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Selfless Service: It's Time For Some Karma Yoga

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President Barack Obama is a natural karma yogi, as was Martin Luther King Jr. When your activity is for the benefit of others, and your intention and heart are pure, then you are yogic. President Obama's statements, "We Are One," "Choose hope over fear" and "I am in it for you not for me" are truly yoga.

Martin Luther King said: Everybody can be great... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

Brad Pitt's work building houses, or Yoga teacher Seane Corn's work with Youth AIDS are expressions of karma yoga. Hopefully they will influence us all to heed the call from Obama to do more selfless service.

The yogic path is very explicit regarding service. Karma yoga is the path of selfless service, the renouncing of the fruits of one's actions so others may benefit. It is also working in such a way that we are surrendering our own needs or selfish pursuits to the action. People often think that meditation or yoga means we just sit with our eyes closed and do nothing or do exercises that make us look like a pretzel. But if that is all we did we would be no use to anyone.

We can start by spending a whole day practicing generosity, giving in whatever way you can by offering kindness. How does that make you feel? Even just one day of this can create miracles, so maybe try doing it once a week. It doesn't mean you have to deny or ignore your own needs--you are just as important as everyone else. But just for this time it is not about you.

Each one of us is capable of helping someone else, no matter how little we think we have. A smile is a great gift. Have you ever walked down the street or sat on a train and noticed how few people are smiling? Offer a smile and you might be amazed how it lights up another's face. Silently extend your loving kindness to all those around you. They don't have to know, but you will be emanating a gentler and kinder energy towards them.

Giving without any thought of getting is the most powerful act of generosity as it is unconditional, unattached, free to land wherever it will. But generosity can also raise fears about not having enough. Watch where resentment creeps in, when you feel as if you are always giving but no one is giving to you. Are you needing some acknowledgement or affirmation in return?

We see karma yoga all around us. On our morning walk through the back alleys near our house we came across a back garden filled with used bicycles. Finally we met the owner, who had a bicycle shop in town. He was collecting all these used bikes, repairing them, and then donating them to an Indian reservation in Montana. His goal was that everyone at the reservation, young and old, should have a bicycle of their own.

And we see it in our friend, author Marc Barasch, founder of Green World Campaign ( Motivated by Buddhist vows, he decided that, "instead of cutting down trees to put words on a page, I wanted to plant some actual trees in the ground." This year the nonprofit will plant millions of trees throughout the developing world, revitalizing barren land, helping sustain poor villages, and combating climate change. The slogan is, "It's amazing what one seed can grow." An example is Aileen, a friend from England. In the last ten years she has founded a farm in rural India. She sent us a photo showing her planting 'flame of the forest' tree seeds into starter pots. When these seeds become saplings they will be distributed to local school children, so each child will have their own tree to look after.

Serving another enables us to step beyond our own needs and to realize that we are all here together. We have worked as volunteers for Hospice, which is one of the most heart-warming of experiences. We discover that in giving we do not have any less. Rather, we gain so much more.

Let us hear from you. Tell us know what you feel about selfless service.


Ed and Deb Shapiro are authors of over 15 books, and lead meditation retreats and workshops. Deb is the author of the award-winning book Your Body Speaks Your Mind. They are corporate consultants, and the creators of Chillout daily inspirational text messages on Sprint cell phones. See their website: