safe houses. The non-profit organization, Karma Krew raised over $50,000 in December to support the BIJA project, a program designed to bring an on-going and long-term yoga-based/ life-skills curriculum to abused and neglected children living in shelters. And yoga teacher Paige Elenson has created the Africa Yoga Project which shares movement and healing arts to encourage mental and physical well being in Africa. These are only a few of the amazing organizations using Yoga as outreach.
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When viewed through the lens of a life practice, asana is only a fraction of what yoga provides. As we bring ourselves to our mats everyday, we begin to uncover something that is deeper than the physical postures. Suddenly, and often without conscious intent, we feel compelled to do more in the world. One of the greatest beauties of yoga is that in the most unassuming ways, it begins to peel away the layers of separation that cover our heart to unearth our compassionate center. Our view of the world begins to shift as our practice and our curiosity deepen, and we find that we are drawn toward connection with others in order to develop a more profound understanding of ourselves.
The tendency to serve is a natural evolution of the yoga practice. The reigning stars of the kirtan circuit, many of whom were devotees of an Indian Guru named Neem Karoli Baba, have echoed his teachings to “feed people, serve people.” So as our practice guides us off the mat, what are some ways that we can practice Karma Yoga? The paths to service are as diverse as the paths of yoga. Most knowledgeable and experienced teachers guide us to find something that resonates with our nature. Just remember, it’s not just about “doing the time” in service to others, it is about connecting your heart with the heart of another in any situation at any time. Karma Yoga is yoga in action, the sustaining of the yogic heart in the world in any situation. If your calendar is too filled with appointments, commitments, and obligations to even think of volunteering, then serve the ones closest to you in every action every day.
What are your experiences with service and Karma Yoga? How do you share your yoga with the world?