What is Karma Yoga
The bigger picture of yoga
Many people do not realize that yoga is over 5,000 years old, and originally was developed as a set of practices and a way of life in order to transform a practitioner or an aspirant from living with the usual humans desires and fears and worries into a more enlightened being.
The philosophy of yoga explains that most of our problems are caused by over identification with the ego and by clinging or over attachment.
There are many techniques within yoga to help transform oneself including
- asana (physical postures)
- pranayama (working with energy through breathing practices)
There is much more detail about this at what is Yoga
How to reduce the ego clinging
Trying to reduce ego clinging is extremely difficult if one tries to do this by oneself.
This is because the Ego has access to one’s mind, and can affect how we think, how we perceive things, and it can ‘hood wink’ us into not seeing our own ego clinging.
This is one of the reasons why traditionally Yoga was taught in a one to one teaching scenario usually where the disciple lived with the yoga teacher.
The yoga teacher would already have gone through the same ‘awakening process’ previously and would have the ability to ‘see’ the aspirant’s faults, weaknesses and also their strengths.
Part of the work to transform the mind and awareness of the aspirant, the master would give various tasks to the aspirant to do.
Some of these tasks were huge, and one story tells of the master instructing the aspirant to build a huge tower 50 feet high out of stone.
It took the aspirant 2 years to build the tower, and he came proudly to the master when he had completed it, and asked the master to teach him the next stages on the path.
The master simply said that the tower was in the wrong place and instructed the aspirant to take it down and to build it 20 metres to the East of where it stood now.
After 2 years the aspirant again came less proudly but still with some ego clinging to the master and asked for the next stages to be taught.
Again the master said the tower was in the wrong place, and instructed the aspirant to take down the tower and build it in another location.
Finally all ego resistance was broken down within the aspirant, and the mind of the aspirant was cleansed by simply focussing on the task at hand, putting his best efforts into doing the task but not looking for reward or not feeding the ego by looking back at the task and thinking he was wonderful because he has completed it.
Modern day Karma Yoga
In India within all yoga ashrams which are part of living spiritual traditions of yoga, one partakes in a few hours of Karma yoga each day.
It may be worth noting that some of the modern forms of yoga which have primarily focused on physically practices but left out the wider aspects of transformation. Some of these ‘modern school of yoga’ have neglected Karma yoga and also many other practices and techniques which have always been part of traditional yoga.
So within most ashrams the instructions for karma yoga is to
- engage in the task at hand and put in one’s best efforts at doing the task
- do not look for recognition or reward of any kind for the task
- watch one’s thoughts, emotions and reactions that may occur when undertaking the task
Watching one’s thoughts and reactions
When one first engages in Karma yoga, it is quite normal and quite common for thoughts to arise such as
- “why should I be doing this work for that person”
- “why is that person/ashram not just doing their own work”
- “that person/ashram are taking advantage of ME”
- “why should I have to do this….”
- “I am too important to be doing this type of work”
- “This type of menial low work should be done by servants and not by ME”
These thoughts and the related inner processes result in underlying beliefs or ego clinging which actually hinder us in life.
In time through watching one’s thoughts and reactions, one gains insights into those little mind games which arise usually as a result of the Ego painting a picture of a ‘precious ME’.
These insights, if one is lucky or has a good teacher, can lead towards a realization of how these inner processes can affect how we see the world, and can help us to ‘drop the inner reactions’ and become more open and aware.
And some of these inner beliefs are the actual source of where our unhappiness comes from.
If we are fortunate with our practice and usually also with our kind but sometimes very strict yoga teacher, we can learn how to drop these false inner beliefs and to go deeper to uproot further and deeper inner conflicts until the transformation process brings us to a state of joy and peace and bliss.
Karma Yoga at Burren Yoga
Although we believe fully in the importance of Karma Yoga and we do introduce it in a very simple way to our retreat participants, we also realize that most people have come to us as a holiday to get away from the stresses and strains of everyday life, as well as to experience quality yoga and meditation instruction.
For that reason we only implement karma yoga by helping out with the washing up after meals and this takes about 1 hour or less of each person’s time over a weekend.
However the same principles and the same ‘watching one’s thought’s and reactions’ can also be adopted as part of helping out with the washing up, and this is a very powerful tool and practice that we can use in our own daily lives even after we return home.
There is more information at Karma Yoga washing up