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Four Paths to Yoga: Karma Yoga

Four Paths to Yoga: Karma Yoga

The subject of yoga is like Doctor Who’s tardis. Despite its apparent simplicity, yoga, once opened up seems to be as vast as the universe itself. Take, for example, the path of yoga. It’s the eight-limbed path, right? Well yes, but, no, wrong. There are actually three other yogic paths, that are also routes to the same end.

These four ‘routes’ all lead to the ultimate goal of Moksha, or liberation.  They are; the path of action, the path of devotion, the ‘royal’ path of yoga (or the eight-limbed path), and the path of philosophy or knowledge. They are called, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Rajah Yoga, and Jnana Yoga.

The yoga that most of us think of us ‘yoga’ is Rajah Yoga. But we’re going to focus on the first of these paths, Karma Yoga.

Why are there four paths?

Just as all of us have our unique strengths and natures, there are different ways to find the path to bliss. For the intellectually-centered, Jnana Yoga, the path of philosophy is the route to take. For those that are heart-centred, they will be drawn to the devotional aspects of Bhakti Yoga. And the doers amongst us will find their route to self-realisation through selfless actions – Karma Yoga.

However, while some natures are better suited to one path or the other, they are not separate or non-interchangeable, and most of us can walk all these paths at different points in our lives.

What is Karma Yoga?

karma yoga others heart wellbeing
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We already know the term ‘yoga’, and most of us are familiar with ‘karma’ too. Karma is the sum of our actions, built up over our lifetimes (and previous lifetimes too if you believe in reincarnation). If your actions are for the good of others, then you’ll accrue good karma, and if your intentions are greedy, lazy or selfish, then equally you’ll build up bad karma. Karma Yoga is about learning to act with completely pure intentions, without any motivation of reward or recognition.

The Bhagavad Gita also gives an explanation of the term Karma Yoga:

Work alone is your privilege, never the fruits thereof. Never let the fruits of action be your motive, and never cease to work. Work in the name of the Lord, abandoning selfish desires. Be not affected by success or failure. This equipoise is called Yoga.’

How do we do Karma Yoga?

Karma yoga is the active pursuit of good actions without thought for oneself. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” This doesn’t mean just be really busy. Most of us are pretty good at being busy already, without any further encouragement. It also doesn’t mean just being a doormat, rushing around and looking after everyone else.

It can be as simple as volunteering for a local charity and giving your time without any thoughts about how great it will make you feel or how good it’ll look on your CV. In the small, but perfectly formed book, Yoga, the author, Ernest Wood, explains:

When the actions of daily life are permeated by the buddhic devotion to life, those actions become yoga, karma-yoga. Every action can thus be yoga. Washing dishes with love is yoga. The actions going on in a dishwasher are not.

Here when he says ‘buddhic’, this doesn’t relate to the religion of Buddhism, but to the Buddhi, which is our intelligence centre.

Karma Yoga and Dharma

There is also an element of dharma, or duty, to Karma Yoga. Doing one’s duty, as our dear old Queen would say, is pretty unfashionable these days. Being dutiful is seen as being passive and dull. But having a sense of duty, or knowing one’s duty, can be part of acting in a Karma Yoga way.

Karma happy smile wellbeing
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The idea of duty as set out by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita is that all beings are dependent on each other, and therefore, it is your duty to use your natural talents and abilities, as well as your position in the world (such as a position of power or responsibility) for the welfare of everyone around you.

 

In other words, it is your duty to be as wonderfully you as it is possible to be, not to show how wonderful you are, but because it will benefit the world.

Karma Yoga and Yoga

In Yoga, Ernest Wood writes that it is the duty of the yoga teacher, not only to teach yoga but to encourage their students to do ‘right actions’. This means not acting out of a desire for bodily pleasure or self-satisfaction, but acting with a sense of sacrifice, so that there is no personal attachment to actions.

How can we do this ourselves as teachers and students of yoga? We can spend a little more time on self-examination. How do we know whether our actions come from the ego, or from a place of intelligent sacrifice? We have to use our ‘buddhi’ – the intelligence centre mentioned above.

karma yoga open arms
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In the end, the purpose of Karma Yoga is not to label each action, ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  It is that it gently encourages us to use the deep-seated wisdom that is already present inside all of us. To use this wisdom to move away from habitual actions and to really live our lives in as present a way as possible. As Ernest says:

Joy goes with the whiteness of the karma-yoga, because there is more life in it.

Poppy Pickles

Yoga and Charity – How we can Give Back

Yoga and Charity - How we can Give Back

We come to yoga for many different reasons. To reconnect with our bodies, overcome stiffness and – let’s be honest – get a body like some of those lithe yogis we see on Instagram. But once yoga has arrived in our lives, those reasons can change.

Among other things, yoga teaches us to disconnect with the stresses and strains of everyday life and to reconnect with what’s important in life. That can be time spent with loved ones, being grateful for physical health and so on. But it also encourages us to find a way to give back to the world.

global conscience yoga earth
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An element of being a part of the global yogic ‘family’ is that it gives you a global conscience. Without sounding all smug and holier than thou, it’s hard to do yoga, which brings you in touch with your body and ignore the wrongs and suffering going on in the world.

In fact, one of the lesser-known niyamas (number seven of twelve) is Dānam, a Sanskrit word that means charity. Charity can get a bad rap, but without it, the world as we know it wouldn’t function.

How can we be charitable through yoga?

