When Life Becomes a Spiritual Practice: 5 Qualities of a Selfless Yogi
“The first step in the spiritual path is selfless service to humanity.”
Want to feel more spiritually fulfilled in your life? You may already have a wonderful meditation practice and a rewarding yoga routine. But what about the mundane parts of life, like going to work, volunteering, or cleaning up after your family? Wouldn’t life be so much more fulfilling if we could spiritualize every action we do?
One thing missing from your yoga practice might be the teaching of Karma Yoga. While it’s one of the four main paths of yoga, it is often overlooked or forgotten. This is a dangerous part to forget, as it’s crucial to removing negativity and self-centeredness from your life. Karma Yoga is the selfless giving of all your actions without attachment to the results. It’s about spiritualizing your daily actions, so everything you do becomes sacred and blessed.
Many ashrams, as well as traditional spiritual centers, are run by Karma Yogis. In the Sivananda Yoga organization, nearly everyone is practicing Karma Yoga — the entire organization depends on it. People give of themselves selflessly, contributing to a yoga experience that all the ashram’s visitors can enjoy. Many ashram guests don’t even realize the ashrams are nearly completely volunteer-run, until they are asked to help with something too, like washing dishes or helping in the garden.
The idea behind Karma Yoga is to infuse spirituality into every part of your life, not just your exercises on the yoga mat. Think about it: every action, every bit of work you do has some of your ego attached. After all, you’ve worked hard to refine your skills, expand your talents, and build your resume … why not seek out credit and recognition? Karma Yoga recognizes that you may get praise for your work, but you may also get criticism. So what’s the surest way to feel spiritually connected and free in all your actions? Follow the guidelines of a Karma Yogi — for fulfillment in all you do.
For most, Karma Yoga has a strong learning curve. After all, it’s a completely different mentality than most of us grew up with … seeking out recognition, praise, and competition is ingrained in our minds. So Karma Yoga becomes a practice in which we can gradually improve. Of course there are exceptions for those select individuals who already engage in Karma Yoga naturally. You may know some of these people — ultimate do-gooders who try their best regardless of who’s watching. Even if they have no formal yoga training, the spirit of Karma Yoga guides their actions.
People who live selflessly are happier. People who have more to give feel richer. So not only is the practice of karma yoga beneficial for the recipient of the actions, but it’s also majorly important for the practitioner. Ready to give it a try? Here are five attributes to start cultivating to become an effective Karma Yogi.
Top 5 Karma Yoga Qualities
- Right attitude. It’s not just what you’re doing that counts — it’s how you do it. If someone asks you to help them clean, you won’t deliver your best work if you complain or give a half-effort. Not only do good Karma Yogis do the work with a positive attitude, but they go above and beyond.
- Right motive. If you’re doing a selfless act just to impress, somebody, there won’t be quite as many benefits to your work. Make sure your motives are pure! Don’t think about the reward, or what you’ll do after. Instead, be in the moment, without attachment or desires for the fruits of your labor.
- Do your duty. We all have gifts and skills to share with others in this life. Do your duty, not because someone’s telling you to, but because it’s your responsibility to share your divine gifts with others. Even if others criticize you, or if you feel lazy or apathetic sometimes, never shy away from your purpose. Rather, do it because it’s the right thing to do. When you act in accordance with your duty or purpose, your soul is free.
- Do your best. A halfway effort benefits no one. Do your best, without fear of criticism or rejection. Give your whole heart to all you do.
- Give up results. The Divine is the doer. We are the instruments. Make yourself an open vessel and don’t focus too much on the personal benefits of what you’re doing, the rewards, or the gifts you might receive. Do the work out of the goodness of your heart, and then the work will be worth doing, no matter the actual outcome. Think about others who may benefit from your service, and let that motivate you more than the personal gains.
It is always a good idea to learn from masters of the practice. Swami Sivananda, medical doctor and renowned yogi of India, was a leader and teacher of all paths of yoga, including Karma Yoga. This is one of the paths he emphasized most, as he was constantly engaged in selfless service. In fact, one of his disciples, Swami Vishnudevananda, gave rise to all the Sivananda ashrams we see in the world today … and he did it all through the spirit of Karma Yoga. He even started the first Yoga Teacher’s Training Course in the West, which is now one of the most renowned courses in the world, offered at all the Sivananda ashrams. He did it all as a Karma Yogi, and this Yoga Teacher’s Training Course now has more than 42,000 graduates. With that inspiration and strong sense to serve humanity through yoga, he named everything after his Guru and Karma Yoga teacher, Swami Sivananda.
More Benefits of Karma Yoga:
- You develop and learn new skills
- It helps to calm the ego and remove selfishness
- You overcome the superficial “likes” and “dislikes” of your mind
- You eliminate prejudices and judgment
- It allows you to spiritualize your activities
- You will have a more tolerant and genuinely positive attitude
- You will become more loving and balanced
- It improves your health, spiritual growth, and personal fulfillment
- You will stay focused on the big picture — keeping a broader outlook on life
- It keeps you focused on the Divine, or a higher power, throughout the day
Curious about our Karma Yoga Programs? Take a look: Residential Study/Karma Yoga Programs