Karma Yoga & Asanas
In yoga, self-inquiry is a trusted tool and the basis for action.
Life is short. The burning question in yoga is: “What is the purpose of your life?” Setting the goal gives a direction. You can experiment and see what comes back to you as you move in this direction. You can stop and reassess. Is it still the right way? You can see what life gives you–the gifts and the challenges–and recognize the challenges as part of the gift. What are you are meant to do in this lifetime? Why were you born? What does it mean to die? What is supposed to happen in between?
Karma Yoga is the yoga of action. You cannot live without acting. By necessity, you also must sacrifice other life to support your life. How then do you act? The Bhagavad Gita says you must act according to our dharma, according to our purpose. You must fulfill our duties and not someone else’s. You, too, must sacrifice.
In yoga, self-inquiry is a trusty tool and the basis for action. If you start to get a sense of your purpose, then you can engage your will and put in the effort needed to move forward.
Practice is essential. You can see that in whatever you do—whether you write, create art, clean, build houses, do business, practice medicine. You learn through practice. Your efforts pay off in expertise. In the Mahabharata, Arjuna is destined to be an archer. He is devoted to practice. One evening, he and his brother Bhima are eating together and a wind blows out the candlelight. Bhima, who loves his food, continues to eat effortlessly in the dark and Arjuna asks him how he does it. “Through practice,” Bhima replies. Arjuna takes the idea and begins to practice archery in the dark until he has mastered his art under these conditions.
If your goal is to reunite with the divine, you also have to practice. You practice making contact with the divine based on your desire for that contact. You can do this through every type of yoga, whether it is Hatha Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, or Raja Yoga.
Reflecting on the symbolism of the asanas can help you understand what your path is. When you stand in the Warrior, you can ask: What is the vision for my life? Where do I want to be? You wait and listen. You hear what is relevant for you in that moment. You can take the insights from the reflection as clues, as hints.
You can also ask specific questions about how to act in particular circumstances. For example, if you are making an important decision, start by considering options, seeking clarification and coming to a preliminary decision. Then work with an asana, such as the Triangle or Revolved Triangle. As you create the base, recognize that this is the foundation of research and understanding you’ve established through exercising the rational mind. When you reach up, allow the divine to flow in through your upstretched hand. Ask for divine guidance. By inviting in this higher perspective, you express a willingness to listen and to let go if it is not right action. Being receptive can result in a sense of freedom and trust in the process.
“Hatha Yoga is effective only if you apply what you learn and stay with it,” writes Swami Sivananda Radha in her book, Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language: A Teacher’s Manual. Through reflection in the poses, you can gather information from which to act. Your actions can then come from a place of clarified intentions. Once deciding on the course of action, you can follow through with dynamism and confidence, continuing to be receptive and adjusting to the messages that come back.
Practicing yoga means using whatever circumstances you are given and accepting that they are exactly what you need for your development. Keeping your purpose clear, you can step up to the challenge, recognizing that even in the most adverse situations there is the opportunity to develop character. You become stronger as you affirm your connection with your inner light, and also when you admit where you are not strong, where you need help.
Working with poses such as the Plough, Bow, Warrior, and Revolved Triangle, you can explore how will and surrender can unite to help you act wisely. Always there are questions you alone can answer and choices only you can decide. You must meet your karma. Through intelligence, reflection, and practice, you can take action that begins to accelerate your evolution and moves you toward ever-expanding awareness.
Swami Lalitananda is a teacher, author, and the director of Radha Yoga & Eatery in Vancouver—a space that integrates yoga, vegan food, culture, and community. A longtime student of Swami Sivananda Radha, she became a sanyasin (renunciate in the yoga tradition) in 1996, and is dedicated to making yoga accessible in everyday life.
© 2012 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies