Kay Rosenthal PhD, RN – Guest blogger, EPNRC volunteer
Karma Yoga, A Perfect New Year’s Resolution
By Ram Rao
Friends share the greatest insight via email and blogs. Yeah! I read this one this morning after Jill sent it to me and agreed that I needed to share it with you.
A lot of people volunteer for which many are truly grateful. This article by Ram Rao shares the positive social, emotional, and physical benefits of volunteering. The twist that this author presents is selfless voluntary service, which Ram calls “Karma Yoga.” The key points are that the service is without any expectation of something in return and providing the selfless service with a loving attitude.
Please read on for the full article.
“Karma Yoga can be loosely interpreted as a selfless voluntary service that is rendered without any personal expectation. An individual rendering selfless service puts the well-being of others as a top priority ahead of his/her personal gain or achievement, and gets rid of all egoistic tendencies while offering such a service. To be a karma yogi you need to cultivate two qualities: 1) providing the service without any expectation of reward, award, name, or fame and 2) having a loving attitude toward the selfless service.
Selfless service requires you to perform any service. At the same time you need to cultivate a loving attitude towards the selfless task without developing any stress from it, no matter what the outcome is. If you render selfless service with these qualities, you experience true happiness and satisfaction. Seek the true karma yogis and you will commonly hear them saying that the more they serve selflessly, the more true happiness they receive. Here is how Krishna puts it in Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita:
“Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward, Work not for a reward; but never cease to do thy work. Do thy work in the peace of Yoga and free from selfish desires, be not moved in success or failure”—translated by Juan Mascaro
This approach—performing a task without any expectation, letting go of all results, whether good or bad, and focusing on the selfless action alone—is the essence of selfless service/karma yoga. 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, and rage, and this is what leads to true happiness. BKS Iyengar alludes to selfless service when he extols the benefits of karuna (compassion). Karuna or true compassion is when you couple the compassion with a selfless action that relieves the misery or suffering. A true karma yogi is one who without any expectation or reward uses all the available resources to mitigate pain, misery and suffering, provides courage and strength to the weak and, provides shelter to all. In doing so, the doer of selfless service overcomes all mental afflictions (vrittis).
It is no surprise that the authors of a recent study Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers that compiled empirical evidence on the benefits of selfless service concluded that rendering selfless service is very good for both body and spirit (physical and mental/emotional). And it also adds years to life. The study found that selfless service—like serving food in a soup kitchen or reading to the blind—reduces early mortality rates by almost 22%, compared to those people who did not volunteer in such activities. The study, which reviewed 40 other studies on selfless service and its effects, also revealed that volunteers benefit not just from reduced rates of depression but they also experience an increased sense of life satisfaction and wellbeing—doing a selfless service made them feel good, provided them true happiness, and also led to improvements in overall health.
However, the authors also add not to expect these benefits just by offering few pennies to the charity box. True selfless service and its benefits come from going that extra mile—sacrificing time and effort to engage in an actual service. In the study, benefits were seen only among those participants that volunteered at least an hour of work once a month or those that offered their services more frequently. It is easy to understand why selfless service provides true happiness, leads to improvements in health, and extends health span (see Volunteer Work and Hedonic, Eudemonic, and Social Well-Being ). Studies have shown that doing a selfless act leads to numerous changes in the body and mind including:
· Stress reduction—when you are helping others, your body releases an important hormone called oxytocin which assists in buffering out stressful thoughts.
· Merely thinking of a selfless service releases certain “feel-good” chemicals namely dopamine that boosts the morale of the individual.
· Self-confidence—self-esteem builds and confidence levels grows when you are passionate about helping others in need.
· Helping others has shown to reverse high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and dementia by modulating the blood flow.
To promote these advantages, the United Nations as well as many European governments are encouraging more citizens to volunteer and render selfless service. We can do our bit as well. How about committing to selfless acts on a regular basis to achieve a longer health span and bring greater fulfillment to our life? A perfect and selfless resolution for Y2017!”
I wish you a happy and healthy year of selfless service carried out with a loving attitude as you start the New Year out as a karma yogi. Please set up an hour or more a month in your new 2017 calendar now. Enjoy! Namaste.