Five Pillars Yoga

Posts Tagged ‘Giving Back’

Living Your Yoga

Over the next few months we’ll be exploring a few yogic concepts that happen off the mat. First up: seva.

Seva is the Sanskrit word for service. Its root siv, or sev, means to serve or to honor, so its definition encompasses both the act of doing and the spirit in which it is done. Seva is often referred to as selfless service: an undertaking or an offering with no benefit or payoff for the doer. Seva is done out of goodness or devotion.

We can track the word back to the Mahabharata, the epic Sanskrit poem about the battle for the throne in ancient India. In that tome, performing seva was a personal act of service for one’s guru or spiritual teacher. Today’s broader meaning, in which acts of seva are performed for the greater good, is analogous to the altruistic example set by famous giver-doers like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and that person who always offers up her seat on the subway.


“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ― Mahatma Gandhi


To posit that acts of seva have no benefit or payoff for the doer is, of course, dubious. Anyone who’s helped someone or some cause just because—from holding the door open for a stranger to making sandwiches for a food drive—has more likely than not felt lit up by the experience.

Seva takes that practice one step further and adds the element of intention. When mindfully performing acts of service as a spiritual practice they become a tool for elevating consciousness. This is seva.

Volunteers working in soup kitchen

A personal example: I spent a few weeks at Amma’s ashram in southern India and performed a daily seva as part of the exchange for staying there. My job was to clean the main temple. On the first day I received a bucket of water, a bunch of frayed rags, and a huge, very dusty staircase to clean. As I scrubbed, the water in the bucket got dirtier and dirtier. The steps collected new dust the minute the old dust lifted, and people left footprints in their wake. Fixated on doing the job “right,” I grew more and more frustrated. At this rate the staircase and temple would never get clean. I was horrible at doing my seva and a failure in general.

By the third day I softened. I used my hour of seva to turn off my hyper-aware and fault-finding mind. Instead of rushing through each assignment I gave myself fully to the task at hand, letting myself be absorbed by the balustrade I was polishing or wood carvings I was dusting. I was tending to a divine place of worship, adding my energy and efforts to it and giving it my full focus. I had done away with the idea of being “good” at doing my seva and realized that doing so missed the point entirely. I had been seeking approval or praise and internal validation from my actions when seva is about stepping into the actions so fully that approbation loses all meaning.


There are many ways to do seva. It can be a quiet, daily practice (see: subway seat donator), or something bigger, like committing to a cause like Off The Mat Into The World.

In the holiday season, charitable giving and volunteering get a lot of air time; there are many organizations, like So Others May Eat and God’s Love We Deliver, that receive more volunteer requests they can handle over the holidays but need help the rest of the year. If the idea of seva resonates with you right now, be sure to check back in after the new year.

If you’re interested in incorporating seva into your practice, The Yoga Service Council is a wonderful resource. An umbrella organization dedicated to maximizing “the effectiveness, sustainability, and impact of individuals and organizations working to make yoga and mindfulness practices equally accessible to all,” it’s a yogic toolbox for giving back.

Photos: Heart in hands; Gandhi; Ariel Skelley’s soup kitchen shot; beach clean-up.

Five Ways You Can Really Give, By Giving Back

‘Tis the season for giving! For most people that means buying lots of… stuff for the people they love. I won’t pretend I’m not a part of this group — I love the smile on my mother’s face when she opens a special gift from me. But, Five Pillars wants to remind everyone how easy it is to live with Right Intention this holiday season. This means broadening the scope of what it means to give, and sharing your generosity with new and deserving recipients.


We did some research, and here are the top five ways you can really give, by giving back, this holiday season!


Give Health

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 10.33.33 AMAmani Global Works has a simple mission: to provide a sustainable healthcare system on Idjwi, an island in the Democratic Republic of Congo. You can help them “Care, Cure and Make Whole” with as little as five dollars, which will feed a malnourished child for a whole month. by taking a few minutes to visit their donation site. you can see just how far your gift will go.


Give Education

Women One is an international organization that has worked in Haiti, Kenya, Jordan, and even New York City to create education programs that are holistic, sustainable and impactful. Head to their donation page and sponsor a girl and her future, today.

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Give Warmth

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 10.02.20 AMThere’s a creative and easy new way to help keep our city warm. We encourage you to hang your old jackets and coats on city lampposts, and leave a little note for the homeless people that might find them. Here’s the heart-warming story about the young woman in Portland who started this trend of giving in her city.


Give JoyScreen Shot 2015-12-22 at 10.11.28 AM

One Michelle Obama’s favorite ways to give is through supporting Toys for Tots. And just like our inspiring First Lady, you can give the gift of joy to New York City children. Toys for Tots delivers new toys to hundreds of thousands of kids across the city, who otherwise would not experience this bit of holiday cheer.

