I wanted to write about the path of yoga we call karma, in depth, with ideas for your class. My starting point initially was going to address how the modern world has replaced the idea of servanthood originally intended by the Hindu religion with a simplified “what goes around comes around” definition of karma. I was surprised to fully learn the history and depth of true karma yoga during my first attempt at a 200-hour yoga certification. However, in beginning my research to write this piece, I feel like perhaps I was a bit naïve in my desired approach.
Karma, whether we are discussing the Hindu roots, its path in the yogic philosophy, or our modern day flippant use of it to wave away transgressions, is truly a complex creature. It’s an amazing tool to introduce to the younger community, and we shouldn’t shy away from a deep dive into this beautiful idea of servanthood, consequences, actions, reactions, choices, ownership, and maybe even forgiveness.
So, looking at the historical religious intent of the karma path in the yoga philosophy, also known as Karma Marga, we learn that we should strive to behave in a way that serves others and detach ourselves from the resulting responses, or fruits. I think of the word altruism as I write this. I had a discussion once with a friend that actually believes (or believed) that altruism isn’t real. That actually no one on the planet acts without some ulterior motive. I disagreed with him at the time, fairly vehemently. And this was before I had taken one yoga class, much less know what I know now about the branches and limbs of yoking mind, body, spirit. Even then though, I believed14, and still do, that karma, altruism, selflessness, servanthood do exist. Just as the polar opposites of them do.
But it’s okay, it’s really okay, that our modern world has lightened karma up a bit. Because it’s teach-able, it’s relate-able, it’s even become funny: “Karma has no menu. You get served what you deserve.” This can be especially helpful with children…as a starter. I do think, when we are able, and with the older ages, we should attempt to take the karma yoga discussion deeper. We should introduce the HUGE idea of detached servanthood. Whew. There, I said it. I put it out into the universe that we shouldn’t just stop at the simplified version of karma. I honestly believe that some of these babes can handle it, and dare I say, will likely embrace it. It’s our jobs to be the introducers of big philosophical concepts. What an awesome job.
Obviously when we hold a yoga class, we work hard to weave the elements of music, posture, and breath into a fun and energetic session. But we also weave in bits and pieces of mindfulness as well. We do it stealthily right? They don’t even know it’s happening. Karma yoga falls into the mindfulness portion of class. My experience has been to talk about an act of service at the end of class: ‘OM-work’. I flesh out the idea of karma a bit for them during that time so they understand it’s more than just ‘I want good things to happen to me’. And then I task them with doing something kind for someone with no expectation.
So what else can we do? Savasana time could use an infusion of karma yoga discussion. Through a guided meditation, take them to a “garden of service”. Who can they help in that garden? Pick up trash? Plant an herb garden? Help someone in need? Play with someone who looks lonely?
Do you offer a craft during your class? Writing words of affirmation or gratitude on pretty cards is one idea. The kids could create a bracelet from a metal ring that goes along with this saying: “Keep your circle positive. Say good words. Think good thoughts. Do good deeds.” You could offer canvases for them to paint a karma to-do list.
This is just the beginning. One final thought is that you can always offer to be available for further discussion. Some kids will have questions, and leaving the door open gives them an opportunity to really figure this thing out.
“How people treat you is their karma, how you react is yours.” – Wayne Dyer