What is Karma Yoga? Or how to practice yoga without getting on the mat
When it comes to maintaining a constant yoga practice, many people tell me that they don’t have enough time and that usually happens because, in their mind, they limit yoga to those 30 or 90 minutes they spend on their mat.
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Even so, life gives you endless opportunities to practise yoga at all times and understand it above all as a series of attitudes that help you relate better to the world around you and to yourself.
Today I want to talk about Karma yoga, also known as the yoga of action. Karma yoga is a path that adapts very well to the hectic pace of the modern world, teaching you that even the most common activities can become a yoga practice.
WHAT IS KARMA YOGA?
One of the best known Karma yoga promoters in the west is Mahatma Gandhi, who dedicated his entire life to impressive humanitarian ideals. Gandhi said that the best way to find yourself is to put yourself at the service of others.
In the modern world, the idea of putting oneself at the service of others is associated with volunteering or helping others without asking for anything in return. All of that is perfectly consistent with the principles of Karma yoga.
Even so, the concept is much broader, and for you to understand it better, we will explore some passages from the Bhagavad Gita, a reference text in Hindu culture that describes in-depth the idea of Karma yoga.
According to the text, Karma yoga involves carrying out the tasks and activities that correspond to you in this life ( dharma ) without sticking to the results of your actions ( karma).
In other words, move forward with dedication, enthusiasm and doing your best on the path you have chosen and at the same time give up all your expectations.
The idea of resignation has been very present in the yogi field over time, especially in times marked by asceticism. Even so, giving up does not necessarily mean going to a mountain to meditate, but living in the world while maintaining a constant attitude of detachment. In the Bhagavad Gita, the idea of renunciation has two nuances :
- Renounce the actions motivated by egoic desires ( sannyasa ), or in other words, analyse if your desires or objectives will really bring you that inner happiness you are looking for.
- Give up the results of your actions ( tyaga ), or in other words, detach yourself from the final goal and focus more on living the process.
By maintaining this internal attitude of renunciation, you manage to purify your mind and advance your personal and spiritual path.
THE EGOIC ACTION IN TODAY’S SOCIETY
The Bhagavad Gita classifies the actions that one can carry out in 3 categories :
- Actions without expectation or attachment to the results.
- Selfish actions, through which one seeks his own pleasure and satisfaction.
- Unconscious actions, which often harm others.
The second category is usually very present in today’s society. From an early age we are exposed to a lot of conditioning and we are instilled in the idea that everything we do has to give us an immediate benefit: behave well to receive a toy at Christmas, get good grades so that they love us and accept us, study a career to find a job, have money to buy a lot of things, go on vacation to be happy, etc.
All of that is not necessarily bad, but many times it carries with it the recipe of suffering, because every time your ego’s expectations are not met, you get to feel pain and misery.
One of the fundamental ideas behind Karma yoga and yoga, in general, is that you stop identifying with that small and limited self, which lives embedded in the notions of me, mine, me, for me. That means learning to let go of your personal expectations, doing your best and letting life take care of the rest.
In that sense, Karma yoga is one of the fastest ways to dissolve the ego and the feeling of separation, since it takes you out of your own individuality and invites you to put the focus on everything you can contribute in your environment.
THE PRINCIPLES OF KARMA YOGA
Next, we will see some of the basic principles that underlie the idea of Karma yoga :
- Purity in your intentions, thoughts and actions, or in other words, cultivate the Sattva guna in your life.
- Detachment: detach yourself from your goals and selfish actions. This will free you from the emotional and mental burdens that arise when you cling to a positive outcome (stress, fear, worry).
- Wisdom and discernment: analyse the nature of your goals to see if they are genuine goals that add value to your environment or are simply whims of your mind.
- Equanimity and acceptance: overcome the need to classify all experiences as good or bad, and learn to look at them from neutrality.
- Presence and dedication: carry out your activities with full attention and enthusiasm.
- Devotion ( Ishvara Pranidhana ): perhaps this is the central principle of Karma yoga; Ishvara Pranidhana implies understanding that nothing would be possible if it were not for the will of a superior force; Keeping it in mind is essential to cultivate detachment and apply Karma yoga in your life.
All these principles suggest that Karma yoga does not only involve acting but acting with awareness, dedication and detachment.
KEYS TO APPLY KARMA YOGA IN YOUR DAY TO DAY
Unlike other types of traditional yoga ( Bhakti, Jnana and Raja yoga ), Karma yoga can be practised at any time of the day, since it does not depend on a certain technique.
Next, I will give you some clues to include the Karma yoga attitude in your daily life:
1. Perform your activities with mindfulness and eliminate multitasking.
All the actions you carry out throughout the day represent an opportunity to practice Karma yoga. From this point of view, Karma yoga is a kind of active meditation that helps you cultivate the state of presence. Staying in the present 24 hours a day is a tremendous challenge for the modern human being because we are exposed to millions of stimuli.
Even so, doing at least some of your activities with awareness is something totally attainable. This will help you focus more on the process of action than on the final results.
2. Contribute to your environment.
On the other hand, cultivating your mindfulness will allow you to be much more attentive to everything that happens around you.
In this way, you will notice that life puts you in front of many opportunities to contribute, either by giving a smile to someone who passes through the street, helping an older person with his grocery bag, giving up your place in the subway or cooking dinner Rich for your family. All that can be Karma yoga.
3. Act on a genuine desire for goodness and without waiting for the favour to be returned.
When it comes to giving, we often invent a sort of contracts not written, especially in close relationships. For example, I make food, and you have to clean, or I am attentive to you because I expect the same from you in the future.
Sharing responsibilities is perfectly normal, but it is important that you carry out your tasks with love and naturalness, without keeping a record of everything you have done versus others.
Karma yoga involves acting for the simple act of acting.
4. Do your best, but without forgetting about yourself.
Get involved in whatever you do, and do your best at that time, but don’t forget about yourself and don’t overdo it. Remember that Karma yoga is first and foremost an act done with love and dedication, not a sacrifice.
In general, the sacrifice is a mechanism of the ego that carries behind a personal intention: I sacrifice myself to obtain something, be it acceptance, affection, appreciation, etc.
You may think that it is very noble always to be available to others, even when you feel exhausted, tired or without energy, but in reality, you cannot bring anything that you do not have.
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In conclusion, Karma yoga is an internal attitude towards life that allows you to look at the world around you with different eyes. It is a constant practice of attention, kindness, compassion, forgiveness and courage through which you become more aware of your intentions, your thoughts and your actions.