Why Karma Yoga?
When we train to become a yoga teachers, I believe we are accepting responsibility to lead by example. I see a lot of yoga teachers leading by example primarily in terms of their exceptional asana practice. My social media feed is full of aspirational yoga pictures, but I see less effort being made to encourage others to also practice the other limbs of yoga. And I get it. Don't get me wrong: I love asana. I got into yoga through asana practice, and it remains the most accessible way for me to tap into mental stillness, focus, and concentration. But the Bhagavad Gita is very clear about the importance of other branches of yoga too, particularly 'karma yoga,' or the yoga of good deeds and selfless service. It says "strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world." About a year ago, I took a good hard look at myself and realised I needed to do more than teach other people how to "get" headstand. Rather than being a yoga teacher who spouted cliches about needing to "take your yoga off the mat," I wanted to encourage my students to use their yoga practice selflessly. And with that, last spring, Karma Yoga London was formed.
I launched a campaign to raise money for an organisation called Reality Gives, which is based in Mumbai's Dharavi slum. Reality Gives does invaluable, selfless work, helping the community in Dharavi; in addition to several community centres that provide clases in English language and computer skills, Reality Gives also supports a local primary school, Royal City School. Last April, I donated £1 to Reality Gives for every student who practised in my classes all month. After I set out my intention, I was blown away by the enthusiasm and response of my students and fellow yoga teachers. Everyone worked together, contributing in their own ways, and together we raised almost £4000 in a month. This donation allowed us to pay the salaries of three teachers in Royal City School for more than a year.
This year, I am turning my attention to a local charity based right here in London, The Choir with No Name. The Choir with No Name runs two choirs in London. Socially vulnerable, marginal, and homeless members of the choirs gather each week for a rehearsal followed by dinner. The choirs regularly perform gigs across the city, and the choir fosters a sense of community, enthusiasm, happiness, and inspiration not just for their members but for people who attend their gigs. I was lucky enough to attend one of their rehearsals earlier this year and I was overwhelmed by the positive impact this organisation is having on the community. On the evening of Wednesday June 15th, I'm teaching a special charity class to fundraise for them, and every pound that I raise from ticket sales and the charity raffle after the class will be donated directly to The Choir with No Name.
As I often say in my classes, I believe we have an opportunity, and increasingly, a responsibility, as yogis, to try to help other people. I estimate that I spend between 7-10 hours each week practising yoga asana. I know many other yoga teachers and dedicated yogis are equally devoted to a regular asana practice. Just imagine the good we could all do if we devoted even a fraction of that time to something selfless to help others in our community.
If you practice yoga regularly, I encourage you to consider making one of your yoga classes the charity class I am teaching for The Choir with No Name. Use 75 minutes of your weekly asana practice for good. Buy your ticket online here, and join our facebook group to stay updated on all of our karma yoga work in the community.