Karma Yoga: Three Inspiring Stories
“The first step in the spiritual path is the selfless service to humanity.” —Swami Sivananda
Karma yoga, or the path of active selfless service, is one of the main yogic paths. The Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat offers a 36-day Karma Yoga Introduction Program and a Three-Month Karma Yoga Program year-round. Both of these residential study options are for people looking to deepen their understanding of the spiritual path and yoga and interested in helping the ashram serve its mission.
Because of the generosity of people from all around the world, the ashram thrives as a spiritual center filled with hardworking yoga practitioners devoted to selfless service. Some come for a one-time experience, but many find themselves returning year after year. Here are the stories of three karma yogis who found real transformation through the practice of karma yoga at the ashram.
Emery Munoz, 21, Second-time Karma Yogi
“I wanted to spend Valentine’s Day with the Bhagavad Gita”
Emery Munoz was just turning 18 during her first stay as a karma yogi at the ashram. “It really gave me something to be proud of,” she said. “I earned a sense of self-discipline.”
Emery was unhappy at her previous work and experienced trauma with some males at her place of employment — so the ashram felt like an especially safe haven to her. “I wanted to spend Valentine’s Day with the Bhagavad Gita,” she says, referring to one of yoga’s most ancient scriptures.
Emery found peace during her first karma yoga experience at the ashram and decided to return several years later. She acknowledged that even when she experiences her own mental blocks, her negativity never lasts long. “I find myself smiling at everyone,” she says. “This is a place where you are given the power to be who you really are.”
Because Emery’s love for the ashram blossomed into another stay as a karma yogi, she got to continue breaking through her mental blocks — as she says, the limitations she set for herself. “There’s something special about this place,” she says. “With all this light, it’s hard to focus on the dark.”
Brad Thompson, 39, First-time Karma Yogi
“We didn’t know what to expect, but it was magic.”
Brad Thompson was ripping off damaged roofs and installing wood furniture in platform tent spaces. It was a new type of work for this tax lawyer whose first visit to the ashram was business-based.
The Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat was a client of Brad’s accountancy firm. So when a reservation for a father-son holiday fell through, he brought his then 9-year-old son Julian to the ashram for an eight-day stay.
He later returned and took a one-week course in Yoga Essentials and another in Positive Thinking. "We didn't know what to expect, and it was magic," he says.
Last November, Brad received an email from the ashram asking for karma yogis to help repair the damage after a hurricane. He flew down to be of assistance and immediately immersed himself in the yogic lifestyle for one month. "It was extremely difficult to leave,” he says.
Despite missing the ashram, Brad says he brought what he learned home with him. “Now I look forward to meditation every day,” he says. He acknowledged that the practice, along with his new skills in positive thinking, has helped him better manage stress at work.
"I want to keep building this practice, he says. "It's worthwhile to take a step away to reflect and come back a more balanced person.”
Michaela Higgins-Cloyd, 38, Five-time Karma Yogi
“I can feel my spiritual practice deepen.”
Michaela Higgins-Cloyd is a Sivananda karma yoga aficionado. She has served twice at the ashram on Paradise Island, after three stays at the Yoga Ranch in upstate New York and the Yoga Farm in California.
Michaela committed herself to the karma yoga programs at various Sivananda ashrams since she decided to let go of her desire to complete the graduate film program at the University of Southern California.
"I wanted to go there for years — this was the place where George Lucas and Steven Spielberg went to school," she says. "I thought I would be happy and creative, but I felt empty."
She immersed herself in karma yoga to find deeper meaning in her life. She also took a course in meditation taught by Swami Brahmananda to deepen her spiritual practice. "It helped me calm down and feel centered," she says. “All of the spiritual practices did.”
Although Michaela experienced self-doubt when she first joined the ashram community, she continued through her discomfort. “I am now more focused. I feel like I’ve taken off layers,” she says. “My mind is clear, and I can feel my spiritual practice deepen.”
Michaela practices meditation, pranayama, and asanas every day and feels herself getting stronger. “I find myself more connected to the Divine,” she says. “The benefits of my spiritual practice are increasing the more I practice. I’m committed now. I’m not fighting it anymore.”
Michaela is also still contemplating pursuing her dream in film. “I’d love to work on social justice documentaries about women and children,” she says. “I’m not rushing. I call this time my ‘healing journey.’”
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