Karma Yoga in Addiction Recovery: A Beginner’s Guide
Karma yoga offers benefits that are aligned with the basic principles of many addiction recovery programmes.
Most people have heard of the word “Karma.”
Many are also familiar with the phrase “What goes around, comes around.”
Most people have heard of Yoga.
But Karma Yoga? What is Karma Yoga and how does one practice it?
Karma is a Sanskrit word that translates to “act,” “work,” or “deed.”
According to cosmic ritual law, The Indian God of philosophy and religion, Pali Kamma, rules the universal philosophical law. The universal law determines the future blessings or afflictions of a person by the good or bad acts (Karma) they conduct in life. The term Karma also refers to the spiritual principle of “cause and effect.”
Additionally, many Indian religions hold their beliefs in rebirth. Karma is the theory that the better a person's intentions and actions, the happier their rebirth in the future will be. 
In all religions, the Gods give us humans free will to do and live as we please. However, even if you do not believe in Karma or in a God, bad actions usually come with bad consequences. Karma Yoga is a concentrated practice that focuses on the selfless actions and intentions of a person in the world.
Karma Yoga offers many spiritual benefits to those in addiction recovery
Buddhism traditionally follows Karma in its intentions and deeds. Buddhists believe that good karma results in being reborn in one of the heavenly realms. Conversely, bad karma can cause rebirth in the realms of hell or in rebirth as an animal.
Karma Yoga follows similar principles to this.
Even though Karma Yoga isn’t a religion, it is a spiritual practice that incorporates many religious philosophies and principles of the Indian Gods.
Indian religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Taoism, all believe in rebirth and Karmas affect on this. 
So, how can a Yoga practice involve Karma and exactly how is Karma yoga practiced? Well, this is exactly what this article is about!
Here, you can learn more about the philosophy and principles of Karma Yoga.
Additionally, you’ll discover how you can translate the practice into your addiction recovery.
We’ll also highlight the numerous benefits you stand to gain from this practise.
What is Karma Yoga?
When first learning of the benefits of yoga in addiction recovery, it is apparent that there are many different types! However, all the different types of yoga that are available to learn are interconnected.
Karma Yoga is one of the four spiritual paths of Yoga and is based on a person's actions in the world. It is also known as Karma Manga. Karma Manga is not just a practise, but a way of life, based on the principles of Karma.
The other spiritual paths of Yoga are Raja Yoga (path of spiritual liberation), Jnana Yoga (path of knowledge), and Bhakti Yoga (path of loving devotion to a personal God).
To a person who is practicing Karma Yoga, doing the next right action is a form of prayer. Karma Yoga is all about a person's actions based on their intent. These actions must be selfless and free from personal gain.
Basically, Karma Yoga is the physical practise of good deeds in everyday life, cultivating good Karma and avoiding bad Karma.
What is the goal of Karma Yoga?
The ultimate goal of Karma Yoga is to prepare the mind to receive light and knowledge, and to purify it from afflictions or poisons.
Karma Yoga's earliest text is traced back to the Bhagavad Gita.
The Bhagavad Gita is one of the ancient Hinduism holy scriptures written in the original philosophical dialect of Sanskrit (the language of the Gods).
According to Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, Karma yoga is the spiritual practise of "selfless action performed for the benefit of others."
Now, you may think that Karma Yoga is all about devoting your life unselfishly to serve others. However, this is not entirely the case!
According to the principles of Karma Yoga, you have a duty of care to yourself first and foremost. As long as an action is not detrimental to your own wellbeing, then it can be carried out.
The principles of Karma Yoga
Karma Yoga is a design for living without attachment, ego, and fear, which are all very desirable benefits for many of us in addiction recovery.
Practicing the principles of Karma Yoga frees the person to have a completely clear conscience; providing it is practiced in every aspect of their life. However, this does not mean that life will not present its challenges.
Karma Yoga is a type of medicine for the spirit and mind, received through the selfless acts of the Karma Yogi. Regardless of what life presents, the Karma Yogi must remain willing to learn and be receptive to all things that come their way
The gift is not necessarily in what actually happens in a Karma Yogi's life, it is in how they perceive it and how they respond to it.
