10/01/2013 04:53 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Karma Yoga and Down Dog

One of the least understood and most overly referred to paths of yoga is karma yoga. Every day we refer to good karma and bad karma, but the truth is there is no such thing as good or bad. Karma simply means for every cause (action) there is an effect (result). The cause and the effect is simply the movement of energy, and how that energy is moved determines the nature of our lives.

The Sanskrit (Hindu) word for karma means action. It also refers to the moral aspect of a person's actions. It is not about good or bad. It is not about judgment. Karma is simply the result of action and that resulting action either brings peace or turmoil. Karma yoga is the path of yoga that teaches us to be engaged and carefully inspect the consequences of our actions.

So when we refer to good karma and bad karma what we are really referring to actions that lead to either desirable qualities in one's life, or those that lead to moral or spiritual actions that are detrimental to life.

We all must work. This is the path of karma. Karma yoga teaches us that we need not abandon our work in order to find spiritual solace. We need to reassess and choose to do that which brings us joy and fulfillment. Our actions cease to be binding when we dedicate our actions to a higher source. This means that we practice surrendering to our deeds while at the same time remaining disciplined and focused, always conscious of the consequences of all our actions.

Life happens spontaneously. It is the movement of energy through space and time, but when the ego-centric personality asserts itself as the center of existence that energy becomes binding and the cycle of karma repeats itself over and over again. How do we break it? By conscious awareness of all our thoughts, words and deeds. We must have both a sense of discipline and a sense of surrender at the same time.

Nothing is ever gained without the sacrifice of something else. It takes discipline to stay focused and it takes the ability to surrender and let go to open up the necessary space to receive. The continual practice of yoga requires discipline and surrender. It is difficult to get out of bed on a cold morning and go to yoga class when you would rather surrender to the warmth of your bed. But when self-discipline leads you to your practice and you experience the surrender of your body-mind to the deep connection of the soul, the practice of karma yoga is more easily understood.

One yoga pose that might be considered a one-for-all pose, is downward dog. It teaches us to practice both discipline and surrender at the same time. It is a friendly pose that can be used to stretch before backbends and forward bends. It stretches all the muscles in the back, calves, shoulders, thighs and belly. It relieves neck tension, strengthens arms and relaxes us from general over all tension.

Downward dog requires the balancing of two opposites: pushing away with the arms and releasing the backs of the legs. In this, it creates both a sense of discipline and a sense of surrender. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali states that spiritual practice is a combination of the two -- discipline and surrender.

In Karma yoga, we look to our thoughts, words and deeds. If they are bringing us peace and happiness, then we are on the right path. So, stay with what brings health to your body, peace to your mind and bliss to your soul, and you will begin to discover the practice of bringing "good" karma into your life.

Doctor Lynn