Something happened to me after I’d been practicing yoga for a few months. I started to feel connected to the world around me in ways I’d never experienced before.
I first came to yoga as a way to manage crippling panic attacks and find some peace of mind at a difficult time in my life. While yoga certainly helped me deal with my own problems, it also opened up a new awareness of the ways in which my thoughts, feelings and actions were intricately bound up with the lives of others. Bit by bit, I began to move from feeling isolated in my own struggles to appreciating the interconnectedness between myself and the wider world.
This sense of connection could be a great source of joy – the realisation that I was not alone and that we all share a common bond. It could also be a source of vulnerability – I could no longer defend the walls I’d built between myself and others. I simply had to acknowledge the inter-dependency of all things and that meant I had to trust both myself and others to offer unconditional support.
The word Yoga means ‘Yoke’ or ‘Union’. Through a dedicated yoga practice, we experience the ultimate truth that the divisions we perceive between ourselves, other people and the world around us are simply illusions. At the heart of things, we are all one.
The Karma Yogi recognises this when they act selflessly in the service of others, with no expectation of reward. Service, offering our time and talents with wholehearted generosity, is a way of acknowledging and honouring that every human being on the planet is equally important and worthy.
We live in a world of increasing inequality. Divisions between people based on race, gender, sexuality and social class are being fractured by individuals and organisations who seek to secure their own status at the expense of others. As yogis, we have an incredibly powerful tool to help overcome the exploitation and denigration of those who do not have a strong voice in the mainstream. Karma Yoga – Service.
Many yoga teachers already work without pay. That is not the same thing as Karma Yoga. To offer your skills for free on behalf of an organisation that is making a profit, or in the hope of building a student base so that you yourself can make a profit later on, is not Karma Yoga. There’s nothing wrong with making a profit from teaching yoga, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Offering your time, skills and compassion unconditionally to those who need it most, or who would otherwise not be able to experience yoga, is different. Acting in the service of disadvantaged or under-served communities acknowledges how extremely fortunate we are to have the resources to practice and share yoga. It recognises that we have the ability to use our privilege to support those who are not as fortunate as ourselves.
Karma Yoga is a gift to both the giver and the receiver. It’s an opportunity to move away from negative perceptions we may have about ourselves and others and do something that is pure, honest and without expectation. It brings joy and lightness because it creates unconditional connection. It’s a celebration of our one-ness and that, my friends, is Yoga.
Adore Yoga partners with non-profit organisations to offer therapeutic yoga to those who need it most, including A Sound Life. Want to help out? Sign up!
Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.