The 7 principles of Karma Yoga when applied to addiction recovery are:
1. Do your duty to your best ability
We all have duties, some of which are assigned to us and some of which we choose. For instance, being a good citizen is an example of a duty that is assigned to us.
For the Karma Yogi, they have a duty to God, higher self, or their inner teacher.
Other duties we have, we choose through free will. These duties may include being a good husband, wife, mother, or father.
We also have a duty to do our best in our daily work.
The Karma Yogi must never shun their duties and must learn to prioritize them in terms of importance.
The Karma Yogi's primary duty is to themselves and to their God. When we say they have a duty to themselves, this is not in a self-serving way. It is in a way that they must take care of their basic needs and not put that before the needs or wants of others. The duty to God, higher self, or the inner teacher is a continual path of sacrifice and acting in alignment with goodwill.
2. Do your best in your addiction recovery
Whatever the Karma Yogi does, they must do it to the best of their ability.
This applies to everything, including household chores, work, rest and play.
A clear conscience is gifted to the Karma Yogi when they do their best even when no one is watching, and when there is no personal gain from doing their best.
3. Have the right attitude
It is not just what you do that counts, but that you have the right intent and attitude. This is what determines if a job counts as a Karma Yoga practice.
Most people work just because they need money. Some are lucky enough to find work that they really enjoy and take pride in.
Even when doing monotonous chores, they must be approached with a good attitude or they will not count in the eyes of Karma Yoga.
4. Have the right motive in your actions
This principle is similar to having the right attitude, but a Karma Yogi’s motive must be pure. Many people who are not practising spiritual principles will do things for others so that they gain something in return, even on a subconscious level. This is because we are programmed to be rewarded for good deeds and behaviour.
Carrying out a Karma Yoga act just to be rewarded is not the right motive, and therefore would not count.
When a Karma Yogi carries out an action, they must search their soul for the truth in their motive. If their motive is without ego, without expectation, and without any hope of personal gain or credit, then this is the right motive.
To give freely without expectations can be challenging, especially when things do not go our way. However, if our motive is truly right, then whatever the result of our actions, we will not be disappointed.
5. Letting go of the result of Karma Yoga in addiction recovery
Simply, this means doing the right thing with the right attitude and motive to the best of your ability. Then, accepting whatever the results are without expectation.
Letting go of the results means handing over all results to God, your higher self, or your inner teacher. If the results are not as you hoped, then this means you had an expectation. The Karma Yogi must keep an open mind and earnestly search for what lesson can be learned, regardless of the results.
As the saying goes, ”Everything comes as either a blessing or a lesson, nothing is wasted.” With this approach, the Karma Yogi is on a path to continual personal and spiritual growth, becoming more and more awakened to themselves and connected to God.
6. Serve God or the higher self in all that you do in your addiction recovery
Many religions encourage us to “love thy neighbour,” and “not do not unto others as we would not like done unto us.”
Serving God or the higher self in all that you do is a lesson in humility.
The Karma Yogi always strives to serve their God and do things for the greater good. Serving God or the higher self is also a lesson in self-love. Reversing it and treating ourselves as we would hope to be treated by others teaches us self-care and self-respect.
This principle is also about practising humility in all of our actions and knowing that we serve a God, a greater purpose, our inner teacher, or our higher selves.
7. Follow the discipline of the job
Whatever the job in front of you is, it will require physical, emotional or spiritual input.
It will also require time, patience, and action.
Following the discipline of the job is meeting the job's requirements with your best intentions and doing it to the best of your ability.
Each Karma Yoga job is an opportunity for learning, if you let go of the results. Additionally, it is a chance to learn new skills and expand your mind. For the Karma Yogi, this means doing each job without attachment, ego, or fear.
“Karma Yoga is the selfless devotion of all inner as well as the outer activities as a Sacrifice to the Lord of all works, offered to the eternal as Master of all the soul’s energies and austerities.”
The Benefits of Karma Yoga in addiction recovery
If you have read this far, you may be wondering what the benefits of Karma Yoga are for a person in recovery from addiction. Karma yoga does not include Asanas (poses) nor any specific yoga meditations.
