Karma Yoga and Stress

Karma yoga is the outlet for one's mixed samskaras (mental impressions and problems

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Karma yoga is the yoga of action or work. It is a yogic path that is open to everyone, for we all have to work and perform various activities, whether physical or mental. Karma yoga helps to bring peace and equanimity into one's stress-filled life.

Karma yoga develops will power. The importance of will power in managing stress is often overlooked. Will power can be defined as the ability to motivate, mobilise and harmonise all of one's activities for the attainment of a definite purpose. The Gita has defined karma yoga as 'efficiency in action'. This total absorption in the work at hand leads to great will power and the unleashing of the powers within the mind. The whole mind and body becomes integrated and tuned to a high degree of sensitivity, and it is during work and other activities that we can recognise our mental problems.

Karma yoga is a means to clean out the mind of phobias, problems, fears and all other disturbing factors which give rise to a stress situation. During karma yoga, a person has to face all types of experiences, whether good or bad. From these experiences, we learn about our self, our abilities and hang ups. None of us can avoid work, so we might as well accept the situation and work, at the same time, using it as a method of cleansing our mind. It is not to work merely, but to work with awareness and to gain more from it.

One of the basic precepts of karma yoga is very simple, yet very profound: don't be attached to your actions and their consequences. Work then becomes play, it ceases to be work. Work is generally done with a motive and expectations of results or reward, whereas play is done for its own sake. It is from attachment, and not the work itself, that we become unhappy and discontented.

It is important to accept one's limitations and do the actions that seem most harmonious, even if contrary to the expectations of others. Too often our actions are decided by other people. We see others doing certain actions, and feel that we must also do the same, even though it may be contrary to our individual personality. We feel obliged to live up to other people's expectations and to try to become something that we are not. Unhappiness and distress is the consequence.

It is better to do positive work through the attitude of karma yoga, than work with negative repercussions. Positive work will not only benefit other people, but will lead us to a more relaxed mind and disposition.

Perfect karma yoga cannot occur until the ceaseless chattering and turmoil of the mind settle, and the mind becomes as clear as a crystal, and as calm as a still pond. Thoughts will arise like a gigantic eruption in the endless ocean of the mind. They will have great power, yet will quietly fade away quickly as they arose. The thoughts will settle down into the tranquil depths again, without leaving the slightest trace.

For most people there has to be a balance between introspection and external expression in the form of work. The more intense and compelling the work, the better, for it will jostle us, force us out of the rut of living in the past. We will be forced to live in the present or anticipate the future. In this way, we are prevented from brooding over our problems. We become alive, and are elevated out of the morass of laziness. At the same time, we should do a certain amount of introspection for this will allow us to confront the contents of our mind, including phobias, conflicts, etc.

Work combined with a certain amount of introspection in the form of meditative practices is the way to remove mental problems and gain peace. Instead of brooding over our complexes, etc., we will recognise the root of our problems, and in time, they will disappear through the expression or outlet in work, and through awareness.