Yoga and Volunteer Service: Discovering the Connection by Amber Smith

Hello! My name is Amber Smith. I am the co-founder and President of Activate Good, a Raleigh-based nonprofit that aims to activate volunteers to help charitable causes in our local community. Volunteer service has been at the core of my being for nearly a decade, and has brought me immense fulfillment and joy.

When You Call This Yoga founder Dr. Howie Shareff approached me to be the keynote speaker for the upcoming YogaFest, I thought he might have confused me for someone else.

“Me? But I’m just a beginner. I barely know anything about yoga,” I confessed.

Naturally, Dr. Shareff was happy to enlighten me. Among other things, he explained, “YogaFest seeks to develop goodness within as a source for service to others.” I perked up.

It hadn’t occurred to me that yoga might help hone one’s heart for helping others. You see, to the inexperienced beginner such as myself, yoga seemed to be a primarily inward-facing practice – a positive, healing exercise, for sure – but designed to benefit the self alone.

Intrigued, I continued my research of this concept, which Dr. Shareff called “seva.” Wikipedia describes “seva” as selfless service: “Service which is performed without any expectation of result or award for the person performing it.” Delving further into my research, I learned about “karma yoga”, a form of yoga focused on positive action and, again, service.

I was starting to see the connection.

It became clearer to me that if part of yoga is celebrating a sense of connectedness between the self and the universe, that surely includes other people. Instead of being a solely inward-facing process, then, it makes sense that yoga must include some practice of empathizing with other human beings, learning of their pains, and taking some action to alleviate them.

In the words of David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas (which is a beautiful movie, by the way), “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

That quote seems to capture the sentiment behind “seva.” Volunteer service, then, is that sentiment in action.

I look forward to further discovering yoga with you and integrating it into my own life. And, I look forward to sharing my experience with “seva”– and how service can enrich your yoga journey – at YogaFest this April 6.