It seems that quite a few of my blog posts stem from conversations with non-yogi friends but I found myself having another one the other day…
So there I was having a chat with a friend and we were talking about if it’s possible to make a living from teaching yoga (there’s a whole other blog post there…). I was teaching a class later that day at the Sivananda Centre in Putney and he asked how much I got paid for it. “Oh no, I don’t get paid for teaching there,” I replied. He couldn’t believe it: how was I ever going to be able to live off yoga if I taught for free, I was providing a service so I should be paid… you get the picture. I said, “I do it as selfless service – it’s karma yoga.” Now that opened a whole big can of worms.
But what is karma yoga? I’d describe it as doing someone else’s ironing for them, knowing full well that you’ve got a stack of your own that’s been sitting at home for weeks untouched, but you’re doing theirs just because you want to do it. There’s no expectation of a reward whatsoever.
Swami Sivananda says of karma yoga,
” Man generally plans to get the fruits of his works before he starts any kind of work. The mind is so framed that it cannot think of any kind of work without remuneration or reward. A selfish man cannot do any service. He will weigh the work and the money in a balance. Selfless Service is unknown to him.”
So it’s your attitude towards the work that counts. It’s also a central theme to the Bhagavad Gita, where Prince Arjuna looks to Krishna for advice on the battlefield. Arjuna doesn’t want to fight but Krishna says that it’s his duty and that he shouldn’t be so focused on the results:
“With the body, with the mind, with the intellect, even merely with the senses, the Yogis perform action toward self-purification, having abandoned attachment. He who is disciplined in Yoga, having abandoned the fruit of action, attains steady peace…”
Bhagavad Gita V.5.11.
You’re doing something not necessarily because you want to do it, or because it’s fun to do. Prince Arjuna didn’t want to fight members of his family, but you’re doing it in order to serve humanity, a god, or just for the greater good. It can be likened to helping in a soup kitchen on your day off work, or volunteering with the eldery. It’s just doing your bit in order to serve whoever you feel comfortable serving – God, your local community or whoever.
What I can say is that I feel a sense of wellbeing and happiness giving something back, and while that feeling lasts, I’ll continue to clean loos, iron and teach for free.