Karma Yoga

“God realization through selfless service.”

The practice is a little like ‘Wax on. Wax off.’ from the movie Karate Kid. I’m not shy of working or helping so when my yoga teacher said that we would be doing service as part of our practice, I was unphased. Toilets? Sure. Weeding? Sure. Selfless service? Feels good. God realization? Well, I was a skeptic.

Practicing karma yoga often involves improving the presence of something already beautiful inside or around the ashram. A moss path winds through ornamented garden beds protected by a canopy of oak and pine trees. A little gazebo sits inside thick, private bushes. A bench perches beside a creek on the other side of a small foot bridge. All of the spaces are designed for relaxation and meditation.

Most of the time we do odd jobs like weed the herb garden or clean the glass doors — things that always need doing. One notable weekend, an advanced student was kneeling in the pebble driveway seemingly sorting the road rock by rock. This was too much for me so I made a sarcastic comment to her. She smiled in a friendly manner but didn’t speak. I realized she was practicing mauna (silence). That night I shared the experience with friends who don’t practice yoga and we all had a good chuckle at my ability to stick my foot in my mouth. Apparently, my lesson hadn’t been learned yet because the next day my assignment was to weed the driveway by hand. Karma has its way, doesn’t it?

And that’s when it began for me, the God realization bit. Kneeling in the rocks is hard on the knees. Pulling small pieces of green out of the rough stones is hard on the fingers. Crouching low to the ground is hard on the back. I could choose to suffer through the hour and a half. The other option included malasana (deep squat) and virasana (hero pose). Focusing on the task kept my mind from gripping onto pain. It was meditative. Piece by piece, finding peace.

It’s more humorous to tell the story without the kriya (God realization) part. Feel free to carry on laughing. Consider me a work in progress.

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