Karma Yoga is an especially difficult and lofty type of yoga. So often in life we act out of concern for what we will gain back from those actions. This is the first rule of Karma Yoga - you must expect nothing in return. So often in life we are attached to the outcome of our actions. This is the second rule of Karma Yoga - detachment from the outcomes of one's work.
One modern day example of Karma Yoga is volunteer work. Spending some time helping those less fortunate than yourself, sharing your experience for free with those who can benefit from it. In Karma Yoga gratitude is never expected (and certainly never exploited). To experienced souls, gratitude is unnecessary, even embarrassing. "Please don't thank me", they will say. "I was just doing my duty to you as a fellow human". Is that how you feel when people thank you for the things you do? It is interesting to note that so many volunteers are older women, "retired" mothers. And why might this be? Because they have done their mothering, their babies have grown up and moved on, and through that detachment they have learned that service to others is an end in itself.
Such community service is very much like motherhood, the only difference being that with mothering we frequently expect to receive pleasure or gratitude at some future time. They often say motherhood is a thankless task. It is. So what? Ask yourself why you need thanking, why you enjoy thankfulness, when the performance of your mothering and the infant love spontaneously returned from that should give joy enough.
Motherhood is a way of discovering deeper meaning and purpose in life through utilising it to practise Karma Yoga. As a sadhana in itself it is a very long one, lasting anything from 15 to 50 years! In our society, things are usually quantified in terms of financial and material worth, but for motherhood there really can be no equal recompense, because it involves such a high proportion of spiritual worth - that is love. It is true that we gain much pleasure, amusement, company, pride, satisfaction, humour, challenges from mothering, but really, that is not why we do it. They are just side effects.
If we examine, very deeply, why we mothers produce children, the bottom line is, because we must. Sure, at some
level, many women think they are choosing motherhood but, at a deeper level than that, most mothers admit to feeling that they are driven to express their maternal urges by forces much stronger than the choosing, rational mind.
On a biological, instinctive level, every individ-ual is programmed to defend their own survival against all threats (Mooladhara Chakra). We are also programmed to continue our species through reproduction via the urge for the pleasure of sex (Swadhisthana Chakra). We also have an inbuilt need for ego gratification, replication of our self in psychological terms, freewill and personal choice (Manipura Chakra). We have a need to express and receive love through an intimate partner and through our children (Anahata Chakra). We have a need to replicate our intellect and evolve the intelligence of our species (Vishuddhi Chakra). We have a need to respond to the psychic calls of other souls who themselves need to incarnate through mothers (Ajna Chakra). And ultimately we have a need to strive for and realise Godliness (Sahasrara). All these drives are built-in to the physical and psychic human structure as represented by the chakra system. In each woman there exists a different level of awareness and development of each chakra, thereby causing a wide range of maternal urges and motivations.
Once in motion, mothering is instinctively and intuitively Karma Yoga. In our spiritual lives, what we aim for is to respond more to the selfless urges than the selfish ones, and in doing so convert our parenting actions into love-filled expressions rather than love-craving ones. That is of course much more easily said than done. But it can be managed if we keep our body and mind in good shape through the other Hatha Yoga practices and if we regularly keep our spirits high by maintaining a meditative, yogic model of mothering. It has been written by many great sages that we are only the caretakers of our children, that they are in fact not from us, nor of us, but only come through us. In which case, we must be careful not to attach to that we do not own nor can ever hope to hold on to. We must therefore strive to care for and serve as well as possible those beings for which we have only temporary responsibility, through the sadhana of mothering.