Fitness Magazine

The Path of Karma Yoga (Selfless Service)

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Ram

The Path of Karma Yoga (Selfless Service)

Red Lotus by Marie Lossky
(@Marie.Lossky on Instagram)

The underlying principle of yoga philosophy is the well‐being of an individual at the level of body and mind, and helping an individual to cultivate contentment and maintain mental health. One of the methods by which yoga does this is through the path of karma yoga or selfless service. Selfless service/actions are rendered without any personal expectation for the service provided. Whether it is providing finances to support an orphanage, sponsoring a research study, supporting the food bank, provide free health consultancies, etc., a karma yogi aka an individual rendering selfless service gets rid of all egoistic tendencies while offering such a service.
In order to render a selfless service an individual needs to cultivate two qualities: (1) overcoming attachment and (2) a loving attitude to perform the selfless service. Selfless service requires an individual to perform any service without any attachment or expectation, and remain unaffected by the results of such service. At the same time such an individual needs to cultivate a loving attitude towards the selfless task without developing any stress from it no matter what the outcome is. If the individual does not love rendering a selfless service and yet does it out of some compulsion, it creates a conflict in the mind leading to an emotional upheaval. This approach—performing a task without any expectation and letting go of all results, whether good or bad and focusing on the selfless action alone—is the essence of karma yoga. In Chapter 3 verse 19 of the Bhagavad Gita, Karma Yoga is explained as: 
“Therefore without any attachment, without interruption, perfectly perform prescribed actions since by performing prescribed actions a person achieves the highest good”. 
So learn to create love toward your selfless duties. Furthermore, notice if you are happier and satisfied at the end of the day because this what true karma yogis have experienced; seek them out and you will commonly hear them saying that the more they serve selflessly, the more true happiness they receive. In the light of non-attachment, the selfless doer attains freedom from emotional disturbances, including but not limited to desires, ambitions, fear, worry, anxiety, judgment, rage, etc., and all of this leads to true happiness. 
Furthermore, if you wish to have a longer and healthier life, you may want to consider performing selfless service. Researchers from the University of Michigan reached this conclusion after conducting a longitudinal study Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults involving high school graduates from 1957. The researchers caught up with over 3,000 of these individuals, who were now age 65 years or older. They found that those individuals who had performed selfless service regularly lived longer compared to those who did not render any selfless service. Additionally, the participants who volunteered only for compassionate reasons achieved the most health benefits. However, the ones who performed the service purely for personal gain or self-growth were as likely to die as those who didn't volunteer at all. According to one of the authors of the study: 
“Our research implies that, should any benefits to the self become the main motive for performing selfless service, the doer may not see the health benefits associated with the selfless service”.
Similarly another study Volunteerism and Mortality among the Community-dwelling Elderly from the Buck Institute where I work followed more than 2,000 residents of Marin County, California, and found that selfless service reduced mortality rates more than exercising four times weekly and attending church regularly. Subjects who volunteered for two or more causes had a 63 percent lower rate of mortality than people who didn't volunteer during the study period. 
According to Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to Be Good, researchers believe that performing a selfless service without any expectation triggers numerous immense health benefits mainly due to: 
  • While performing a selfless service, the body releases an important hormone called oxytocin, which assists in buffering out stressful thoughts. 
  • Just thinking of a selfless service releases certain “feel-good” chemicals, namely dopamine and serotonin, that boost the morale of the individual. 
  • Performing a selfless service without any expectation helps to build esteem and self-confidence.
Thus, all of the scientific articles on selfless service conclude that a strong correlation exists between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who render selfless service without any expectation and as long as they are not overwhelmed by such helping tasks. 
It was my father who inculcated in me and my two brothers the virtue of performing voluntary and altruistic duties. Despite being a chemical engineer and touring many countries as a visiting scientist and academician, my father strictly followed the yogic style of living. Though he did not have a formal asana practice, he incorporated the eight limbs of yoga in his daily living, at home and at work. He would always quote from the Gita and provided us with a scientific explanation of the passages from this book. My father always believed in serving the society loyally—to go a little further, endure a little longer, without any thought of recognition or gain. Time and again, he would advocate the virtues of giving rather than receiving. 
Thanks to his noble deeds and his influence, my selfless acts started when I was in middle school. I would stay back after my classes were over and help the teachers in the elementary school or if needed I used to tutor several primary school students. I distinctly remember reading out the chapters of textbooks to blind students and writing their exams or tests while they dictated to me. I organized numerous food camps, and donated food and clothing to the homeless and destitute folks. During weekends, I used to help in the city library spending several hours sorting books or cataloging new books. Since then, it’s been a long journey of many such selfless acts and has not ceased. I have done all these selfless acts and continue to do so only because I place the well‐being of others as a top priority ahead of my personal gain or achievement and because I love doing these selfless duties.
Selfless service is a decision that I chose, and I have begun to notice the significance of this virtue. At the core of these services I find love that makes all the difference. Thus, by doing these acts over several years now have not only helped in my journey to become and reveal the best of me, but has also helped me to follow the path of love and selflessness, a path that I enjoy to live. Life is a journey of opposites and, like any individual, I too experience hard choices, stressful events, and difficult situations. But these serve as a lesson to me, making me stronger and giving me a deeper sense of self and confidence that I will make it through the turbulent period. Thus, I do hope that my example together with the Bhagavad Gita teachings about Karma Yoga and the scientific studies backing the concept of selfless service will motivate you as well to perform some selfless acts on a regular basis to foster sincere relationships and bring greater fulfillment to your own life!!
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