Focus of the Month - February 2023
written by Leonie Fahjen
Last week, I was asked by one of my students how much money we should aim to earn, and if there will ever be the feeling ‘of having enough’. From a psychological and evolutionary point of view, our brains are made to ‘want more’ - a tendency that we see already in little children not willing to share food or toys with their friends and siblings. The yoga philosophy offers us a set of values to overcome this tendency and the thought of ‘never having enough’. One of these concepts is Karma Yoga.
Karma yoga is a spiritual practice that focuses on selfless service or “action in the world.” Karma yoga is often seen as a way of serving the divine, as the Sanskrit word “karma” literally translates to “action” or “deed.” The idea is to perform actions out of love and compassion, rather than with the expectation of reward.
Key to Karma Yoga is reflecting on the intention that underlies our actions. When the intention is pure, our actions can be pure. Having a pure intention in itself brings joy to life. Serving others through the work we do can bring an immediate feeling of happiness and reward right in the present moment. When we work for the sake of fame or wealth, it is much more difficult to reach that moment of pure happiness. Fame is something that normally does not last forever and wealth can be easily lost or taken away. No matter how much fame or wealth a person has acquired, they probably never come to the feeling of having enough and this has simple psychological reasons.
Why do we tend to strive for more?
From a psychological point of view, we tend to feel that we never have enough money because of our risk-averse nature. We tend to focus on potential losses rather than potential gains and feel that we need to be prepared for the worst. As a result, we have an innate psychological urge to accumulate and amass resources as a form of security and survival. We may also be influenced by the feeling that having more money will lead to greater happiness and social acceptance. This can lead us to pursue money, even when we don't need it, and to feel that we never have enough.
How much money is enough according to yoga philosophy?
According to yoga philosophy, money is not something to be sought after or accumulated for its own sake, but rather as a means to support a righteous and meaningful life. The ancient yogic texts emphasize that material wealth should not be an end in itself, as it can never provide true inner satisfaction or contentment. Rather, enough money should be acquired to meet one's basic needs, while living an ethical and spiritually-oriented life. Yoga encourages us to find our deepest joy and contentment from within, and to find balance in all aspects of our lives, including our finances. Having enough money is important for the stability of our lives, but acquiring too much can become a source of worry and anxiety. Ultimately, yoga teaches us that material wealth is only one small part of a larger, holistic lifestyle that includes spiritual practices, meaningful relationships, and wise use of our resources.
Take time to reflect:
- Which duties/roles do I take in life?
- Which of these roles lead to an immediate feeling of joy?
- What is my intention behind these duties?
- Prioritizing roles according to the pureness of the intention
- Step-by-step letting go of the roles that follow an intention which does not come right from the heart
Here are a few examples:
- Do I work to provide for the basic needs of myself or my family? Yes, this can be Karma Yoga.
- Do I work to feed my family but I am harming a part of society through my work? This might not be considered Karma Yoga.
- Do I work to acquire personal fame or wealth? No, this is not Karma Yoga.
- A street cleaner who proceeds their work in order to provide a clean surrounding for others. Yes, this is Karma Yoga
However, Karma Yoga is not an exchange of services, working for free in the name of spirituality or humanity, providing cheap labor, or any other form of social service. Rather, it is doing one's duty with no attachment or ego, no matter the task. Karma Yoga is about being free from the expectation of reward. It is about being in service of humanity with no hidden agenda.
The importance of self-care:
When we act through pure intentions, we tend to forget that self-care is essential to be able to help others. For example, if you are sick and resting in bed, and get a late-night phone call from a lonely friend needing your company, your priority must be to get better so that you can help them in the future. Taking care of oneself is the foundation of being able to support others.
How to integrate Karma Yoga into your Yoga Practice
1. Begin your class by setting an intention of service and invite your students to consider how they can incorporate this intention into the practice.
2. Ask your students to dedicate their practice to a good cause, friend or family member in need of support.
3. During your practice, invite your students to focus on their breath and use the energy of the breath to send out intentions of service.
4. At the end of class, invite your students to spend a few moments reflecting on how the practice made them feel and how they can use that feeling to continue to serve their chosen cause.
By incorporating Karma Yoga into your practice, you will help your students to cultivate a sense of service and connectedness that will extend beyond the walls of your yoga studio.
Connection to the Heart Chakra (Anahata):
When this energy center is in balance, we can feel a sense of unity with those around us, and act with unconditional love and understanding. We become more selfless rather than self-centered, and can show compassion and consideration to all who we share this world with. When this energy is imbalanced or weakened due to illness, loss, or sorrow, the Anahata chakra may become blocked. This may cause us to be timid, avoid social interaction, and be unable to accept others or ourselves. We might also engage in destructive or self-centered behaviors to protect ourselves from further hurt.
- Anahatasana – Puppy Pose
- Bhujangasana – Cobra Pose
- Ustrasana – Camel Pose
- Virabhadrasana 1 – Warrior 1 Pose
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – Bridge Pose
- Dhanurasana – Bow Pose
- Urdhva Dhanurasana – Wheel Pose
- Eka Pada Rajakapotasana – One-Legged King Pigeon Pose
- Gomukhasana – Cow Face Pose
- Matsyasana – Fish Pose
+ Arm variations: Reverse Namaste, Cow Face Arms, Bound Humble Warrior
+ Myofascial release: Place a tennis ball on the front of the armpit/chest, under the
collar bone. Place tennis balls on either side of the spine and between the upper,
middle, and lower shoulder blades.
+ Yin: Broken Wings, Quarter Dog, Half Dog, Heart-Melting pose, Fish, Heart Bridge, shoulder fossing
Additional Teaching Ideas*:
+ Work on posture. Hunching forwards and collapsing in the chest are indicators that the heart chakra is blocked. Encourage pulling the shoulder heads back to open and spread the sternum and lift the chest.
+ Focus on expansion and extension (lifting) of the chest.
+ Experiment with non-traditional peak poses such as Bridge, Upward Facing Dog,
Fish, or Camel and their variations. These poses will give you more time to explore
postures in their entirety.
+ A class devoted entirely to Bridge and her variations works well with the idea of
anahata being the bridge we must cross if we wish to explore spirituality.
+ When doing Cat-Cow, focus attention on the upper body moving as opposed to the pelvis moving.
+ Metta meditation or loving-kindness meditation summons the power of love, support, and connection. Her words are, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you live a life of ease, may you be loved.'
+ The sense organ is the hands. Explore massage, touch, and partner work. The hands are the perfect vehicle for giving and receiving love.
*see Harris, Gabrielle – The Inspired Yoga Teacher, 2021