Breaking the Karmic Cycle: Yoga and Other Strategies

What are the best methods for breaking the karmic cycle? Can yoga help you find liberation?

Breaking the karmic cycle involves dissolving the boundaries between self and nature, which releases attachment to the self. Learning the many ways to do this, including through yoga, can help you on your way to liberation.

Learn to release karma from your life and take steps towards liberation.

How to Release Yourself From Karma

According to the yogi guide Sadhguru, breaking the karmic cycle generally requires releasing all attachment to the concept of the self. He explains that by transcending the illusion of separateness and recognizing the interconnected nature of all existence, you can dissolve the boundaries that create karma, leading to a profound sense of oneness with the universe and liberation from the cycle of karma. Releasing all attachment to self will allow you to release your karma all at once. 

(Shortform note: Sadhguru’s perspective on relinquishing attachment to the self as a means of liberation from the cycle of karma specifically challenges the Western conception of individualism, which holds personal identity and autonomy in high regard. The idea of dissolving individual distinctness for the sake of overcoming karma poses an ideological challenge in Western contexts, where personal achievements and individual uniqueness are highly valued. However, advocating detachment from self fits more easily into Eastern philosophies and spiritual traditions, particularly those with roots in Hinduism or Buddhism, which espouse a holistic worldview of universal oneness and transcendence beyond individual selfhood.)

However, there are also other ways to release your karma, which we will explore in the next section.  

Practice Karma Yoga

You can also release your karma by working through your allotted karma one life at a time. One tool that can help work through your allotted karma is karma yoga, a spiritual path defined by selfless action and service. Sadhguru clarifies that karma yoga is about seeing one’s life and work as a form of worship or offering, rather than a means to an end. He argues karma yoga is about the attitude and spirit with which you approach life, rather than simply acts of service. When you approach life as a gift, you act without attachment to self, allowing you to live more freely, in harmony with the universe, fostering a deeper connection to everything around you.

(Shortform note: While many people in the West are familiar with yoga as a form of physical exercise, the ancient Indian tradition of yoga is more nuanced and complex. According to the Indian Ministry of Internal Affairs, yoga can be defined as a spiritual discipline rooted in the subtle science of creating harmony between mind and body. The term “yoga” stems from the Sanskrit root “Yuj,” denoting “to join,” “to yoke,” or “to unite,” and the practice of yoga is considered a path toward the unity of individual consciousness with universal consciousness, symbolizing a perfect harmony between mind, body, and nature.)

Sadhguru outlines how you can use karma yoga to work through your allotted karma on three levels—the physical, the mental, and the energetic.

Release Karma on the Physical Level

Practicing karma yoga at the physical level can enhance your physical health and help your body work through your allotted karma. Sadhguru offers several methods to engage with karma yoga physically.

His first recommendation is to practice hatha yoga, a form of yoga that involves specific postures and breathing techniques that balance the body and mind. Through particular poses and exercises, hatha yoga can help erase entrenched patterns and memories that make up your accumulated karma and can prevent the accumulation of new karma.

(Shortform note: Though Sadhguru introduces hatha yoga in his discussion of karma yoga, they’re different. Hatha yoga primarily deals with the physical body. The word “hatha” can be broken down into “ha” (sun) and “tha” (moon), representing the balance of masculine and feminine energies. Hatha yoga uses asanas (postures), pranayama (breath control), and mudras (symbolic hand gestures) to purify and prepare the body for higher states of consciousness. It’s often the foundation for other yogic paths as a prepared body can be a key tool for inner experiences.)

Sadhguru also recommends Bhuta Shuddhi, a practice that focuses on purifying the five elements, or “bhutas,” in our bodies. In yogic philosophy, the elements—earth (prithvi), water (jala), fire (agni), air (vayu), and space (akasha)—are the fundamental building blocks of all life. Sadhguru explains that Bhuta Shuddhi is the foundation of every yogic practice because yoga, in its essence, is about aligning the individual human system with the universal system. The practice of Bhuta Shuddhi allows you to take on a greater karmic burden to work through in this lifetime.

