Karma Yoga is the yoga of action and selfless service and can be translated to stress management. The word Karma comes from the Sanskrit word kri which means “to do.” In a sense everything you do, every action is Karma. In yoga we do not think of Karma as “what comes around, goes around.’ There is no boomerang effect. Karma is how a persona feels directly after taking action. So instead of “A man walks into a store and steals food and money, so the clerk says to himself the thief will one day get robbed as he robed me,” in yogic sense the situations would go “A man walks into a store and steels food and money, so the thief now feels guilt, shame, and fear as a result.” The Fear guilt and shame are the thief’s karma, not his unforeseen future of being robbed. In Karma yoga though we associate Karma as work. In this sense everything you do is karma. You breath: that is karma. You walk: that is karma. You read: that is karma. You listen: that is Karma. Karma yoga focuses on four keys, also known as the four folds: acceptance, concentration, excellence and non-attachment to the results of our actions.
Acceptance means to understand a work situation as it is. So for me this means knowing that regardless of weather or not you like your duties, you know that it is something that has to be done. You can either fight doing it, and complain through it, or you can accept doing it and find peace through it. This example included the idea of doing something that needs to be done, which is you duty. Duty (Dharma) is different for everyone since everyone is different, however what you do and how you think about it are completely different and this is where acceptance and duty collide. If you were to think of this in a modern society, during the recession, many people lost their jobs or had to find new and less exciting or profitable ones. So lets take an example of 3 people who were working high up in companies making upwards of six figure salaries and were now stuck working for minimum wage in a fast food restaurant. You were to ask them each individually what they are doing. The first one replies “I’m stuck here doing the high school drop outs job because of the economy. This is ridiculous and I am going to quit, I’d rather collect welfare.” The second replies with “I’m working an honest days work in order to support my family. Its what I have to do in order to survive.” The third replies “I am feeding those who are hungry.” In this example the third person is the one who has not only done his duty, but has accepted it. The other two although they are performing the task at hand, are putting themselves in misery by not accepting what they are doing. The Classical Yoga Study guide says that open communication helps on the path to acceptance by allowing for a deeper understanding of the situation, which neutralizes emotions. Having a mutual open line of communication can help you to understand the tasks you are given so that you do not blindly do without understanding. Think of the movie “The Karate Kid” when Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel to wash his car, and paint his deck, Daniel feels as though Mr. Miyagi is old and simply does not have to work. He feels used and mistreated. However when the lines of communication are opened and Mr. Miyagi finally shows Daniel what the painting and washing have done to improve his karate, then Daniel becomes grateful to Mr. Miyagi. Having acceptance can also help manage stress because small problems no longer seem as large, daunting or forced.
Concentration is about being present, and even when distracted, finding your way back to present. Concentration works on a persons ability to focus on one task, and essentially strengthen your habit of trusting a larger process. When you concentrate on the present and the right now then you have faith that the bigger picture will work it self out which allows you to find that faith. In Karma yoga concentration is important because it is easy to be distracted and think about the future or the past. When you think about the past you are holding on to resentments. You are letting your fear, grief, sadness, shame, and guilt get the better of you. You stay stuck on things that already happened instead of letting them go so that you can move on and stay present. When you think about the future you are playing out scenarios in ways they may never happen. You are letting worry, pressure, lack of faith, fear, shame, and lack of knowledge get the better of you. You need to accept that things will happen the way that they do and there is nothing you can do about it so that you can focus on the present and live it to its fullest. I have trouble with concentration because I am constantly living in the future, and basing it off of the past. I plan for things that may never happen due to fears from my past. I’ve learned through some self exploration and help from teachers that for me concentration dose not come from doing nothing. When I first started meditating, I could not keep myself still for my than 10-15 minutes. I fixed this my adding yoga to my meditation. I learned a sun salutation, and would repeated the sun salutation over and over again as I meditated this worked for me because I can focus on one aspect of the flow each time I meditated weather it was breathing, my feet, grounding, balance, or anything else. Today when I find it hard to focus I do balancing. One foot, eyes closed; balance. This requires such a high level of commitment to the focus of balancing that I am able to steady my mind and concentrate, and be present.
Excellence here does not refer to perfection. It means working with a pure state of mind. “You feel whatever action you perform” This goes right back to the idea of the thief feeling the thief now feels guilt, shame, and fear when he robbed the clerk at the store. As soon as he took the negative action, his state of mind changed. The thief may not have noticed it at first due to the adrenaline (or maybe the guilt and shame were clouded by the fear; the fear of being caught) but as soon as he was able to think and feel clearly his state of mind changed and he felt the guilt, the shame, and the fear. The state of mind is what drives the excellence. Performing a job or duty is one thing. Accepting it comes from knowledge. The concentration allows you to complete the task. Excellence is the feeling you receive from it all, the entire process. What you receive from doing something good. When I say good I don’t mean doing something well or superior to others I mean doing something nice. You want to do a good job, or an excellent job at work though right? An excellent job though is only done when the work is appreciated and has a positive experience for the one doing it. Look at the positive experience as finding something to learn from the experience so that no matter what you are doing weather it is answering a phone or saving someone’s life, your work has meaning for you.
Notice how in the previous paragraphs, I talked about the process, but not the end result, and the only result was the feelings directly following the action? This is because the last part of karma yoga is non-attachment to the end result. Work is put before us not to relish in our accomplishments, but to learn from the experiences that came with the process. Weather you win or lose accomplish or fail, the most important thing is what you take from it. If you are on a sports team and your team loses the championship game, it is important not to sit and sulk about the outcome but instead to look at what you learned. Maybe it was that you need to work on a certain aspect, or that you performed really well in another, maybe you noticed that when you weren’t looking at the time or the score that you really enjoyed the sport, or maybe you didn’t. Whatever you take from the game is what is important, not who won or lost. It is like this with everything in life. Wanting to do well in life is good thing, but you should not become attached to the idea of “getting this job will make me lots of money” or “marrying this person will make me happy” The person who took the job to make lots of money may have taken a job where in the process of making lots of money had to steal cheat and lie in order to become rich. If they had taken the job because it was a job and they liked what they were doing, then they would have appreciated the process and loved doing their job, and eventually may have made lots of money. The person who married in order to find happiness may have lost the love for themselves, in order to find love for the other. If they had waited until they loved themselves fully then they would not have felt the need to marry to be happy and would have found someone they could truly love as they love themselves.