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What do I do with my free time? It’s something most people wonder occasionally, even the busiest and most fulfilled among us. And it’s just as true for many of us living here in Costa Rica, where there are always beautiful beaches to walk on, great waves to ride, and the abundance of nature to enjoy. There is also no shortage of options for learning and practising yoga! 

In addition, however, the desire to be part of our local community calls out to many of us. It 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 (“with that”), and eva “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. And that does not just mean coming into a community and deciding what is best for its members based on our opinions. Seva is an expression of compassion.

 

Purifying effect

As many people experience it, the physical practice of yoga purifies the body. We initially find that the postures are difficult. Our bodies are stiff and our muscles need to build to be able to hold poses. Our mind goes through all kinds of thoughts — perhaps about the inane instructor or never wanting to come back to class again, or fear of not being as good as the person next to us. 

Yet over time, the body and mind adjust. There’s an 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 seva — providing compassionate service together with others. Initially, our bodies and minds may rebel at doing something a different way than we would normally, or in a different order, or with an unknown purpose. Yet over time, we begin to realize that working with others is purifying for our hearts. Along the way there’s a letting go of the desire to be recognized for our service, or letting go of wanting a certain result of the actions. 

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 you who live here full-time, there are all kinds of local organizations that 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.

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