A Karma Yogi’s prayer and meditation lie in the selfless acts they conduct.
Practising Karma Yoga alongside other forms of Yoga, such as Raja Yoga or Hatha Yoga, which involve physical poses (Asanas) and breathing exercises (Prayanas) and meditation, will serve to enrich your overall well-being and enhance your practice of all forms of Yoga.
The benefits of Karma Yoga in addiction recovery include:
- Purity of heart and motive
- A clear conscience
- A better ability to appreciate the small and free things in life
- Continual learning and growth
- Remaining grateful
- A deep acceptance of everything
- A sense of purpose and direction
- A reduction of negative human emotions such as jealousy, envy, judgment, hatred and desire
- Gaining positive attributes and becoming a better person,
- Developing more patience, more tolerance
- Being more loving and more humble
- Have a greater awareness of yourself and find inner peace and bliss
- Increased faith in the results of your actions
- A reduction of fear, ego, anger, and attachment
- Experiencing less interest in material gain and more interest in spiritual freedom
- Being able to handle situations that you would’ve previously struggled with
- Experiencing reduced emotional reactivity
- A much deeper connection with God, your higher self, or your inner teacher
- Feeling at one with others, the Universe, and God
Everyone's journey with Karma Yoga is uniquely their own, and each will learn their own lessons and have their own experience of life as a result.
All in all, Karma Yoga induces a more peaceful and accepting mindset, which is something we can all benefit from.
How to practice simple Karma Yoga in everyday life
Karma Yoga is something that has to be lived in order to feel its benefits. This means practising Karma Yoga in everyday life and situations.
A simple way of practising Karma Yoga is to go throughout your day checking your motives for doing things. Make sure your actions are without motive and without a desire for personal gain.
In your work, rather than just showing up and doing your job, try taking pride in what you do. Do your work to the best ability, and get to know the people you work with and for. Showing a genuine interest in others and always being kind is a form of Karma Yoga.
At home, try to always do your best for yourself and your family, helping wherever possible to enhance the lives of your loved ones. Try to view life as “not what you can take from the table, but what you can bring.”
In active addiction, we were prone to acting in a very self-serving way, a way that only served our addiction and stole our loved ones' peace of mind. By practising Karma Yoga, we can give our loved ones back their peace of mind and offer them so much more.
Another simple way of practising Karma Yoga is to offer our services, time, and skills for free. This could mean helping out an elderly relative with shopping and housework, or engaging in volunteer work.
It is about finding a way to give back without the expectation of credit or reward. After all, knowing that we have helped someone is reward enough.
How practising Karma Yoga can enhance your addiction recovery
The principles of Karma Yoga encourage you to explore your motives.
It makes you into a better and more selfless person in addiction recovery.
It gives you a cleaner conscience and a purer heart.
The principles of Karma Yoga align with other spiritual programmes designed to overcome addiction. In this respect, Karma Yoga will enhance any other spiritual way of living you are pursuing.
As Karma Yoga reduces emotional reactivity and negative emotions, you will be less likely to do or say things that you will later regret. You will feel much more at peace and happier as a result.
Having a clear conscience lessens mental chatter and improves focus and concentration. Karma Yoga will also help you to make genuine and healthy connections with others.
With a clearer mind and conscience, a more positive outlook, and less emotional reactivity, Karma Yoga provides the perfect guide to staying free. This is a freedom not only from the attachment to substances, but freedom from all things within the mind.
In turn, the feeling of freedom that comes with practising Karma Yoga is what many people seek for themselves in addiction recovery. To what extent you practice Karma Yoga is down to you. As such, the more you practice it, the freer you will feel.
For those that want to dedicate their life to Karma Yoga and its principles, or are keen to learn more, the book “Walking the Walk - A Karma Yoga Manual” by Swami Tyagananda,” will prove a very interesting and worthwhile read.
Author - Sammi
- Lawrence C. Becker & Charlotte B. Becker, Encyclopedia of Ethics, 2nd Edition, ISBN 0-415-93672-1, Hindu Ethics, pp 678
- Parvesh Singla. The Manual of Life: https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_1mXR35jX-TsC
- Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center - https://sivananda.org/teachings/fourpaths.html