Karma Yoga – Meditation in action – The 4 Path of Yoga: part 3/5
Part 3 in our 5-part series on the Paths of Yoga.
Karma yoga is one of the spiritual paths based on the “yoga of action”. Karma is both action and the result of action. What we experience today is the result of our karma created by previous actions, the concept of you reap what you sow.
All of us tend to work with the expectation of future results. From a spiritual viewpoint, our desires can be unappeasable and often unattainable, invariably leading to a sense of disappointment. In wanting to gratify our own expectations, we end up creating new chains of cause and effect that can ultimately weigh us down. With the help of Karma yoga practice, we have the power to break this pattern and opening us up to experience more happiness and contentment.
The Main Principles of Karma Yoga
1. Equanimity– Maintaining balance of mind and emotions in success or failure, praise or criticism, or any other positive or negative life situations is essential for the harmonious conduct of Karma yoga.
2. Positive attitude– We can strive to bring forth our positive attitudes and ignore the negative ones. One way to do this is to ‘count our blessings’ or practice gratitude. If things are difficult, remember that they could be a lot worse. Adopting Pranayama (breathing exercises) can help balance the airflows between our nostrils, which assists with adopting a balanced attitude. When air flows through only one nostril, the brain hemisphere on the opposite side is activated, and the hemisphere on the same side is deactivated. Activation of the left hemisphere makes us experience optimism, while activation of the right hemisphere makes us experience pessimism.
3. Strive for excellence– Whatever we do, we must give our best. As we work on our path of Karma yoga, excellence will result naturally as our concentration, observation and expansion of awareness develops.
4. Non-ego state– The realisation that we are not the doer, we are not indispensable. When we instil humility in our actions and reduce our ego attachments, a wonderful feeling is revealed – the work just flows as if guided by a higher force. One finds that everything needed for the job comes our way, and everyone needed to help comes along at exactly the right time. Some call this divine grace.
5. Action– The first principle is a commitment to act for the benefit of others and our society. When we move on this path, we will notice that our relationships with people will become more positive and harmonious.
6. Non-expectation– Undertaking an activity without being preoccupied or obsessed with the personal rewards, is performing actions with an attitude of being neutral to the outcomes. This detachment from the results of the action will dissolve the karmic seeds. If the results are as expected, we should try to remain balanced in our emotions, so to not be too elated. Conversely, if the results are not as expected, we should not feel dejected. As we continue on the path of Karma yoga, we will find that our desires of what we want to get from our world will transition from demands to expectations, to preferences, to merely a willingness to experience something new. As this happens, our contentment and the joy we experience in life grows.
7. Meditative awareness– Karma yoga is the yoga of dynamic meditation and is about performing every task with meditative awareness. Being present with the action and observing but not reacting to distracting thoughts are key here. With this mindset, we can see thought, speech, movement to be all part of action.
8. Swadharma– Practicing one’s own dharma, which includes an individual’s unique duties, responsibilities and righteousness based on their way of life. These are unique because we are all born with our own innate traits, nature and capacities – and the closer we can come to harmonising our activities in that direction, the happier and more uplifting our life will be.
Initially the practice of Karma yoga can feel overwhelming as it combines several concepts of thought and action as listed above. However even small incremental changes have a ripple effect. Since the future is not set in stone, it is empowering to know that we can change the path of our life in the way we exercise our choices, thoughts and deeds today.
Karma yoga based on selfless action is the ultimate anti-stressor which enables us to ascend to a higher level of spirituality. Through Karma yoga, all life becomes a celebration, as it becomes one at this high level with Raja yoga, Jnana yoga and Bhakti yoga. Karma yoga is a lifestyle yoga – it provides a deeply fulfilling way to live every waking moment of our existence.
By Amal Karl, CEO and Jessica Sanders, Naturopath & Yoga Teacher.