What Is Karma Yoga?

Megan Shoop

Unlike other types of yoga, karma yoga is a lifestyle rather than a form of exercise. The philosophies of karma yoga are based on the teachings from the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text. Those that practice this kind of yoga usually seek inner balance through reason and selflessness. There appear to be no yogic poses specific to this kind of yoga, but rather practitioners choose poses that best suit their meditative needs and use them to balance inner energy rather than become more limber.

Poses and stretches in karma yoga are designed to encourage meditation.
Poses and stretches in karma yoga are designed to encourage meditation.

Karma yoga, when translated into English, literally means 'discipline of action.' Those that choose to practice this kind of yoga must understand that it is not simply a way to tone the body and strengthen the muscles. It is a multi-faceted belief system stating that those experiencing misfortune or bad luck are experiencing it as a result of their personal actions. This does not necessarily refer only to outward actions, but also to inner attitudes and thoughts.

The term karma yoga, when translated into English, means "discipline of action."
The term karma yoga, when translated into English, means "discipline of action."

According to the precepts of karma yoga, every internal and external action attracts an equal consequence. For instance, if a bully pushes a young woman both parties will experience consequences according to the energies they attract. In the karma yoga belief system, the bully would reap misfortune because of his unkind actions. In other words, the energy he is sending out is unpleasant, so he will attract more unpleasant things.

The young woman, in accordance with this belief system, will also attract consequences due to both her internal and external actions. Even if she outwardly does nothing to the bully, but internally curses him or wishes him harm, she, too, will attract misfortune. On the other hand, if she is able to discipline her anger, remain calm, and even wish that the bully could find inner peace, she will attract good fortune. Engaging in self-defense would not attract negativity, however, because self-defense is not inherently spiteful.

The poses and stretches in karma yoga are generally meant to aid meditation. They are supposed to be comfortable, allowing inward focus while strengthening the body. Simpler poses, like the cross-legged lotus position, are popular because the poses themselves require little focus. The idea is to be still and engage in inward reflection. Stretching and strengthening the body aids meditation by keeping the body healthy and reducing distractions from painful joints or muscles.

Poses in karma yoga may also be chosen for what the pose itself represents. For instance, the lotus is a symbol of peace and purity in the Hindu belief system. Some yoga practitioners may use the lotus position to help them focus on calm and selflessness. There is also the belief that the body reflects the inward state of a person. Therefore, bending one’s body into a positive symbol may help karma yoga practitioners achieve their goals.

Karma yoga is a lifestyle that combines yoga with the philosophy of selflessness and good deeds.
Karma yoga is a lifestyle that combines yoga with the philosophy of selflessness and good deeds.

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