Oh the Floors I’ve Swept…Karma Yoga in Practice…
“The success of yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures, but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.” – T.K.V. Desikachar
Sometimes as modern day yogis we loose sight of what we’re really doing here in our yoga practice. Asana classes have become so popular and trendy that many people – even some who have been taking yoga classes for years – associate yoga solely with postures and physical movement. But why do we really practice? Why go to a studio and stretch and strain and breathe deeply? I think the most basic and one true answer to what motivates us as modern yogis is our desire to be happier, healthier human beings. To feel alive and connected, to ourselves and something bigger. But where does this connection come from, and how does it transform from our intentions in yoga to our everyday lives?
When I travelled to India for an Ashtanga Yoga teacher training I learned a lot about asana practice, and even more about the wholistic lifelong practice of yoga. In India, the birthplace of this ancient path, I discovered that the majority of modern Indian yogis do not practice yoga asana (postures linked with breath and vinyasa) at all. Their practices are far more spiritual and ritualistic. Bhakti yoga (the practice of unconditional love and devotion) and Karma yoga (service to others) are much more common. Every morning, as we rose at 5am for meditation and asana practice, steady chanting drifted across the backwaters of Kerala from local temples. Their prayers were many. Ritual chants declaring unconditional love for the Hindu gods and devotion to the service of humanity. People choosing to put love at the forefront of their intentions and daily duties without ever asking ‘what’s in it for me?’.
“Love is the coal that makes this train roll…” – The Black Keys, Everlasting Light
When I lived in Toronto, Canada I spent 3 years doing an energy exchange at a yoga studio. I worked one shift per week and received a class pass at the studio. The tasks I performed were less than glamorous. Sweeping, laundry, changing garbages, cleaning the showers and spraying sweaty yoga mats after class. During this time I also worked a busy job managing a restaurant. I barely had time for asana practice at all, sometimes only attending one class per week and was often so exhausted from working that I would just lay in Savasana and rest. But I stuck with the EE. I mopped the studio and folded towels and loved every second of it. It kept me in the yoga community, and was my karmic yoga to that community. When I finally began to crack and crumble from mental, physical and emotional exhaustion that inevitably comes from over work and stress without balance, that community was there. They cared, showed me compassion, supported and inspired me to keep going and take the next step on my path.
Now, years later I can see how cultivating love, devotion and a practice of karma yoga deeply penetrates and translates to infinite joy in everyday life.
Many of us lead busy lives, we have jobs, families and communities to attend to everyday. Finding time for physical asana practice is tough, damn near impossible sometimes. But instead of resenting our responsibilities and mundane daily chores that keep us too busy to attend yoga classes, what if we shifted our perspective? What if we performed every action, every task and approached every situation with love. Know that by doing this, or even simply by setting this intention you are doing a service of karma yoga to your family, your community and the wider world.
Lynn Alexander is a modern day yogi living her karma yoga. Her philosophy on practice and life is to do what you can every day – love and all is coming. Follow her on Instagram @modernday_yoga