Give Companionship

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City Meals on Wheels provides nutritious meals to nearly 20,000 homebound elderly New Yorkers every single day. Give these seniors the gift of Right Nutrition, as well as the company of the people who come by to drop off and prepare their meals. No one should have to spend the holidays alone.

Many people have reported feeling even greater joy at giving in this way than through traditional shopping and gift exchange. You don’t have to take our word for it, we love to back it all up with a little research. We encourage you to spread a little holiday cheer and abundance this way, and notice how you feel. 



10 Tips to Support Your Green Lifestyle 

Eco-conscious living has become in vogue in the 21st century. If you ask us, this movement is far more influential than the latest trend… jumping on board comes with incredible benefits that improve the health of your body and greater society. Green products are better for your body and the planet. Green business solutions save money and protect our natural resources. Reduce, reuse, and recycle has become increasingly important as we face major environmental issues.


Today’s topic: Sustainability


What is “sustainability” anyhow?: The concept of “sustainability” is based off of the principle that we take only what we truly need, protect our natural resources and also consider the needs of future generations (our children).


When we choose to go green and live with “sustainability” in mind, we are making the conscious decision to participate in conserving and protecting natural resources. Every bite of delicious food we take, each product we purchase, the fresh air we breathe, and the water we drink stems from nature and will ultimately return to the earth.




Here are 10 tips to support your green lifestyle:


  1. Ask yourself what you really need to live comfortably and joyfully. Include your family and/or friends in a discussion. Simplify your lifestyle and reuse, re-purpose, or recycle items you no longer need.

  2. Purchase with sustainability in mind: items with less packaging, items that do not harm the earth (biodegradable), chemical-free personal care.

  3. Green your laundry by washing on the cold setting and hang-drying your clothes.

  4. Carry a cloth bag with you to the grocery store and consider cleaning/reusing plastic bags or replacing plastic bags with reusable bags or tupperware.

  5. Consider buying more organic produce and learn about the clean fifteen (produce with least pesticide use) and dirty dozen (produce with harmful pesticides) to protect your body and the earth.

  6. Eat less meat.

  7. If your morning cuppa joe is a daily event, consider carrying a reusable mug with you.

  8. Consider walking, riding your bike, or taking public transportation instead of driving.

  9. Host a clothing swap with friends to keep an inspired wardrobe without buying anything new!

  10. When you need a break from the daily grind, try a staycation or check out a Stewardship Travel Program for a sustainable vacation.



create helpful habits reminder or advice on a  slate blackboard against rustic weathered wood planks

Where Violence Ends and Hope Begins

Five Pillars is honored to spotlight the incredible work being done by The Retreat in East Hampton, a domestic violence services organization whose mission is to provide safety, shelter and support for victims of domestic abuse and to break the cycle of family violence.

Abuse is something that can take many forms, some more overt than others, and is something that can happen to women (about 1 in 4) and men (about 1 in 7) alike, yet most domestic violence goes unreported.

The Retreat is working to change this, providing a 24-hour emergency hotline, a residential shelter, counseling, legal advocacy plus critical violence prevention education programs and safety initiatives.


shelter kids in the herb garden

Shelter Kids in the herb garden

Their many educational, proactive and preventative programs include self-sufficiency support to help clients with personal development, job placement and financial management; programs for developing healthy teen relationships; initiatives working towards campus safety and more.


It’s no small roster of services, all of which is free and confidential.

In 2014 alone over 3,000 people utilized the hotline, the advocacy program provided over 20,000 advocacy services for over 500 clients, educated over 1,000 students in in-school violence prevention, and provided safe haven to 56 adults and 55 children over the course of the year. These services have been being provided for the past 28 years.

Thinking about the cumulative effects of this work over all these years is truly moving.

We at Five Pillars are impressed and inspired. We’re always looking for ways to give back, and this summer net proceeds from our Summer Wellness Retreat will be donated to The Retreat to help support the crucial work they do.

In yoga practice there is a concept known as Seva. It’s a Sanskrit word meaning “selfless service” or work performed without any thought of reward or repayment. In ancient India seva was believed to help one’s spiritual growth and at the same time contribute to the improvement of a community. It is clear that the work done at The Retreat is contributing greatly to the improvement of their community, and it is our intention to practice seva in our support of them.

This is a beautiful cycle that anyone and everyone can become involved in.

While we’d love to see you at our Summer Wellness Retreat, we encourage you to explore the many ways to take action, volunteer or donate to The Retreat.