Seva Yoga is a Year-Round Practice
November officially marks the beginning of holiday season. Our wills (and wallets) are truly tested in the upcoming months! The big retailers have already replaced the candy and witch's hats with (different) candy and jolly little santas. Thoughts go from "stay away from MY candy" to "I can't wait to share a big turkey (or tofurky) with my crazy family". Despite the materialistic masquerade, the holidays are really more about giving than receiving. Maybe some of us volunteer at a soup kitchen, buy toys for tots or donate some of our gently worn winter coats. Or maybe we just want to give that extra special present just to see a loved one's face light up and glow. Somehow, despite the materialism mania, we still manage to think outside of ourselves. I've got the warm fuzzies already!
Yoga can be practiced in so many wonderful ways, and acts of service is one of them. The practice of selfless service, or Seva Yoga, is also part of the bigger momma limb of yoga called Karma Yoga. When we think of Karma, we usually think of it as an inevitable force, and many times a negative one, like we're getting punished for the Blowpop we swiped when we were 8 years old. The reality is Karma is a much more complex science. What we do know is that we can always plant more happy, positive seeds; cosmic brownie points, so to speak. Some people take Seva to larger scales, like taking international volunteer trips such as Off the Mat and Into the World's Seva Challenge. Others volunteer at a temple or at their community yoga studio helping with things like cleaning mats, tidying up and helping with events. These are all wonderful, and I've done some myself. But Seva doesn't have to be "official", it's not trademarked. It can be as simple as holding a door open for someone or making dinner for a neighbor in need; that one little deed that makes a difference to someone else's day, and that you have nothing invested in but the desire to help them.
One day, a homeless man sat on the stoop of an abandoned building, and cheered me on as I crutched along. It turned out his name was Cliff and he had fallen on some hard times. Cliff became a regular face as I walked to and from my place and we became pretty friendly. Without family in Chicago, it was nice to have someone offer their kind support. You could say he practiced Seva first, for which I was so grateful to him. One day a light bulb went off. I ran upstairs and grabbed a bunch of football hoodies and jackets that were actually men's clothes that I had stopped wearing. Since I was going to donate them, I thought what better way than to share the clothes with my new friend. I put together a little care package, wrapping some snacks and goodies in the clothes, and I brought the bundle down to Cliff. He's not one to take handouts, he's a pretty proud man, but after trying a couple on for fit, he gladly accepted them. I'm glad he did because it was one of the coldest winters Chicago had seen in a while.
The moral of this story is that even words of encouragement can make a world of difference. What's most important, and what I hope for many of us, is that Seva and selfless service need not end with the holidays, but be inspired by them. Remember, Seva can be as simple as offering a smile to a stranger.
I wish you all a very peaceful, joyful and giving holiday season. Pass it on :)