Karma Yoga, or yoga in action, is a practice that many people adopt to share their own talents and skills for a greater good. It is not simply the act of doing good, it is the intention of putting work out into the world selflessly for the benefit of anyone and everyone. This small intention can take a good deed and turn it into something a shade sweeter, as it is done without the goal of personal gain. However, in line with the nature of Karma, it is said that when we give something good of ourselves, we are eventually rewarded tenfold.
In the yogic tradition, it is always considered auspicious to arrive at an ashram or satsang with an offering, or Prasad. You will often see people arriving at centers with fruit, garlands of flowers, items from their home garden, or even wrapped gifts for a Guru or Swami. It is a way of sharing and giving thanks for the teachings or good energy that these events and environments make available. On a deeper level, offering Seva (pronounced say-vah), or selfless service, is a more personal way to give an offering because you are directly involved in the physical work of bettering a yogic community. With this work, one is given the opportunity to share all of the best that they have to offer, contributing a personal, wonderful energy and intention to the space.
Let’s look at the act of going to a Seva day at a local ashram or meditation center. By merely arriving you are helping the center by contributing your volunteer skills. If you spend two to three hours working in the garden, you are undoubtedly making the garden more beautiful for everyone that passes by, bringing more joy to the space. In the process of doing the work in the garden, perhaps you incorporated a type of meditation, maybe involving mantra, or just working to stay present with the act, which gave you a new type of energy and focus. Finally, this benevolent energy and focus that you were able to cultivate is believed to infuse the area of your work, uplifting the surroundings of this area with a new, heightened energy.
Doing Seva feels good. I have heard many Sevites say that they get more back from their Seva than they give. I once volunteered to teach a class to a room full of women who had experienced being homeless or a single parent, or both. It was an act of sharing and giving, but the vision of these women laying in savasana (relaxation pose) will stay with me for the rest of my life. I feel blessed to have been the one to share in their first yogic experience, and hopeful that it could help them somewhere down the road. In spite of the intention of doing Karma Yoga, I took with me a moving experience that I will forever remember.
The idea of giving back doesn’t necessarily have to be to a yoga center or an ashram, it can purely be for the betterment of others, the environment, or humankind. Sometimes all it takes is a small smile to a stranger to inspire some goodness in the world. The beauty of selfless acts is not only the acts themselves and the immediate and direct impact that they have on others, but the tendency for them to spread. The next time an opportunity arises to do something kind for another, say yes. Be aware of how it makes you feel, how it impacts the other person, and how you can keep that cycle of Seva moving forward in the right direction.