“Action is movement with intelligence, the world is filled with movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action.” – B.K.S. Iyengar
Traditionally, a yogi would renounce the world and live in a community setting like an ashram or monastery. They would dedicate their lives to spirituality, yoga, meditation and serving others. Yogis were not socialites by any measure. This is perhaps the biggest difference between the mystics of past and the newly emerging urban mystics of our time. We are living full-fledged social lives with jobs and a family. We do not need to renounce our family, career and material possessions to make a difference.
We can make a difference by practicing Karma yoga, which means “right action with right attitude.”
For me, Karma Yoga means sharing your gifts with those in need. It does not mean giving away things for free. It means that if you come across someone who is genuine and could really benefit from your knowledge, you should share it with them. That is how an individual can support a mission and foster a community. It could be as simple as teaching English to an immigrant from a non-English speaking country or teaching yoga to the vulnerable and low-income populations of our society. In both cases, we are performing the right action to raise society’s morale.
The most cliché definition of yoga is the “union of the mind, body and soul.” For most yogis, the goal is to connect with their individual consciousness and that is where their learning ends. But true yoga is the union of the individual consciousness to the world consciousness. The practice of yoga teaches us how to expand our individual consciousness to be part of the whole. Narrow consciousness often means narrow awareness. Once a yogi starts to understand this, he/she strives to live in tune with nature and in harmony with the universe. With this mindset, no individual worry seems big enough and no individual life seems small enough. This is where the practice of Karma Yoga begins.
There is a misconception that in order to be a Karma Yogi, one has to perform a grand gesture. I say Karma Yoga is as simple as conscious breathing. So, here are six simple ways to practice Karma Yoga on a daily basis:
1. Self-serve – If you want to change the world, start at home, with yourself. Use the ordinary actions of your life as a means of “waking up.” This affects everything you do — from household chores, like washing the dishes, to “important” duties, like your job. When you live your life with awareness, you carve a path to nourish the universe that eventually nourishes you. Being kind to ourselves and taking care of ourselves is not selfish but rather critical. If you are not healthy and peaceful, you can’t help others.
2. Be genuine – Bring your authentic self to the table. I know it’s easier said than done and, at times, painful. These days we are scared to live our true nature for fear of being taken advantage of or ridiculed. By living our true nature and not faking what society demands, we are raising the bar of the collective world consciousness. The more people start being genuine in every relationship, the more kindness will be shared and the fewer hearts will be broken.
3. Respect nature – As Americans, we take nature and its resources for granted, often to the point of exploitation. Growing up in a developing country with limited access to clean water has made me cautious of the amount of resources I use on a daily basis. Next time you leave that tap running while brushing your teeth, think about those with no drinking water who share the same world.
4. Contribute – Who said making a contribution only means donating thousands of dollars or your time for volunteer activities? While these are great, the world can also benefit from us just being human. Just being there and listening to someone (be it family or your doorman) who is having a bad day is also a contribution. Similarly, helping an elderly person carry groceries is also a contribution – a huge one!
5. Practice compassion – On a daily basis we come across people who are constantly agitated and rude. They might cut you off in a line, honk at you for driving too slow or even abuse you for no reason. One can never really know what the other person is going through. So next time rather than showing your middle finger (because that’s exactly what they would expect from you), try to practice some compassion by not reacting and fuelling their frustration or anger. A smile can make a huge difference.
6. Positive attitude – Practice being positive on a daily basis. It’s contagious!
Let the transformative power of yoga pull individuals out of a place of cynicism and criticism, victimization or blame and invite them to think about life’s events as what Seane Corn calls “initiations that can mature our consciousness.”
[This article was initially published on Seattle Yoga News]