Featured Sequence: Seva

This time of year is a perfect time to explore a form of yoga other than Hatha. Many people think that Hatha is a style of yoga, but the term actually refers to any practice that combines asana (the postures) with pranayama (applied breathing techniques). This practice comes the form known as Seva Yoga, also called Karma Yoga. It takes place off-the-mat.

Described as “selfless service,” in Seva we offer something of ourselves with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Via the act of uplifting and assisting others we bring awareness inward, becoming more present to both our true nature and the inter-connected quality of our universe.

You already know ways to give back to the community: Volunteering at the local food bank, animal shelter, or soup kitchen; Donating gently used items and clothing; Raising awareness and money for causes via races, walks and other live events; Donating blood.

I’m suggesting delving a little deeper into the nature of service with a more direct connection. The concept is simple:

Reach out and “touch” someone personally.

The diverse population of New York City lays bare the vast scope of human experience. Coming face-to-face with others in need of help is  routine. That may not be the case where you live, but illness, infirmity, and deep need exist in every community.

The service opportunities are endless. You will undoubtedly think of the perfect way to contribute time and talent, but here are a few suggestions to start you thinking.

Please share what you come up with in the comment section. Your experience will inspire others!

Take care of the people who live on your street. I’m not talking about your next-door neighbor, although helping a neighbor in need is a great start. I’m talking about the people in your area who actually live on the streets–or in the subway tunnels, on park benches, huddled over the grates in the streets.

There is controversy about how to help panhandlers. Many are substance abusers and no one wants to fuel addiction. (There’s an interesting dialog on that subject in this post and the comments that follow it) — but it’s also true that many of the people on the street are mentally ill and about 40% of the homeless men are veterans. Anyone can  fall on hard times due to job loss, health crisis or some other unforeseen circumstance.


But honestly, when someone has sunk to the point of panhandling on the streets in the dead of winter, does it matter how and why they got there? Shouldn’t we just help? It doesn’t require handing out money:

  • Next time you’re in a big box store, throw something extra into your cart to carry with you: individually wrapped crackers, chewy granola bars or cheese squares, a bunch of ripe bananas, single serving milk boxes. (Having done this for several years, I advise avoiding nuts or hard foods that might be hard for someone with bad dental health to chew.)
  • While you’re there, grab an extra pair of warm gloves, a scarf, hat or a package of warm socks. The hat in the picture set me back just $2.99–less then a latte and a whole lot longer lasting in the warmth department. Walking into the store I was met by huge bins of socks priced to sell—just $10 buys 10 pairs of clean, warm socks. (BTW: When I told the store manager why I was taking the picture, he suggested I mention that the cold weather stuff goes after Christmas at drastically reduced prices!)
  • Purchase a prepaid card from a local deli or coffee shop that is only redeemable for food or a beverage.


Want to watch someone demonstrate this principle while nearly exceeding the legal limit of awesomeness? Look here.

Give the gift of time and space. Do you know a caretaker to a sick or elderly relative? They may not feel comfortable leaving their charges, but the effort can be overwhelming and exhausting. How about offering to sit in for them while they take a shower, a nap or a walk around the hospital. Come bearing the gift of a chai tea and something sweet and invite them to enjoy a moment of pastry-infused solitude in another room. If the opportunity arises, clear the sink, straighten the cushions, tidy up anything that does not require them to tell you where anything goes. Resist the urge to give unsolicited advice, tell them about someone you know in a worse state or problem solve; Holding space while they do all the talking will be much more helpful.

In the same vein, if you’ve got an elderly neighbor who lives alone, invite them to have lunch at a neighborhood diner or bring it to their home. Let them talk. Ask questions. Make eye contact. Ask if something needs moving, adjusting, or bringing down from a high shelf.

Change the life of a young person. Positively influence the course of a young person’s life by becoming a mentora big brother or big sisteror a tutor (in New York go here.)  You’ll not only help shape their life and increase the chances of them realizing their potential,  the ripple effect will impact all of their future deeds and relationships. By helping to lift just one person, you’ll help build a better community for years into the future. Mind blowing. 

Find your purpose. Want to make a long-term commitment of time and talent? Nearly 14,000 opportunities await at Idealist.  Or check out the opportunities, some of which you can do from your own home, at the nearly 100,000 participating organizations of Volunteermatch.

Incidentally, the act of giving and asking nothing in return does not mean you actually get nothing in return. All the data suggest otherwise. In fact, it turns out that money can buy happiness–when you spend it on someone else! Lots of ideas on how to do that here.

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9 years ago

I do accept as true with all of the concepts you have offered in your post. They’re really convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very brief for beginners. May you please extend them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.