In the Bible (which we don’t often cite on this blog!), 1 Corinthians 13:13, it says

And now abideth faith hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

So the Bible is telling us that charity (or love) is literally the best virtue there is. But what really is it? Charity is service without expectation of reward, it is the giving of one’s time freely, and sharing your wealth with compassion.

And there are plenty of ways that we can use yoga to be more charitable.

Giving yoga to those who need it most

A way of giving charity through service is to teach yoga for free to those who really need it.

yoga children helping teach
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For those of us that practice yoga a lot, the benefits are self-evident. And that’s when it can start to become a bit of an evangelical mission to give the gift of yoga to as many people as possible. There are plenty of pre-existing charities that run yoga lessons for those in prison, the homeless and yoga for mental health. But what about yoga in schools for teenagers suffering from anxiety? Or chair yoga for the elderly and infirm in your local nursing home? Yoga has boundless benefits for those with physical and mental problems and there is literally no barrier to doing yoga. So let’s get out into the world and make a difference!

Using yoga as a way to raise money

One of the most straightforward ways is through using yoga as a means to raise money. A couple of years ago I took part in a sponsored yogathon when a large group of us gathered in a local park and performed 108 sun salutations, raising money for Greenpeace. Standing in a huge circle with my yoga friends and colleagues, stretching up toward the actual sun (incredibly for the UK, it was actually beaming down on us) and pressing my hands and feet down towards the earth, it felt like a completely YOGIC thing to do.

It doesn’t have to be 108 sun salutations though (my arms were SORE for the next week), you can do anything! What about a sponsored handstand challenge? Or a group of you could get together to do a headstand in a public place as a way of drawing attention not only to your cause but to how epic yoga is too. Or a sponsored ‘standing pose challenge’ where you run through every single standing pose a few times. Or just hold a ‘charity’ lesson, where students come and donate as much as they can for a chosen cause. The possibilities are endless.

Volunteer on a yoga holiday

yoga holiday volunteer teach
Image Credit: Mor Shani via Unsplash.

To be fair, this is not the most selfless way to combine yoga and charity, but it’s a very canny way! If you simply don’t have the funds to go on a yoga holiday, but you know that you would benefit so much from time away from your life to just be somewhere lovely, doing yoga, chatting to lovely yogic people, and generally overdosing on all the loveliness, there’s a way that you can go, for just the cost of your travel.

In return for putting in some shifts (around five-six hours a day) helping out with food prep, cleaning and other chores, you can go on some yoga retreats for free. This can be a great way to get some undiluted yoga without emptying your bank account. Some companies that offer this are barefootyoga.me and Eco retreats, which offers free accommodation in a beautiful rural forest in Wales in return for helping out in the forest and teaching the odd class.

We don’t have to give too much away for free

A small counter to being charitable, which is important, is to remember that yoga teachers do already give a lot already. We give our skills, energy, time, care and thought to each and every one of our students. So if you don’t have time to do a sponsored yogathon, or teach a free class to the deserving, don’t beat yourself up. You’re already giving a lot.

Poppy Pickles
One Weekend Workshop to up your skills

STUFFED! Yoga Poses to help digest Christmas Lunch

STUFFED! Yoga Poses to help digest Christmas Lunch

Christmas is a time to let go of all those dietary disciplines and just let loose! For a few days each year, most of us put our healthy eating efforts to one side and over-eat to our heart’s content. And it’s not just the over-eating, it’s rich food!

Take the traditional British Christmas lunch. Turkey, stuffing, pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, roasted carrots and parsnips, mashed celeriac, Brussel sprouts, bread sauce, cranberry sauce and, to top it all off, lashings of gravy. That’s how it goes in our family anyway. What’s lovely about the traditional Christmas lunch is that for every family there’s something a little bit different, which makes it the special annual over-indulgence it is.

And personally, I wouldn’t miss out on any of it. However, the after-effects can be disastrous. So here are some ways to help to alleviate the bloating, lethargy and sluggishness of the post-prandial Christmas state. (more…)

Poppy Pickles

Cheeky Yogi at the OM Yoga Show – yoga pants are not created equal

Cheeky Yogi at the OM Yoga Show - yoga pants are not created equal

Nothing was more obvious as to how much of a business yoga is, than at this year’s Om Yoga Show in London. It tied in with the Mind, Body, Soul Show, buy one ticket and go to both exhibitions. It felt like one enormous, never-ending circus, everyone vying for your attention and selling their soul.

Every possible item you can imagine is for sale from the obvious such as mats, clothes to the less obvious shamanic witchcraft and food dice. (Which literally is what it says: a set of dice with food names on it)

(more…)

One Weekend Workshop to up your skills

The Cheeky Yogi – You can’t be 100% Authentic 

The Cheeky Yogi - You can’t be 100% Authentic 

Barely two months after graduating from my 200-hour teacher training course, I landed a regular teaching slot at one of the most exclusive clubs in the UK. This isn’t me bragging, but contemplating ‘how on earth did that happen?!’ How do you land a yoga job when you’re a fresh graduate (or newbie)? What is the magic formula for landing a yoga job? Sometimes it’s an audition and the employer just knows you’ll fit in. Sometimes it’s timing and the gods decide to smile on you that day (and you remember your cues!). Or maybe it’s who you know (and/or how many Instagram followers you have!!), but that discussion is for another article.

Let’s be honest, in the beginning, no matter how good your 200-hour teacher training is, you are still wading your way through mud trying to find your own voice. ‘Just be yourself’ gets bandied about as a solution, but isn’t that similar to being told to ‘act natural’ whilst bending over in a wide-legged forward fold with the entire class fixed intently on your rotund posterior. What does ‘just be yourself’ even mean? (more…)