Abundant research shows the health benefits of volunteering. In the practice of Yoga, it is called – Karma Yoga. This is simply the act of serving others – a smile, a thank you or a helping hand – without thought of reward. The word “karma” means “action”. The more we act selflessly, the better we feel about ourselves and the world. It feels good to the receiver but the true benefit lies with the one who gives.
While the special breathing, physical postures and relaxation are the most familiar aspects of Yoga, how we act in the world is a big part of the practice. The aim for all the practices is to create a sense of connection, peace and wellness.
Cultivate a Healthy Mind
The holidays highlight the giving spirit but the act of giving is something we can cultivate throughout the year. It is one of the best ways to develop a strong, healthy mind. Many kids will breathe a sigh of relief knowing that it is not just math and spelling that train the mind.
Practice Selfless Service
Children easily relate to the practice of selfless service. The best way we can teach them is to model it ourselves. We can also teach them to get in the habit of helping, especially when they are feeling low. Helping around the house, giving a compliment or calling a friend to hear how she is can all lift darker clouds from the mind. Being “other” focused takes us out of an internal orientation that may feel isolating.
Reaching out to others can be especially rewarding and uplifting for a child who has been given a label. As necessary as a diagnosis may be for receiving services and giving a frame of reference that helps families with research, support and peace of mind, there is often an impact on a child’s self-esteem. This child may have spent a lot of time on the receiving end of care giving and it can be deeply rewarding and empowering for this child to give care to others. Even the simplest act can have a positive impact on his or her self-esteem.
Caution – Burn Out
A note of caution about selflessly serving others: Some of us, as caregivers, give to the point of exhaustion. And to hear about the benefits of giving may make some want to flop onto the couch in despair. A delightful master of Yoga, Swami Satchidananda, explained this beautifully. He said that in order to serve others we must be strong, healthy and happy ourselves. Nurturing ourselves is an essential component of selfless service. We must be fit to serve and we must take all the time we need to care for ourselves. Consider this as you inform your family you are not available for the next hour and slip into a candle lit warm tub filled with lavender infused sea salts.
When we are feeling a sense of lack of time, energy, or resources, it can feel challenging to give. And this is just when the practice of “karma Yoga” can have the most benefit. Something as simple as making eye contact and saying, “Thank you” with a genuine smile creates connection, opens the heart and promotes wellness for both giver and receiver. This can be profound. And something for which we can all be thankful.