Giving Back with Yoga
By Rosie Mulford
“Giving” is a funny thing. It is like an endless well that just keeps on flowing and filling no matter how much it is used. The word “purna” in Sanskrit means full. But more than full. My teacher describes “purna” as holding a glass under the tap and water fills it to the top and then overflows. This is what giving feels like. When we give, we feel complete and full. Perhaps it is because giving is that last piece of the puzzle. It is human nature; our True and Essential Nature! So many religions and self-help groups include an act of “giving” in their formula:
- The 12th step of AA is all about giving back. Having a spiritual awakening myself as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all our affairs.
- The Bible says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). It is in our service that all will see God’s grace in action as we demonstrate our faith. Service is the embodiment of Christian love toward others.
- ‘Tzedakah’ is the Hebrew word for philanthropy and charity. It is a form of social justice in which donors benefit from giving as much or more than the recipients. This is so much more than a financial transaction, it also builds trusting relationships and includes contributions of time, effort, and insight.
In yoga, we often use the Sanskrit word “Seva” which is often translated as “service.” This goes beyond just the desire to help others, “seva” is taken from two words, “saha,” which means “with that,” and “eva,” which means “too.” Combined, the word “seva” it creates, “together with” and it means actions that create a collective uplifting by contemplating the needs of others. It is a manifestation of compassion for others combined with a genuine desire to uplift those around you, without expectation of a “reward” for your efforts.
The practice of seva is a path to self-realization, which is the essence of a yoga practice! When we engage in selfless action and have nothing to gain by performing acts of Seva through our actions, we transcend our individual self and move into a higher level of consciousness. Therefore, Seva is done with no expectation of reward nor any acknowledgment of the work that is done. We serve for the sake of serving — not for any other reason. As a matter of fact, my rule is that if you are “caught” committing an act of kindness, then it doesn’t count, so you must do another one in which no one sees you.
Seva without expectation of recognition can be difficult in this human experience! One of my own reasons for teaching yoga classes is so that I can learn. It is said that in teaching, you learn and in giving, you receive. I joke with my students that whatever we are focusing on in class is whatever I am personally trying to learn as well because we are forever students in our own practice.
If you want to learn something, teach it. If you want to receive happiness — act happy towards others, if you want to receive kindness, treat others kindly. In giving, you receive ten-fold and more.
My homework for you this Holiday Season is to commit random acts of kindness! Here are some examples of giving without expectations of recognition or receiving anything back:
- buy coffee for the person behind you
- bring in the neighbors trash can
- stop and talk to an unhoused person, share food if they are hungry
- write an anonymous note to someone and fill it with kind words about them
- Donate to local charities, whether with cash or resources like food, clothing, toys, etc.
We are also collecting donations in the studio for an Open Yoga Closet at AYC. This open yoga closet is to help bring yoga to the greater community. We will be collecting yoga donations at our studio each month to be shared during a monthly open yoga closet weekend. On this open yoga closet weekend, folks may come into the studio lobby and browse our selection of yoga donations for free. This is a wonderful opportunity to give back to others as well as help bring yoga to those in need.