Fitness Magazine

Accidentally Karma Yoga

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Accidentally Karma Yoga

Austin Graffiti by Melina Meza

Brad has recently been telling me about how gratifying he finds mentoring his younger colleagues. He said that he’s turning more and more to this activity as a way of finding fulfillment at his work. Then, just last night as we were walking home from dinner out, he told me he’d read an article about a scientific study that confirmed his new approach to his job Meaningful Activities Protect the Brain From Depression by Olga Khazan.
For the original study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers followed a group of 39 teenagers over the course of one year to see whether the way their brains reacted to either eudaimonic (selfless) or hedonic (selfish) rewards correlated with how depressed they felt over time. First, the subjects underwent an fMRI while making a decision about whether to keep money for themselves (a hedonic reward) or to donate it to their families (a eudaimonic reward). They also played a game to determine if they were willing to take risks for the possibility of a greater financial reward (hedonic). Through the use of questionnaires, the researchers determined that depressive symptoms declined among those who made the selfless decision but rose in those who made the selfish decision. As Olga Khazan put it:
“It turned out the teens who had the greatest brain response to the generous, family-donation financial decision had the greatest declines in depressive symptoms over time. And those who got a boost from the risk-taking game were more likely to have an increase in depression. The types of rewards the teens responded to, it seems, changed their behavior in ways that altered their overall well-being.”
I said, “Brad, I have two words for you: karma yoga.” Karma yoga, I explained, is the yoga of selfless service, most famously embodied in the work of Mohandas K. Gandhi, who, inspired by the message of the Bhagavad Gita, worked for the freedom of the Indian people. In fact, Ram has already written about the topic of karma yoga in his post Selfless Service for Harmonious Longevity, in which he defined karma yoga as:  

“This individual puts the well-being of others as a top priority ahead of his/her personal gain or achievement.”
(Obviously, someone’s husband doesn’t actually read all the YFHA posts.) While Ram tied the practice of karma yoga to longevity in his post, he mentioned some benefits of the practice that would also contribute to the feeling of contentment that Brad has been experiencing:

  • Stress reduction. When helping others, the body releases an important hormone called oxytocin, which assists in buffering stressful thoughts.
  • Morale. Merely thinking of a selfless service releases certain “feel-good” chemicals, namely dopamine and serotonin (lack of which have both been linked with depression and other mood disorders).
And recently in his post Mental Exercise and the Perfect Brain, Ram mentioned that he himself practices karma yoga because it leads to true happiness and improved cognitive skills, bringing “greater fulfillment to my life.”
So, there you have it, Brad! You’re practicing karma yoga without even knowing it—and feeling the benefits. Namaste, dear husband.

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