What does this seva thing that gets thrown about in the Yoga world actually mean? When I started practicing Yoga, my Yoga teacher would mention this word seva every once in a while and then go on about some or other community project or collection she was doing. I was totally disinterested, I was just happy that I could hang out a little longer in Mandukasana, (the Frog Pose), and get a little deeper into my tight hips while relaxing and opening my sacrum and lower back while she was talking. I would bring my tin of food, or item of clothing the next week, not because I was particularly interested in the project but because if I didn’t, I thought I would be judged by my teacher and the other students. We all want to be seen as that good person in society, right?
When I did my teacher training course, one of our assignments was a seva project. Thankfully it was mandatory as I don’t think I would have chosen to do it if it was optional. At the Ananda Kutir Ashram, I learnt for the first time what real seva was. Seva is a Sanskrit word meaning “selfless service”, to give freely of yourself, your time, your expertise without expecting anything in return and without inflating your ego either! It is a means to help the community and at the same time help one along one’s spiritual path. People on the Karma Yoga path are practicing Seva Yoga. When we give freely and without wanting anything, (recognition included), in return, we are practicing seva.
At Ananda Kutir we were required to come in a few times and make sandwiches and then head out to Nyanga or Khayelitsha to teach some Yoga and breathing practices at a TB clinic. For the first time in my 20 years of living in South Africa I was introduced to another part of society that I didn’t really know anything about. It opened my eyes and I learnt, felt and understood things on a deeper level. I always left with such mixed feelings of beauty, joy, love, happiness, acceptance as so many people, with the little they had, were able to smile, enjoy themselves and be grateful. These emotions were combined with feelings of anger, frustration, deep despair and bewilderment of how this type of lifestyle and living conditions are permissible. Being given the opportunity to experience this has been a blessing. Nowadays, ten years down the line, I understand that seva is so much more than just collecting for charity. It is giving selflessly of whatever it is you have to give at this point in time and not expecting anything in return. So be it something simple like a smile or a helping hand, sending a thoughtful What’s App message or giving the car guard a cupcake, we are all able to do these things effortlessly every day.
This is why Mandela Day has become such a popular and worthy practice. It offers people the opportunity to connect with a part of society that they normally wouldn’t and with that, will hopefully continue to get involved to uplift those who need it most. This year I was given the opportunity to participate in a project that Rucita Vassen had organised at James House in Hout Bay. Rucita is an amazing young lady who exudes peace and tranquility, (unknown to us, it was her birthday that day and her birthday present was to throw a party for 40 kids at James House). How many people do you know who plan to throw a party for others on their birthday?!?… Wow a truly remarkable young lady, she has my deepest respect and a practice I sure hope to replicate on my birthday. With more people like this how can living in SA not look positive?!?
James House is a registered Non-profit Organisation, Designated Child Protection Organisation, Public Benefit Organisation and Child and Youth Care Centre. They deploy professional child and youth care workers that are able to access the children in their life-space – a home, at crèche, at school, and after-school. Their focus is on risk prevention and immediate response when they find a child in need of support.
I went along with my yogi friend Victoria Fearon, (who teaches Integral Hatha Yoga in Marina da Gama) and met up with Pramilla Vassen, (my colleague from the Academy of Yoga and Ayurveda), and spent the morning, doing Yoga, face painting and nail painting. How rewarding it was to spend time in the sun, watch the kids participating in fun activities, create masks, play soccer and enjoying a good lunch and some treats. This is seva. When you are able to give and receive freely without want or need of anything in return.
So Mandela Day has become a bit of a media hype, and I’m all for it. Anything that gets more people involved and brings more attention and focus to people and organisations that are working effortlessly to help those in need, Yay!. We all agree that Mandela was a great leader who in his later years did massive seva for the upliftment of the underprivileged, especially the children of South Africa. It is now our turn to help LeadSA and make this a brighter place for all.
To all those volunteers who came out on Saturday to help, to the staff of James House who give of themselves day in and day out, to all those who gave donations of food, clothing and other goodies, to Rucita for organizing this event and spending her birthday celebrating it with others, to the children of James House who brightened us up with their smiles and vibrant energy, to my close friends, Victoria and Pramilla, for being my guiding stars, my heart goes out to each of you and I thank you all deeply.