karma yoga

Karma: seems I’ve heard this word bandied about most of my life. Good karma, bad karma: your life reflects your actions, you are what you eat, you reap what you sew. The word also carries the implication that the results of our actions can carry over from life to life. I don’t know anything about that particular detail. I do know that how I choose to act in this moment has clear repercussions in the day-to-day quality of my life. My contentment is a reflection of how I act. In the 12-step tradition there is a phrase “acting as if” that reminds us that action transforms us faster than thought.: we become our actions. What do we want to become?

Our yoga may begin on our mats. We show up in yoga class, breath, stretch, strengthen, and become aware of ourselves as incarnate being. We have bodies. Paying attention to the sensation of the body our spirit can change. For me, paying attention and practicing yoga not only reduced the pain that brought me to my mat, it calmed something deep in my center. It calmed my heart and my spirit in a way that nothing else had. I stopped seeking self-fulfillment through external sources, be that objects or external approval and gratification. I started to realize that being of service in the world was my personal path to contentment and freedom.

My personal path of service is teaching. I teach my public yoga classes that many of you attend. And I regularly teach in a service setting. Currently I’m teaching at an alcohol and drug recovery center for mothers with young children. I’ve taught in middle school alternative classrooms and to low income teenagers. While I’m bringing what I know to these classes, I learn an incredible amount there. Sometimes these classes don’t feel like a traditional yoga class at all. No one can settle down or everyone just wants to sleep. We listen to their rooms being searched while we practice or there is a fire alarm. Someone is in crisis as the court threatens to remove a child from the home or or the student herself has been removed from her home. Now we really practice yoga although it may look nothing like the yoga in the videos. We find an asana, a spiritual seat, at the center of the storm. And we look to find ourselves amidst the crisis. We seek a voice and the action that knows how to proceed in times of trouble.

This is yoga: the yoking of the self to a greater self. Yes, yoga is physical exercise, but not only the physical exercise. It is giving oneself to the greater good. It is making the world a more peaceful place by being a more peaceful person. It is about standing up and getting angry when that is the only appropriate response. It is about listening to each cell in your body and acting from that deep inherent knowledge. It is about listening to the people and the world around you. It is about being a right sized being on this beautiful planet. It is about acting without the expectation of a reward.