Editor's blog: I'm missing my Karma yoga

Sunday 16 December, 2007

krishna templeI'm feeling slightly lacking in direction since finishing the Sivananda Teacher Training course in northern California last month. Oddly, perhaps, I have a feeling it comes down to the absence of a regular dose of Karma yoga.


There's much I miss about ashram life. All the yoga and meditation, of course - but also the food, the absence of money worries; the other people on the course; the nurturing, unmaterialistic environment; the gentle, restorative simplicity of every day life.

But one thing I never expected to miss was the karma yoga aspect of ashram living.

In keeping with many spiritual (and otherwise) communities, everyone is expected to contribute some time every day to voluntary work - otherwise known as in yogic circles as 'selfless service', or Karma yoga.

My task was to help out in the grounds, doing whatever needed doing on the day - tree planting, compost shovelling, hole digging, weeding, or scraping the old paint from the floor of Krishna Temple (pictured).

Which task you are allotted is entirely arbitary; other duties included washing or drying up; cooking; maintenance work; temple sweeping or cleaning toilets.

I came to enjoy the hour I spent every day (even in our day off) doing my Karma yoga - it was simple, honest, sociable work and the chance to spend some time outside in a day otherwise spent indoors was hugely welcome.

Karma means 'action', or 'deed', in Sanskrit. It is the sum total of our action, both in our present time, and in our preceding lives.

One of the central teachings of the ancient yogic scripture, the Bhaghvad Gita, is that of duty - the action of working without expectation of reward, and with an attitude of non-attachment to work.

In short, Karma yoga is meant to be a purification process, born of working dutifully and selflessly, and without desire for an outcome. As Swami Sivananda put it, a Karma yogi should have a large heart. He should be free absolutely free from lush, anger, egoism and greed.

I fear I have quite a few lives yet to live before I can come somewhere close to reaching these standards - how quickly it is that anger, impatience and ego come between what should be simple goals: working without judgement, comparison or expectation.

Yet despite my own failings, I'm surprised to find I miss my Karma yoga. There's nothing quite like the feeling of doing your own bit for a community project, or lending a little time to someone in need of help, to expand the heart and bring life into a sharper, less ego-centric focus.

Back in the real world, thousands of miles away from my daily Karma yoga and ashram bubble, I feel a real desire to keep hold of that feeling. It probably just comes down to a couple hours of voluntary work a week.

Swami Sivananda would say it shouldn't matter what form Karma yoga takes, but my halo isn't quite that polished yet. Teaching yoga to someone in real need of an emotional break is high up on my list.

But as long as it takes me away from my computer, and connecting somehow with the wider world, I'm all for giving anything a go. Within the boundaries of yogic reason, of course.


Lucia Cockcroft, editor



Other links to blog postings on my month doing teacher training at the northern Californian Sivananda ashram:

Surviving the first week of TTC

It's the final week at the ashram

Editor's blog: over the finishing line



Do you do regular karma yoga? Is it important to your life? Please log in and share your views.


Image: Krishna temple, Sivananda Ashram, Grass Valley, California.




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