Our guru Swami Nirmalananda taught us a powerful mantra: Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu. “May all beings, everywhere, be happy and free. And may the thoughts and actions of my own life contribute, in some way, to that happiness and to that freedom for all.” In doing so, he encouraged us to perform actions that benefit all beings, human and non-human. This is the essence of Karma Yoga.
Karma Yoga is selfless service. This practical method for reducing suffering in the world is the foundation of all yoga practice. When we are suffering from self-pity and loneliness, a surefire cure is to care more for others and the reduction of their suffering. When we shift our thoughts away from our own suffering, it diminishes.
Whatever yoga practice you undertake, make it Karma Yoga by devoting the fruits of your practice to God, as Patanjali suggests in the Yoga Sutras: Ishvara-pranidhand-va.
Karma Yoga should not be confused with the law of karma, which is that every action causes infinite effects. The law of karma is the law of cause and effect. Karma Yoga, on the other hand, is a method for ensuring that the actions we take cause good karmic effects.
The law of karma is a universal doctrine, operating as surely as the law of gravity. You can observe it in the natural world, if you care to look. If you plant a seed in the ground, the karma of the seed is to grow. If you throw something up in the air, the karmic result is for it to come down.
Karma means action. It comes from the Sanskrit root kr, which means to act. It encompasses all movement, of the mind as well as the body. These movements can be conscious or unconscious; regardless, the karmic result is still ours.
The only way to be freed from having to resolve every desire is for the soul to realize the Self. Through enlightenment, no karmas can bind you. You are unbound, liberated.
When an action is selfless, it leads to future good karma and eventually to liberation. As yogis seeking liberation, therefore, we strive to perfect our actions. Most actions are preceded by a thought. To perfect an action, therefore, we must first perfect our thoughts. What is a perfect thought? A perfect thought is one devoid of selfish motive, free of anger, greed, hate, jealousy, and so on.
Excerpt from Chapter 3, Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon & David Life