Karma + The Art of Vinyasa

What is your first memory?

The word for memory in Sanskrit is smriti. So perhaps I should ask… What is your first smriti?

What I find particularly interesting about memories is the way they weave themselves into the story of our present moment. When a memory dates way back, it has often been repeated, over and over again, so many times throughout one’s life that it becomes a pattern of memories, which form a mosaic into one’s life story. This concept can extend to anything we do on a regular basis in our life… Our experiences build upon one another and we have the opportunity to fine-tune any of the mosaics of our life with care and attention. This way of living is also known as, Karma Yoga. “Karma yoga is the yoga of doing something; it is the yoga of work. Karma yoga is when you are doing work that really needs to be done in such a way that the work itself becomes joyous.” (Richard Freeman, The Mirror of Yoga, pg. 113)

The way that I look at it there are two ways that we can go about doing this: A) We can love our work, or B)We can put love into what we do.

This weekend Elizabeth Neuse & I are teaching our second Art of Vinyasa Workshop. As far back as Aristotle it has been suggested that there is a human instinct to produce and enjoy artistic experiences, and while yoga may utilize the human anatomy as its medium for creating beautiful shapes – yoga is an art as much as it is a science.  Elizabeth and I are excited to collaborate and explore the ways in which Vinyasa Yoga, when it is its most virtuous, can be both skillful and playful & a modern expression of Karma Yoga…

Karma Yoga is all about devotion:

“The distinguishing feature of karma yoga is that even though you may offer the fruits of your work to the benefit of others, you honestly do not have any expectations whatsoever that you will gain anything from that offering. In this way work itself is important to you, and eventually the work becomes art. In the yogic sense of the word, art is more than creating a pretty design… Instead it is a connection through the heart to the very essence of one’s being – a connection to the truth within everyone’s being. In this light, the quintessence of the path of karma yoga is the understanding that yoga is the art of work. Because we work with no attachment to the payback, the outcome in terms of what we are going to get out of the work, we can then work with deep concentration, an open mind, and an open heart. This is actually how people become incredible efficient at their work and extraordinarily gifted in the art of their actions,” (R.F. pg.116)

I can think of no better place to cultivate this ability to work without attachment, with a sense of surrender to the outcome, vairagyam, then on the yoga mat. There is not doubt that we work hard when transforming our bodies into the various shapes that constitute our yoga practice.  But even if we are yoga teachers, there is truly no need to be attached to any results. In fact, the more attached we become to creating the same shape we did the day before the less beneficial our yoga practice is to our bodies and our minds.  Even though a yoga practice requires our attention, and invites us to be skillful and disciplined, it is an art. It is an opportunity to learn how to be artful so that whether we are doing a job that we love or a job that we despise in life we can at least take from our yoga practice an understanding of how to move with devotion; how to act without attachment to the outcomes.

I often say in class that there isn’t necessarily a “right way” and a “wrong way” to do the postures there is simply karma. In other words, there is cause and effect. If we work without attention to the details we are making messes. If we work without care then we are cultivating carelessness. If we work without a blueprint then we aren’t building something sturdy and reliable.  If we work quickly then we aren’t building longevity. If we work well then we are promoting wellness. If we practice with clarity then we are cultivating space. If we plant seeds for tomatoes we will grow tomatoes… this is karma.

“As we ourselves practice the art of work as sacrifice, we can experience a sense of freedom & can become unbound by our own work in the same way.” Richard Freeman

If finding the intersection between Art & Yoga is of interest to you I hope that you will join Elizabeth Neuse and I for this workshop, which will cultivate your inner artist… and at the very least we’ll make a memory together.

This Saturday, June 18th from 1:30 – 4:00 at Yogaworks in Soho.



About Joyce Englander

I teach weekly yoga classes in New York City, which focus on moving mindfully and gracefully with the breath. I believe that learning yoga is similar to learning a language, and the more you are around it the more fluent you become. This blog is an opportunity to share my thoughts and re-visit lessons from class; to create a bridge for students to translate their classroom experience into real life. I am interested in how practicing yoga can help to improve people's lives and reduce needless suffering.
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