(Shortform note: According to yogic philosophy, the five “bhutas” or elements each play a different role within the human body. Earth, representing solidity, forms the physical structure of our body. Water, embodying fluidity, represents the various fluids, such as blood and saliva, that move through the body. Fire symbolizes metabolism and digestion, converting food energy into vital life energy. Air, the fourth element, represents breath. Lastly, space denotes the intangible aspects within us: our consciousness, thoughts, and emotions.)

Sadhguru advises that to avoid the accumulation of more karma, you should also minimize physical touch. He explains physical touch generates karma, therefore being careful about how often and with whom you have physical contact can help you avoid collecting unwanted karma. 

(Shortform note: Sadhguru advocates being intentional rather than impulsive in our physical touch, not abstaining from physical contact altogether. Yet, minimizing physical contact could challenge some cultural norms. A study encompassing more than 14,000 adults from 45 countries found that the prevalence of touch in social interactions varied by country. The diversity in responses reflects cultural distinctions proposed by anthropologist E.T. Hall, emphasizing that certain cultures are more comfortable with physical contact (contact cultures) and others maintain more personal space (non-contact cultures). Universally applying Sadhguru’s teaching might inadvertently disrupt deep-rooted touch norms in different cultures.)

Release Karma on the Mental Level

The next step in your journey is freeing yourself from mental karma. We’re tied to our past and future, and thereby lose our freedom in the present moment. To release mental karma, you must first understand the nature of how we perceive time. By shifting your perception of time, you gain the ability to let go of past burdens and future expectations, giving you the ability to respond to the present moment with a fresh perspective, uncolored by past prejudices or future anxieties.

According to Sadhguru, time is commonly perceived in three dimensions: the past, present, and future. To practice karma yoga on the mental level, you must accept that only the present is genuinely real, the past is nothing more than a collection of memories, and the future is merely a construct of our imagination. Often, our conditioning, our karma, prevents us from fully accepting the present as it is. To transcend this karma, it is crucial to embrace reality as it exists, without imposing our desires or wishes upon it.

(Shortform note: Accepting and staying focused on the present moment is foundational to any mindfulness practice. In Wherever You Go, There You Are, Kabat-Zinn says that focusing on your breath can help you remain present  because your breath is simple, always available, and constantly changing in character. When you find your mind ruminating on the past or perseverating about the future, Kabat-Zinn recommends simply returning to your breath.)

As you shift your understanding of time, it’s helpful to have a better understanding of how the mind works. Sadhguru explains that the mind comprises four elements: cognition (vinyana), recognition (sanya), sensation (vedana), and reaction (sankara). While the first three elements occur rapidly and are largely automatic, the fourth element (reaction) is within our control. Maintaining equanimity in your reaction and embracing reality dissolves mental karma. When you have a neutral response to what you perceive, you become open to experiencing life fully and find contentment in being an integral part of the world, rather than constantly striving for or wishing for something different.

(Shortform note: The four elements of the mind, as outlined by Sadhguru, aren’t unique to him or his teachings. The elements are rooted in ancient Eastern philosophies and are notably prominent in Buddhism. The Theravada school of Buddhist philosophy, in particular, mentions similar categories of mental functions in the context of the Five Aggregates or Skandhas, including consciousness (vinyana), perception (sanya), and mental formations (sankhara). Vinyana, sanya, and sankhara correspond closely with cognition, recognition, and reaction in Sadhguru’s framework.)

Sadhguru writes that accepting reality as it is, devoid of judgment, allows you to recognize that your sense of self is constructed by you and has no true grounding in reality. This realization leads to a sense of harmony and inner peace, as you understand that you aren’t an individual but an inseparable part of the larger fabric of life. This moment marks a profound mental shift that will allow you to feel content, in harmony, and at peace with the world.

(Shortform note: Social constructionist theory argues that our identity is not only self-constructed but also formed through our interactions with the world, namely societal influences and expectations. From the language you speak to the career you pursue, your identity is shaped by the culture and social structure in which you live. This theory emphasizes that your understanding of the world and yourself isn’t merely a reflection of personal experiences but a complex construction molded by the societal norms and values that surround you. Social constructionist theory suggests identity isn’t fixed but can evolve over time as your social context changes.)

