The Yoga Tutor

What is Karma Yoga?

[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 405 ]

The word karma itself comes from the roots kar, which is associated with 'action', and ma, which means “me,” in the possessive sense of 'mine' and 'my'. So the truth behind this concept is very profoundly represented in the word itself, which literally means “my action.”

In this very literal translation lies the key itself to the freedom from the forces of karma, which is the removal of the sense of ‘me’ or the ‘Self’ from the ‘action’. This is precisely the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita, the classic text which is considered in part, the definitive exposition on karma yoga.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says that there is a way that we can act without causing a reaction. We do this by eliminating our own desire, through karma yoga -- "the path of action."

In karma yoga, the action that we speak of is a very particular kind of action performed in a special state of spirit. It is not just any action that is hastily nicknamed karma yoga. Even in some ashrams in India today, there are requirements to perform daily karma yoga while staying there. In yoga retreats in the West, this term is also used rather loosely, asking students and guests to perform daily chores and tasks under the name of karma yoga.

But karma yoga is not merely free labour, or even just a helping hand where needed. The essence of karma yoga lies within the attitude and mindset of the one performing the action.

The first step for the karma yogi is detachment. Detachment does not mean indifference or coldness. It refers to proceeding in action with caring, compassion and universal love, but without being blinded by personal emotions, ignorance or attachment to the outcome; in other words, not being emotionally dependent on the results.

This is precisely the elimination of the ma, or the Self. One performs their actions, which are the right actions in the right way at the right time, without any desire for personal gain of any form; but rather strictly because it is the right and proper thing to do.

Remember that it is in acting out of ignorance that karma is generated. When one acts out of true knowledge (without ego) then karma does not result. Simply put, do it because it is the right thing to do, and for no other reason. Action as a result of true selfless-ness is the path to liberation from karma. Cultivating selflessness is a subject of deep meditation and practice for all of us...


NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.

"The Science of Yoga is a course worthy of

leather binding and an honored place in the
finest libraries in the world 
... It is indeed a masterful work."


Dr. John Michael Christian


Learn More About
The Science of Yoga Course

Yoga Affiliate Program
Free Yoga Lessons
Get Your Free Copy
Yoga in India
The Yoga Masters Course