Five Pillars Yoga

Posts Tagged ‘YoGiving’

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.

Make Your Practice Count

Who can imagine a world without elephants?

These magnificent creatures embody wisdom, connection and graceful strength. They form deep bonds, display complex social behaviors, rituals and communal care. Elephants can communicate at a frequency below human hearing and this vibration can travel for miles, coordinating group activities such as courtship or mourning the death of a herd member. They teach, they play, they love.

The global demand for their ivory has fed a brutal slaughter, which claims the lives of 96 elephants every day.

Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

Let us not be the generation that sees the extinction of Elephants due to illegal ivory trade, poaching and greed. Let us join together with the Wildlife Conservation Society for the 96Elephants Campaign and raise awareness and funds to combat this brutal violence.


This Summer Solstice join Yogis around the world who are dedicating their practice to Elephants. As elephant activist Seane Corn says, let your body be a prayer, a prayer of support and education. Participate on Social Media to raise awareness but don’t stop there. DONATE. Get involved. Check out the resources on 96Elephants and become an Elephant Hero.


Pose. Challenge. Donate.
Make Your Practice Count.

96Elephants is inviting yogis to strike Elephant Trunk Pose, Eka Hasta Bhujasana, share the photo and tag three friends to spread the word and spread the love.

Follow us on Instagram to see our teachers and join our community in striking a pose!

There are great variations for beginners and advanced practitioners – check out these instructive videos to take your Elephant pose to the next level!







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. 



Delicious, Delightful & Diminutive Gifts

Old School Favorites – Nutsz

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Our neighbors in the Hamptons Old School Favorites have created the most sinfully-delicious brain food we’ve come across: their sweet & savory glazed walnuts. With a bit of NY state maple syrup and a pinch of North Fork sea salt these Nutsz are filled with minerals, omegas and flavor! Plus a whole bunch of state pride!
But be forewarned: they are fully addictive, in the best possible way.


Anjali Aromatics – Essential Oil Blends & Natural Perfumes

Clarity Blendfhdjksfds
We love aromatherapy, and during the winter season there is no more luxurious and pleasurable way to support immune health then by using essential oils.

A few deep inhales of Clarity blend will infuse your day with much-needed sunshine, while Balance will help you stay even-keel amid the swirl of the holidays.

Ambrosia Perfume

The Love (sweet, floral and romantic) and Ambrosia (musky and sensual) natural perfumes are a unique gift item for those in your circle who love sensory pleasures.



Indu  – Body Lotion

Indu Lotion GroupThe word Indu in Sanskrit means both “bright drop” and “the moon” – and this lotion is exactly that – magical nectar of the moon. Blended with all natural oils like avocado and jojoba, shea butter, aloe and a blend of essential oils, Indu Lotion is rich and invigorating to muscles. We use it in class, often applying to our students to awaken deeper breathing through the cooling/stimulating aroma.

What You Wear Matters

San Francisco-based Road 22 has launched a line of luxe basics you can feel GREAT about.
**Plus! Receive a free canvas tote with every purchase

Named after the road leading out of the largest women’s correctional facility in the world, located in Central California, Road 22 supports women just out of prison, helping them create a fresh start by providing training and employment.

The brand’s debut collection of impossibly-soft tops comes in essential colors like white, soft black and heather grey. Some feature subtle silk-screened graphics, some raw edges, and all are tailored for an effortlessly-chic aesthetic.

We love Road 22’s generosity and vision, and of course that everything is designed, sourced and printed in the U.S. A. The Yoga Shop is carrying several styles – and a free Road 22 Tote comes with every purchase!

The designs have been spotted on Hugh Jackman, Lindsey Shaw of Pretty Little Liars, and snapped up by yogis and festival-goers all over the country.

In addition to providing jobs for former inmates, “Employment is the New Black”, the company donates 2% of its profits to charities supporting women at risk.

There are currently over 1 million women in the US criminal justice system — 64% being held for non-violent crimes, and 80% of them are mothers. Road 22 believes that “Every one of us deserves a chance” and we love the way the name symbolizes the road forward – putting one foot in front of the other, stepping into a future that is there for the taking, leaving the past behind.


Kudos to this visionary brand. Generosity never goes out of style.