Karma Yoga: By Myriad Yoga Graduate, Saadia Gomez
Original Date: Sep 3, 2015
Karma Yoga in Practice
What is Karma Yoga? Who practices it? How can Karma Yoga be put into practice for the modern, American yogi? How can we incorporate the practice of Karma Yoga in the classroom? Some people may feel that the concepts of Karma Yoga are complicated and inaccessible. Let’s define the concepts of Karma Yoga and illustrate ways to practice on and off the mat.
Karma Yoga means to practice Seva (selfless work). It is action with an attitude of detachment towards the results. One is to do one’s best, giving total dedication to the work without allowing the mind to be distracted by concern for personal gain. It is said that all suffering comes from this feeling of attachment. When we don’t get the result that we are hoping for, it pains us. Conversely, we should not be taking credit for all positive outcomes, because we are ultimately not responsible for any results of action. Involve yourself through action, and leave the rest to God.
It’s important to note that the Bhagavad Gita illustrates many concepts of Karma Yoga within the conversation between Arjuna and Krishna. The Bhagavad Gita appears as part of the Brishma-parvan, the sixth book of the Mahabharata. In this conflict, the hopes of the Pandava faction rest in the hands of Arjuna, the third of the five brothers. At the beginning of the story, the hero is unwilling to wage war against his own family members. Krishna, his charioteer, offers instruction to Arjuna, convincing him that waging war is not necessarily an act of wickedness.
Krishna respond to Arjuna’s refusal to fight in verse 33 (as in Nichols Sutton’s “Bhagavad Gita”) “…if you do not engage in this dharmic battle then you will destroy both your personal dharma and your honor, and you will accumulate sin.” Thus the first lesson of karma yoga; you have a duty, or dharma, and it must be completed. Next Krishna states in verse 48, “Situated in yoga, perform your duties whilst giving up all attachments, Dhanamjaya. Remain equal in success and failure for such equanimity is what is meant by yoga.” In other words, become unattached to results of action, and allow what will be, to be. Lastly, “Casting off all your deeds onto me by fixing your mind on the true self, remaining free of desire and free of any sense of ‘mine’, you should now fight with the emotions banished. This is where we begin to see the relationship between Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga, as Karma Yoga can also be interpreted as devoting all action to God.
Now that we have defined Karma Yoga, who practices it? Famous karma yogis are Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi. Maybe on a more personal level, you will notice the karma yogi that is your friend. This friend always gives their time to listen, their energy to help you out, their love when you’re feeling broken. Or maybe you will notice the grocery clerk that is retired, not needing of a job, but always putting a smile on everyone’s face. The Karma Yogi serves their church, the soup kitchen, their neighbor, or maybe is more private, but always striving to have positive interactions. Anyone can be a karma yogi. You do not have to be in an ashram, to realize the divine.
So how as teachers, can we incorporate the concepts of Karma Yoga into the classroom? The very first thing is by practicing Ahimsa, the act of non-harming. This can be more complicated than it sounds, as harming can be done in many ways, not just outwardly. For example, in order to not harm somebody out of jealousy, one must become detached from jealousy. One must become detached from materialism. One must be aware of themselves, before emotions distract, and act. This takes a commitment to lifelong learning of oneself, Svadhyaya. And a commitment to compassion for all.
Next is to introduce awareness of self and the idea of unattachment to the students with phrasing and imagery. Unattachment to gains and losses, results both good and bad, emotions both high and low, and eventually material attachments including to this physical body. Always treat every student with love, and fairness. If students are ready, they can make the choice to deepen their understanding of the divine.
Bringing karma yoga into the classroom can be simple. First and foremost, it’s important to remember that we don’t have absolute control over the results of the class. So we should not assume responsibility, and attachment to either good or bad results. Assume the notion that you are a tool meant to deliver the needs of the class for the day. Like a puppet, there is a force behind your actions that is running the show. Devote your class to this force before attempting to teach.
Next, devote your class to the principle of Ahimsa. Touch every student with words that are driven by love. Allow every student to be treated with an equal embrace of caring, interest, and dignity. Allow time at the end of class for discussion, and more private conversations. Other ideas include bringing food, sharing of information, and allowing for flexible payment.
In a personal practice, remembering the principle of Ahimsa as you go about your day, and acting in coordination of this principle. Stepping outside the ego, and devoting all action to a universal power, and not taking credit for positive or negative consequence. Staying informed, and sharing information that will help the community. The giving of time is often more charitable than the giving of money; remembering this notion. As you attempt to practice selfless action, becoming vulnerable yourself, is also a form of giving.
Saadia Gomez is a Myriad Yoga 200 Hour Teacher Training Graduate. Saadia began practicing Hatha Yoga in 2004 with the aspirations of becoming a model like her mother. Her mother provided her with an instruction manual that included makeup tips, and daily Hatha Yoga teachings. As time progressed, Saadia moved beyond her dream of becoming a model, but found confidence, foundation, and love in the practice of yoga. She teaches weekly classes at Ahimsa Yoga, and maintains her own blog and website.