Yoga Makes Change: Being of Service

In this interview, Sukhraj Kaur Gipple, founder of Raj Yoga + Meditationshares her definition of seva, why self-knowledge is key, and how we can be of service both on and off the mat.

A Pathway Out Of Pain

“People change for two reasons,” Sukhraj begins. “One is that they are inspired by something or someone else. The other is that they suffer; they are in so much pain, they say, ‘okay, now I’ll do something different.’ That was me, the latter one.”

Years ago, as she looked at the path ahead of her, Sukhraj felt overwhelmed by a lack of confidence and clarity. Driven by an innate need to protect her young children, Sukhraj knew that she needed to make a change. “I began from a place of not knowing what else to do — but I knew that I needed to get firm and commit,” she recalls. And so, Sukhraj began to practice yoga.

Seva Is The Highest Expression of Yoga

Seva is when your inside is honored, when you honor yourself.

— Yogi Bhajan

“Seva is the highest expression of what yoga is: me serving myself in you, and you serving yourself in me,” Sukhraj explains. Inspired by the teachings of Yogi Bhajan, she suggests, “on the deepest level, our seva is simply to be who we are.” As a result of being true to ourselves, “we are more relaxed; we become happier. We do things in our lives that we actually want to do.” Consequently, we become connected to our purpose, our dharma. “When we get there,” Sukhraj asks, “what else is there to do but give?”

Service Requires Integrity and Self-Knowledge

I like to say, we all have a different medicine that we’re bringing—but we have to know what our medicine is to be able to give it.

— Sukhraj Kaur Gipple

According to Sukhraj, seva requires both integrity and self-knowledge; “[it] starts with knowing who we are and what we love to do.” However, she explains, “we can’t help other people if we don’t know who we are; if we don’t know the ways we need help within our own selves; if we’re not taking responsibility for the imbalances in our own lives.” After we have done this inner work, then we can begin to practice true selfless service.

Service Takes Many Forms

For many people, the notion of service (or the practice of seva) is conflated with volunteering. But seva can take many forms. “Any time we extend the benefits of our practice to serve others, that is seva,” Sukhraj explains.  Similarly, “helping somebody out, offering support; that is seva.” In this respect, we also practice seva when we support nonprofits, like The Give Back Yoga Foundation. “When we support those who are supporting the wider masses — when we give our money or our energy, when we show up to seva classes — that is seva too,” Sukhraj concludes.