Life As A Karma Yogi

I’m half way through my time at the Sivananda Ashram, so I thought it’d be a good time to do a wee review of what it’s like to live the life of a Karma Yogi.

Just so we’re all on the same page, a Karma Yogi is a voluntary member of staff who lives and works at the ashram, doing whatever needs doing around the place. In return for this ‘selfless service’ you get fed and watered, the chance to do your yoga asanas every day, plus chanting and meditation sessions, and hopefully you get to advance in your practice little by little. For this reason it’s also known as a work/study program.

So, where to begin? Well first off I can tell you that I’ve certainly gone up in the world in terms of accommodation. I mean here’s where I started out on the TTC,

old digs

then I got moved to here,

new digs

and now look at me!

newer digs

Doing alright for myself, don’t you think? ..lol..

So, you might think it’s a bit weird being obsessed with your bed. But let me tell you, when you have to get up at 5:30am every morning – actually, I get up at 5:15am as I have some duties to perform before the 6:00am Satsang every morning – where you sleep and how you sleep suddenly becomes very important indeed!

And you don’t get a lot of other chances to rest apart from when you go to bed and your one hour break each day. Just check out the schedule on a typical day (if there can ever be such a thing) I had last week;

05:10 – Wake up before your alarm goes off. Weigh up getting up early versus five more minutes sleep. Choose sleep.
05:15 – Alarm goes off. Drag yourself out of bed and into the shower.
05:50 – Get to Satsang (daily chanting and meditation) ten minutes early to had out translation devices. Probably find out you forgot to charge them the night before. Panic a little.
06:00 – Satsang. Wait to see if you get asked to lead some kritan singing. Pray you don’t.
07:35 – Staff meeting. Find out what the plan is for the day. Get given a list of stuff to do.
08:00 – Join the guest yoga asana class.
08:20 – Get pulled out of class as the food order has arrived and it’s your job to check it off and put it all away.
10:00 – First meal of the day. Usually dahl, grain, veggie and some salad.
10:30 – Wash dishes and clean kitchen top to bottom along with other karma yogis.
12:15 – Continue figuring out where to put all the food that’s turned up. Pack and repack the fridge trying to get it all in.
13:30 – Take your break. Go online and spend the next hour replying to e-mails, uploading photos, and trying to blog (eg. this post you’re reading now has taken 4 days to do).
14:30 – Do your Sadhana (spiritual practice, consisting of asanas and meditation) since you couldn’t do it in the morning.
15:30 – Go down to check the translation system is charged up for tonight.
15:50 – Cook a meal for fourteen people even though two weeks ago you’d never done anything like that before.
17:45 – Panic that you won’t finish cooking in time. Worry that you haven’t made enough.
18:00 – Second meal of the day.
18:30 – Clean kitchen top to bottom again.
19:15 – Second Satsang of the day. Get there early for karma yoga again.
20:35 – Get disapproving looks when the translation mike runs out of power for the second time in two days.
21:00 – After Satsang, go rummage around in the store-room for a different mike as the one you have is clearly faulty.
21:30 – Go online. Answer the e-mails you didn’t have time to answer before. Do more blogging.
22:00 – Go to bed. Set alarm for seven hours time. Pray it won’t be freezing cold when you get up in the morning. Count the days ’til your day off.

And that wasn’t even one of the ‘eventful’ days, like when we have dozens of guests or there’s an early morning puja (religious ceremony) or something.

blessed book
My travel notebook, blessed during one of the pujas.

Seems quite hectic eh? But weigh that against the perks of the job. Good food, nice digs, the chance to do yoga and meditation each day, and the opportunity to go on the odd outing here and there. I mean, take this moment for example;

You don’t get times like that working in an office, now do you?

Plus, the work isn’t so hard. I mean they give you as much as you can handle – what I call The 3-C’s of Karma Yoga; Cooking, Cleaning and Carrying Stuff – but not so much that you’re overloaded and want to run away. They know that we choose to be here, and if we don’t like it we can choose not to be here, so they strike a fine balance between challenging you and pushing you too far.

That being said, you’ve got to do whatever you need to do to keep sane. With some it’s sleeping as much as possible, for most it’s going online, but with me it’s snacking! Whatever happens, I gots to get me some snacks each day or I’d go mental.

This was my first snack hidey-hole,

the naughty snack corner

then I graduated to a drawer!

more naughty treats!

Next it’ll be a snack desk! ..lol.. I mean, I’m not doing my belly any favours, after all the weight I lost during the TTC, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right?

So it’s hectic, yet manageable; but still, you do enjoy your one day off a week! A lie-in, a chance to rest, and some time to catch up with the ‘real world’.

Unfortunately there’s not much to do round here. Reith is a one horse town, seasonally busy, so closed most of the time. Kitzbuhel, nearby, is bigger but similar. But at least it has a few coffee shops and that which you can go to during lunch time (proper shops close from 12:00-15:00, I kid you not!). Like I say it’s kinda boring, but you go anyway just to have some time away. You need that mental break now and then.

And that’s it really. That’s what it’s like to be a karma yogi (well, if you’re me, anyway). I’m enjoying it, but at the same time I’m looking forward to going traveling. Not just to visit California, Australia, New Zealand, etc., but also just to have more than one lie-in a week! No matter what I do I can’t get used to being up before 6am. It’s just not for me.

I can handle the next 4 weeks, but after that it’s long sleeps and lazy starts for me for a while. I just need the rest. Then I can start getting my head around opening a centre of my own (if I haven’t had enough by then that is, lol).

Not that I can complain really. I mean, this was the view when I got up yesterday morning.

morning blanket

snow in the valley

How gorgeous is that! And tonight the full moon was so bright it lit up the entire valley. So bright in fact that when you looked at it it left an after image on your eye. I’ve never seen it like that before. When I think of that, and then think of how I could be in London working a night shift, I know how lucky I actually am.

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