Every action can be turned into Karma Yoga.
Everything we ‘do’ – a thought, a word, a deed, leaves an impression, a mark or a samskara. These samskaras are essentially what define us; we are who we are and we are where we are because of what has happened before this moment.
The law of Karma can be thought of as like the law of physics – every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The things we do might not seem to impact ourselves very much, but the smallest of things – even a thought – can send out a ripple of effects.
When we think of the word Karma, it may conjure up images of returning again and again in another life, perhaps as an insect if you’ve lead a pretty bad life, or maybe a healthy and wealthy person if you’ve been good…. (who’s to say insects aren’t happy, though?) This is the very traditional and religious way of thinking of it, but there’s also another way to understand Karma, and a way to use it in every-day life.
Karma Yoga is discussed in length in the Yogic text the Bhagavad Gita. It defines Karma as action, and Karma Yoga as acting and working in the world, but not clinging to the ‘fruits’ or results of that action. It’s doing something because you know it’s the right thing, and for the right reason, and it’s about living a life bigger than our small selves.
The way you think will physically impact your body and your mood. (click here for more about this in a Ted Talk with author of Mind Over Medicine Lissa Rankin)
The way you feel will emerge out of you and be felt by those around you (the law of entrainment suggests that everything in the universe is naturally inclined to come into harmony. If we look at this from the standpoint of emotions – it’s not difficult to notice that when you’re with generally ‘happy’ people you feel happier, and when you’re with angry or negative people, you’ll feel less happy). The things you do and the way you act will leave a very important mark on the world around you.
Many may think that the practice of Yoga is all about escapism and floating away on some imaginary cloud…. When really, the practice of Yoga is designed to make us more useful in the world. Karma Yoga is the Yoga of action, and it may be the most useful Yoga you’ll ever practice….
“Karma Yoga is the taking of the things you do every day with other people, of service, things like that, and making those all into an offering. And so it’s an attitude that one has. It’s an attitude of offering” ~ Ram Dass
Seva or service is something particularly important in most cultures; helping others and seeing the things you do as an ‘offering’ and a way to make the world a better place – i.e…. not needing a medal or a fanfare each time you wash the dishes up….
When we focus our whole and undivided attention on whatever we’re doing in the moment – even if it is washing the dishes – this can become a meditative practice and a way of practicing Karma Yoga. It’s not the results we’re thinking about, it’s the joy or the purpose of the action itself. When we do this, we really do start living a life bigger than ourselves, being ‘of service’ has shown to have significant effects on mood levels (did you know that when you give to charity, your brain reacts in a similar way to when you eat chocolate or have sex? Click here for an article on this from the Huffington Post). , being compassionate and acting from the heart has also shown to lower levels of blood pressure and stress, and boost the immune system and body’s resilience. (click here for a Ted Talk with Dr. James Doty named Hacking Your Brain For Happiness)
Doing this daily can not only help you, but help the world around you too….
6 ways to turn your day into Karma Yoga
- Wake up and think of 3 things you’re grateful for, this will have a huge impact on your mood. You’re also likely to notice that the more you become involved I karma Yoga, the more things you have to be grateful for each day.
- Spend the first hour of the day nourishing yourself – move, breathe, meditate, have a comforting shower, eat a nourishing breakfast. We cannot truly be of benefit to others until we’ve learned to be of benefit to ourselves.
Before leaving the house or starting work, set your intention: ask “what can I give?” instead of “what can I get?”
- Simply smile at the people you meet throughout the day. You don’t even need to say anything in order to have an effect on others.
- Whatever you are doing throughout your day – give as much focus to it as you possibly can, and then let go. By doing this, you’ll know you’ve done your best (no one can ask any more than that, right?), and the results will speak for themselves.
Practice one good deed per day – without the need to tell anyone about it, to ask for a favour in return, or to expect praise.
- While walking around and working, focus your mind towards something useful and positive – as opposed to worries and concerns that are unnecessary and simply taking up space. The mind cannot be completely blank and do nothing, so it might as well do something helpful. One way of defining positive thinking is “finding the best way to respond to the situation in front of you”. ~ Miriam Subirana – Who Rules In Your Life?
- Whatever you want to see in the world, embody it first. We all know that quote from Gandhi “Be the change that you want to see”. Want to see more love? Be loving. Want to see more kindness? Be kind. Want the people around you to connect with you more and build stronger relationships? Then embody that principle first – pay 100% attention in a conversation, listening instead of waiting to speak…