The Study of Yoga – Giving Back: Seva
Spring has sprung here in Guanacaste, and the hoopla of Semana Santa has passed. As we all have fewer visitors as it warms up in the North, we residents of Costa Rica contemplate: “What do I do with my free time?” Well, maybe not everyone has to ask that question; after all we live where there are always beautiful beaches to walk on, great waves to ride, and the abundance of nature to enjoy. However, for many of us who live here, the desire to be part of our local community calls.
This is actually a part of the yoga tradition as well. The concept of Seva is considered as much a part of our practice as are the asanas, or postures. Seva comes from two root words of Sanskrit, saha (meaning “with that”), and eva (meaning “too”). The word seva means “together with”; it describes actions that uplift us through an understanding of the needs of others, based on togetherness and integration (not just coming into a community and deciding what is best for them based on our opinions). Seva is an expression of compassion.
As many people experience, the physical practice of yoga purifies the body. We initially find that the postures are difficult, our bodies are stiff, our muscles need to build to be able to hold poses, and our mind goes through all kinds of thoughts (about the inane instructor, or wanting to never come back to classagain, or fear of not being as good as the person next to us, etc.). Yet over time, the body and mind adjust, understanding that quivering muscles and angry thoughts will arise and fall, and we are able to watch them come and go without getting attached to them. We learn to come more from our place of wisdom and compassion.
It is the same with doing seva, providing compassionate service together with others. Initially, our bodies and minds may rebel at doing something a different way than we would, or in a different order, or with an unknown purpose. Yet over time, we begin to realize that working with others, while letting go of the desire to be recognized for our service, or letting go of wanting a certain result of the actions, is purifying for our hearts. Seva helps us to be there in the moment with others, within their world. It is being in a helpful presence that invites union, or yoga.
For those of us who live here full time, there are a number of organizations who could use some seva, some of your service, your working together with them. It will bring you that much closer to the culture of Costa Rica, that Pura Vida that attracted you here. And it will make you feel transformed, just like a good yoga class.