Before starting my first Yoga teacher training I knew very little about Karma Yoga.
What is it exactly?
In the Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna, talking to Arjuna, tells him to accomplish his duties without feeling attached to the results of his activities and just focusing on the Self within.
This type of work, moved just by a sort of meditative awareness, is Karma Yoga.
So it basically means Yoga of action without expectations, where the action is a selfless, devotional service and it’s one of the different Yoga paths on the way to spiritual growth. The aim is to purify our mind and reach a state of inner calm, Self-realization and full awareness.
This is in a nutshell Karma Yoga.
How was my first meeting with it?
I still remember one of my teachers on our first day of training, explaining how the different Karma-teams would have worked.
. . . there will be every week groups of 3 taking care that the teapot is always full, making sure that the glasses are always clean, the towels in the bathrooms are nicely folded, checking whether the rooms need to be hoovered . . .
In those few seconds my head reached the boiling point.
My Ego was furious like a cat that doesn’t want to bath, shaking like crazy in my poor head.
I wasn’t going to do ALL THAT, that was just ridiculous!!
Reading our wide-eyed faces and confused minds, the teacher smiled and told us about how many Karma Yoga works she did at her prestigious Yoga school in India and how that was just part of the program, part of each one’s spiritual growth.
Although I struggled to fully understand the whole thing, I just tried to calm down and decided to give myself time to metabolize. Also, I signed up for the first Karma-team shift. In this way, I thought, this torture would have been quickly swallowed like a bitter pill.
Well my liaison with Karma Yoga was just at the beginning, I just didn’t know it!
The day of my shift arrived and it was less tragic than I expected. There was a great collaboration with the other teacher-training-mates and it was even funny.
The hard part arrived when I found myself alone doing the Karma job of three, in the early morning or in the evening. I was mentally and physically tired, there was a mess around and . . . mmmh where have the others gone?
The fight against my Ego had begun.
Although I wasn’t happy to do that job, not only I did it, but I also did it in the best way I could, like I was used to do at home. No one noticed the results though, in the typical teacher training-chaos.
After all Karma Yoga is by definition selfless service.
You shouldn’t expect any reward for your work.
This is sometimes awfully hard!
All my work seemed to get lost, I suddenly felt so small, so insignificant, a poor Cinderella in a city-ashram. (ok, we Italians love to exaggerate!)
Karma Yoga is meant to purify your soul and clear up your mind, I repeated to myself. And although I hadn’t understood yet why cleaning and serving would have helped me to become a better Yoga teacher, I just simply did it.
And I did it in the best way I could, like I was at home. To achieve this I had to focus only on myself and my duties, eliminating any real and mental noise around me and domesticating my egocentricity.
It took me almost one year of integral Yoga applied to all fields of my life to just START domesticating my Ego and I must admit that Karma Yoga has played a key role in the whole process and I’m very sure I’m not finished yet!
So coming back to my question above: is Karma Yoga really useful to become a good teacher?
Yes, it is! And here are the reasons, straight from my personal experience.
It calms down your Ego
It doesn’t matter how strong your Ego is, we are all used to be on stage every minute of our life. Thanks to social media and our performance-oriented society we are constantly under pressure. Even in Yoga classes, many teachers feel like on a stage, seeing the students as adoring public. Karma Yoga trains us to give, just give. This resizes the whole vision of our life, the whole projection of the objective reality that our brain creates. As teachers we start shifting our attention on our students and their feelings, sticking to our duty of spiritual mediator and abandoning any other role focused on ourselves.
It make you open to pursue Yamas and Niyamas
How can we embrace Ahimsa, Brahmacharya, Santosha, Tapas or Ishvara Pranidhana and incorporate them in our classes if we are hostages of our Ego? It would be like trying to plant seeds on a rocky field. Karma Yoga is like a plough that gets the soil soft and ready to receive the seeds. Having our Ego under control makes it much easier to embrace ethical and moral codes and to reach the mental peace that allows us to evolve.
It strengthens your sense of membership and empathy
Karma Yoga teaches you to share other’s people joy, to transform envy in admiration and to support other people when they are in trouble. In general, it makes you be willing to donate your service for your community because you feel part of it.
It makes you effectively understand that the way is the goal
Yeah! when someone will tell you the way is the goal, this will not sound like a bla bla bla anymore, but you’ll develop a deep understanding of it. We have grown up with the idea that our actions are usually followed by a reward, admiration or money. Doing something without thinking to get a reward is much more difficult for our mind, but makes us much better persons. Karma Yoga shows you practically and effectively that the path counts much more than the destination. Or better said: the path IS the destination. You’ll grow so much that this concept will be suddenly very clear and tangible and you’ll be able to transfer it from the smallest duties to your entire life.
It keeps you away from computers and social media and focuses your awareness on the here and now
We are permanently connected, reachable, we check our emails while we run to catch the bus, we like photos on Instagram in our 3 minutes tram ride, we are constantly somewhere else in the future or in the past and not being aware of the present. Karma Yoga focuses our awareness on the present moment.
It allows you to observe people
Especially if you are doing your Karma Yoga work in contact with other people, from the depth of your meditative awareness you’ll focus on their behaviour and start studying them, a bit like a naturalist. You’ll observe adorable people most of the times, but also detestable ones. They have no idea of what a yoga path looks like and they will probably treat you like their slave. This will hardly test your patience and your control over your instincts. All this will make you become more tolerant, patient, empathic and willing to help others.
It trains you to BE the change you wan to see around you
You’ll learn to take action! Not only for your own freedom and happiness, but at a much larger scale. Selfless service expands your awareness far beyond your personal sphere and makes you want to participate, contribute and be present to make a real change in the world around you.
It strengthens the awareness of your True-Self
It doesn’t matter whether you are an engineer or a banker, while you wipe floors and bring away dirty teacups you face your weaknesses, your fears and the darkest parts of your personality, anger, envy, egoism. You are forced to reflect about them to carry on in your duties and this helps you to liberate the purest and brightest form of your Self.
So how all this would lead you to become a better yoga teacher?
Losing yourself in the service for others can be your way to find out who you really are. Detaching your actions from any expectation of reward will let you focus on what you want to be and not on what the others want to see.
Only expressing fully who you truly are makes you be free and totally open to genuinely share your path with your students.