Seva Yoga - giving back
    Seva Yoga - giving back

    One of the most beautiful aspects of yoga is that it provides the perfect platform from which to reach out to others and give back, enabling you to develop your spirituality while serving others.

    As we begin our yoga journey we dive into the physical aspects. We relish in how good the asanas and postures make our body feel, how the pranayama and deep breathing still our mind and how the relaxation calms our whole being. However, as we continue on our yogic path, there comes a point when we realise that the benefits of yoga are not restricted to the physical aspects alone and that, in fact, it is not all just about ‘me’.

    You realise that by giving back, by focusing not on what you will gain but on what you can give – by being of service – you transcend the physical, develop your spiritual growth, and contribute to the improvement of your community.


    Seva yoga is the yogic method that focuses on the mind rather than the body. It is the act of selfless service. When you perform Seva yoga you give your time and energy to the greater good.

    The essence of Seva yoga is said to be encapsulated by the roots of the word. Swami Niranjan has explained that the word Seva is made up of two words. Seva comes from the Sanskrit words saha, meaning ‘with that’, and eva, meaning ‘too’. Thus, Seva means ‘together with’.

    As explained in Yogapedia: ‘The act of selfless service leads to collective benefit and gain even though it is performed without regard for the outcome of the individual. In performing acts selflessly, one must confront his/her own difficulties, resistance and negativity. One learns to recognise personal thought patterns and behaviours and through this heightened self-awareness, one can surrender the aspects of his/her personality that are no longer serving him/her and find an inner peace which is not dependent on, or influenced by, external factors.

    ‘It is said that Seva yoga is a combination of Karma yoga, the yoga of action, and Bhakti yoga, the yoga of love and devotion. In practising Seva yoga, one serves others with his/ her actions and does it with an attitude of pure, selfless love.’

    Seva is the aspect of yoga that is often missed – the sense of community, of selfless service, of practising non-attachment, of contributing without any expectations.


    On embarking on my own personal transformation journey, I learned the act of Seva yoga when I stayed in the Sivananda Ashram in India. Ashram life certainly provided me with all the elements to practise selfless service. Each one of us living in the ashram was given a task, an action to assist with the functional workings of the ashram. Some were given the task to clean the toilets and bathrooms, others to work in the office or shop. It’s amazing how humbled one feels when you are getting your hands dirty for others. What I learned was how beautifully ashram life flowed. The place was clean, everything worked, and we were all there for the greater good of each other and to make it a better place for us to live. There was a strong feeling of collective upliftment.

    Another example of Seva yoga, and all the work that she does, is Seane Corn. Seane is a beautiful example of how to take action to create a peaceful, just and connected global community.

    Seane Corn, together with Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling founded Off the Mat into the World® in 2007. OTM is a non-profit organisation dedicated to bridging yoga and activism and uses the tools of yoga, meditation, and self-inquiry to inspire leaders to create conscious, sustainable change. They define activism as an act of standing for solidarity, equality, justice and freedom for all.

    A few years ago we had the privilege to meet Seane Corn when they came to Cape Town. She gave motivational talks and then also spent her time, with her team and the Earthchild Project children, painting the outdoor walls of the new yoga room at Sakumlandela Primary School in Khayelitsha.

    When thinking about Seva yoga I am also reminded of Dr Wayne Dyer’s movie The Shift which is a story about transformation. In The Shift, Dr Dyer says: ‘We live in a world in which all things are possible. There are no accidents. There is this divine organising intelligence that supports all things.

    ‘I think you have to get to the place where you are no longer focused on yourself. The things you really want for yourself, you begin to say: “How can I want them more for someone else than I want them for me.” So you shift your thoughts from what can I get to how may I offer, how may I serve. If your attention is off yourself and about giving, the universe will respond by giving back to you. The universe will say how may I serve you? But you have to be in a place of service yourself.’

    Where in your life can you practise Seva yoga? How can you understand the needs of others and express your compassion and genuine desire to integrate togetherness and uplift those around you?


    When asking yourself, ‘What can I do?’, ‘I am only one person, what difference can I make – should I even try?’, ‘How am I supposed to help?’. . . When wondering if you can make a difference in the world, when it comes to Seva, the answer is always YES!

    As one person you cannot save the world; however, as one person you can focus on the community around you, brighten the area that you live in, inspire and touch the lives of individuals. You can share your light.

    So how are you going to get off your mat and go into the world?


    Here are four ways to give back and practise Seva yoga in your daily life:

    1. Believe in generosity – When you believe in generosity and the goodness in human nature, you encourage others to do the same. Donate your love, your time and your gifts and, in exchange, ask others to pay forward what they have received in a way that feels honouring and appropriate to their life.
    2. Pay it forward – There are many opportunities to be of service and pay it forward: pick up litter, buy the person behind you in the Vida e Caffè queue a cup of coffee or give someone parking money who can’t find their change. Every small action of paying it forward counts.
    3. Send a message – Send a text to someone important to you saying, ‘Thinking of you and sending you love’. Don’t underestimate the power of a loving message, a hug, a smile – these are small and yet significant ways in which you can brighten someone’s day.
    4. Do it for a cause – If you have extra time on your hands, find a volunteer opportunity in your community. The benefit of living in South Africa is that there are many NGOs and good causes that you can join. Find one that resonates with you and donate your time and energy to their collective kindness.


    Give openly, without any expectation or need of reward for your actions. With Seva, every action, small or large, makes a difference. When you join forces with other like-minded people, you can spread the word of your Seva offerings, share the love, and extend your kindness.

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