Release Karma on the Energetic Level

Sadhguru emphasizes the importance of engaging with karma not just on the physical and mental levels, but also on the energetic level. While our physical and mental strength may deteriorate as we age, our energy doesn’t operate under the same constraints. When cultivated and cared for through practices like karma yoga, our energy can remain vibrant and youthful throughout our lives.

(Shortform note: In addition to karma yoga, there are other practices people use to cultivate care for their energy. For example, qigong, a Chinese system of physical exercises and breathing control, is a practice aimed at cultivating and managing the life-force or “qi.” Similarly, tai chi, another Chinese practice, often referred to as “meditation in motion,” isn’t just seen as a martial art form but also as an effective method for maintaining energetic equilibrium. The distinct, slow, and mindful movements sequenced in tai chi aim to harmonize energy within the body. Finally, practitioners of the Japanese healing therapy reiki use gentle motions to encourage healthy energy flow.)

Sadhguru says that while addressing karma through physical and mental exercises can help you navigate the challenges and experiences designated for your current lifetime (your allotted karma), the work done on the energetic level holds the key to true liberation. Only by engaging with karma on an energetic level can you achieve mukti and break free of the cyclic nature of karma itself.

(Shortform note: In Inner Engineering, Sahguru elaborates on why energy work is key to spiritual liberation. He explains that science tells us that all things are made of energy. This means at the most fundamental level, you’re just energy in one particular manifestation. So, according to Sadhguru, because you’re just energy manifesting in different forms, and energy is all there is, that means you are all there is. Spiritual enlightenment requires understanding and experiencing yourself as a part of this universal energy.) 

One tool to help work through karma at an energetic level is kriya yoga, an ancient yogic discipline focusing on accelerating spiritual growth through specific techniques. These techniques involve a mix of breath, sound, and focus, aimed at reorganizing the internal energy system. Kriya yoga focuses on inner transformation with the goal of recognizing one’s true nature beyond the confines of body and mind. 

(Shortform note: There are few resources that outline the specific techniques of Kriya yoga because the practice is traditionally learned under the guidance of a teacher or guru. According to the Kriya Yoga Institute, anyone wanting to practice kriya yoga must be initiated into the practice by an official teacher. However, in 2013, kriya yoga practitioner J.C. Stevens published Kriya Secrets Revealed, which details kriya yoga philosophy and techniques as originally taught by its founder, Shyama Charan Lahiri, in 19th-century India. Stevens explains the seven steps of Kriya, from beginner to advanced level, offers insights into various interpretations by different Kriya schools, and explains the science behind why kriya yoga works.)

Sadhguru also explains that being in sacred spaces can help you work through karma more quickly and effectively. According to Sadhguru, sacred spaces have undergone a process of consecration, making them resonate with specific, transformative energies. The primary purpose of such spaces is to amplify the effects of spiritual practices. When one meditates or engages in other spiritual activities in these energized areas, the impact is often more intense and effective due to the supportive atmosphere. 

(Shortform note: While Sadhguru refers to officially consecrated sacred spaces, many of which he lists on his website, some argue that sacred spaces don’t rely on consecration to be spiritually significant. Any space may be considered sacred if it makes people feel connected to something larger than themselves. This spiritual connection may naturally exist in nature or in places of cultural significance.)

Breaking the Karmic Cycle: Yoga and Other Strategies

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Sadhguru's "Karma" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Karma summary:

  • Yogi Sadhguru's guide to understanding and living by karma
  • The four types of karma and how they impact you
  • Strategies for those who wish to release themselves from the cycle of karma

Becca King

Becca’s love for reading began with mysteries and historical fiction, and it grew into a love for nonfiction history and more. Becca studied journalism as a graduate student at Ohio University while getting their feet wet writing at local newspapers, and now enjoys blogging about all things nonfiction, from science to history to practical advice for daily living.

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