Karma Yogis Return to Serve Again
“The first step in the spiritual path is the selfless service to humanity.” —Swami Sivananda
Karma yoga, or the path of active selfless service, is one of the main yogic paths. The Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat offers a 36-day Karma Yoga Introduction Program and a Three-Month Karma Yoga Program year-round. Both of these residential study options are for people looking to deepen their understanding of the spiritual path and yoga and interested in helping the ashram serve its mission.
Because of the generosity of people from all around the world, the ashram thrives as a spiritual center filled with hardworking yoga practitioners devoted to selfless service. Some come for a one-time experience, but many find themselves returning year after year. Here are the stories of two karma yogis, both from Canada, who found real transformation through the practice of karma yoga at the ashram.
Bea arrived at the ashram for nearly a six-month stay during her third visit to the Bahamas as a karma yogi. “This place is an international fellowship and I’m contributing to the community,” she says. After hearing about the physical damage to the ashram after Hurricane Matthew in November, Bea decided to fly down from her home in Canada, committing to another long stay as a karma yogi. She was assigned to the boutique department, where she helps customers and helps to manage the inventory and organization of the boutique.
Though immersion yourself in a yogic lifestyle is challenging, Bea describes the positive elements as being worth the challenges. “What I love is what I’m learning about myself,” Bea says. “My whole life has been about pushing the edges, trying new and different things.”
Not only can the yogic lifestyle be challenging, but keeping the discipline of the ashram schedule can test the willpower of the mind and body. At 66 years old, Bea has stretched her preconceived limitations of herself to find much reward in the disciplined lifestyle, such as waking up every morning at 5:30am for meditation. “When people ask me how old I am, I sometimes just say I’m an aging goddess,” Bea laughs. “We have to adapt quickly, and we have fast-paced days.” She remembers Swami Vishnudevananda’s reminders to adapt, adjust, and accommodate yourself to what’s needed in the moment, citing that as a helpful reminder when things feel intense.
Each time Bea has visited the ashram, she’s set a new goal for herself. Her first experience with the Sivananda organization was at the headquarters in Canada for a juice fast. At that point she had already left her career, sold her house, and traveled to India. The first trip was about taking care of her body, and her goal during her third trip to the Bahamas is to take care of her mind. “I want to feel more peaceful,” Bea says. “I want to return home feeling filled up. My son notices the difference in me as I’m blooming and blossoming. He’s proud of me that I’m focused on myself.”
Bea has participated in yoga programs around the world, but finds something very special about the Sivananda ashram in the Bahamas. “Being here helps me with my positive attitude. I want to be positive and for it to feel genuine,” Bea says. “When I’m here, I find I can be present. Maybe that’s part of being a karma yogi.”
Robert John Constable, “Shambu”
Robert John Constable, known as “Shambu” at the ashram, has an affinity for the ancient sciences that has played a role in bringing him back to the ashram. After being diagnosed with a serious medical condition in 2008, he started to look at his life from a new perspective and found himself attracted to the karma yoga program in the Bahamas. “What helped me especially while being here is listening to all the world-renowned speakers on health and yoga,” Shambu says. “They reinforced what I was already learning and practicing, and I was able to bring healing to myself.”
With a background of traveling in China and an interest in Chinese medicine, Shambu found himself particularly drawn to the teachings of Ayurveda, another ancient science that is frequently taught at the ashram in the Bahamas. “I like to look at the science behind ancient medicine,” he says. Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga, offering a comprehensive approach to holistic healing.
Like Bea, each trip to the ashram brought up a new goal-setting plan for him. In the beginning when he was just starting his relationship with the Sivananda organization in India, the asanas were a big focus for him. Now he feels comfortable with the postures, he’s using his current stay as a karma yogi to focus on his meditation practice. “I fell out of my meditation practice last year, and I want to build it back up. I want to get back into the meditation routine.”
In the karma yoga program, twice daily group meditation is required as part of the schedule. While the mind can resist it sometimes, the benefits outweigh the difficulties. The challenges aren’t stopping Shambu, as he is already planning his next visit to the ashram. “I’d love to come back every winter for three or four months,” Shambu says. “It’s the perfect place to recharge my spiritual battery.”
Even with a sometimes challenging karma yoga assignment, working in the ashram’s reception department, Shambu keeps his mind positive by focusing on all of his favorite things about the ashram. “I like everything about being here,” he says. “I love the food, the friendships, and I really like the work. It’s the perfect place to recharge.”
Curious? Find out more about Karma Yoga Programs at the ashram.