What does it mean to be a yogi?
Yoga has officially spread worldwide, and we love it. Yogis and yoginis everywhere share ancient knowledge that allows us to cultivate inner peace. But why is the yoga lifestyle so life-changing? What is a yogi? Where is the line between “doing” Yoga and “being” a yogi? When contemplating a yogi definition, we must consider all dimensions of a person’s existence to develop a well-rounded meaning.
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According to Collins Dictionary, “a yogi is a person who has spent many years practicing the philosophy of yoga, and is considered to have reached an advanced spiritual state.” What does practicing yoga philosophy look like?
According to Patanjali, named the father of modern Yoga, Yoga itself is the “cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” How do we make meaning of this? So how does this cessation present itself in the life of a yogi?
Hinduism / Sankskrit Etymology
The word “yogi” comes from the ancient Sanskrit language, which originates in India, like Yoga. Many scriptures on Hinduism were written in Sanskrit, and many of northern India’s languages actually derive from Sanskrit.
The meaning of “Yogi” in this language is “to join or unite.” As Yoga in the traditional sense coexisted with Hinduism, the “union” aimed at was the union of the yoga practitioner with God.
Though we may look at Yoga outside of a religious context these days, we have maintained the belief that Yoga makes us conscious of our union and interconnectedness with the universe, or all that is.
The yogi lifestyle
When we hear “Yogi,” we often imagine someone in a rocking warrior pose or sitting upright on a rock, meditating with their eyes closed. But the truth is that asana practice or silent meditation, even if someone commits three hours of their day to it, are only practices that allows us to embody the lifestyle we want to achieve.
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So, how do yogis focus, strengthen, align, ascend, and improve their flexibility in the remaining hours of the day?
Beyond the body
There’s a reason why asana practice is often the gateway to a more profound, spiritual yoga practice. Our society often confuses this as modern scientific perspectives focus broadly on third-dimensional reality.
But rather than see identifying ourselves with a physical body, Yoga shows us how our body is only the “embodiment” of all other dimensions of ourselves. As we become aware of this embodiment in our asana practice, we can start making meaning of our subtler selves, and start to take Yoga off the mat.
No doubt yogi’s come in all different shapes, sizes, and personalities. But there are characteristics that they will have in common after enough time on the yogi’s path.
A few essential qualities are:
- Patience: they’ve learned how to observe the external world without allowing it to affect them internally.
- Respect: they’ve witnessed the power of offering only loving energy in situations.
- Health: This quality presents itself in many ways because we are susceptible to our environments, but they learn to honor their life as a gift and choose to take care of themselves.
- Resilience: they’ve learned how to breathe through and let go of that which doesn’t serve them.
- Peacefulness: They’ve become in charge of their ego and understand their oneness with all that is.
Ethics, by definition, are the principles that govern a person’s behaviour. Ethical principles aim to guide us toward doing the right thing.
The yogic tradition has passed down ways to act righteously towards ourselves, others, and the planet. It also offers guidelines regarding our diet, routines, and day-to-day activities that allow us to optimize our ability to do so.
Yamas and Niyamas
The Yamas and the Niyamas are basically the 10 commandments, or moral codes of the Yoga philosophy, encouraged in order to live an ethical life. They are not only a responsibility but following these principles creates good karma for a person meaning they will blessed on their spiritual journey.
-How to treat each others-
This one is pretty straightforward. Any actions, words or even thoughts that are harmful to other people or non-people does not move humanity closer to enlightenment.
Being honest allows us to avoid the illusions that prevent ourselves or others from becoming the most aligned and empowered versions of ourselves.
Fair and honorable exchange or giving allow us to cultivate trust within our communities and feel safe to be in a loving state.
While we often interpret this as celibacy, indulgence in anything may lead to addiction or taking it for granted.
Having or enjoying more than we need in any regards can create an imbalance between us and our environment.
-How to treat ourselves-
Sattva in Yoga is that which doesn’t cause stimulation or fluctuations of the mind. To achieve Saucha, the yogi does things that help maintain a sattvic state.
Feeling grateful for and making meaning of that which the universe has granted you and at peace with the ever-changing nature of life brings inner peace.
Becoming aware of your senses allows you to govern your reactions, enabling you to create the life you desire rather than being a victim of the ego.
Exploring the inner self allows you to expand your awareness and sovereignty.
Ishvara Pranidhana: Surrender
Learning to let go of what you can’t control allows you to flow and be one with the movement of life.
A day in the life of a yogi
Now we know the state of mind, emotions, and physical disposition that a yogi aims to cultivate. What do yogis’ average day look like when they aren’t breaking a sweat with some sun salutations or contemplating the meaning of direction in a headstand?
The yogi diet
Yogis always consider their diet because not only does what we ingest affect us significantly, but food also connects us to others and our environment. Choosing what to eat reflects the ethics and practices of the yogi.
Traditionally, avoiding meat is essential to yogis because they value the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence.) But in today’s world, because of global food chains, yogis must consider how violence towards people and the planet might also occur in producing and supplying plant-based foods.
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We discussed Sattva, the pure state of being that yogis aim to achieve. Often a sattvic diet is valued as a way to achieve this state, meaning that avoiding stimulating foods like spices, eggs, and nightshade vegetables are ideal.
Because yogis want to prevent excess or greed, they often eat only enough to sustain themselves. In more traditional practices, yogis often eat as little as one meal daily.
Meditation is the practice of focus. You may have heard the saying, “energy goes where your attention flows.”
We are all familiar with the classic meditation pose; A seated position, legs crossed, back straight, eyes closed, funky mudra. This is an ideal position to maintain relaxation and alertness at the same time in order to concentrate.
However, meditation itself can be practiced in asana practice, while driving, and even when interacting in a room full of people. When you are able to allow all sensations, emotions, and thoughts to flow in and out of your experience and choose one where you want your energy to flow, you have mastered the magical practice of meditation.
Mantra is the repetition of a word, phrase, or sound in meditation practice to improve concentration and focus. This could be a simple affirmation like “I am courageous” or a more traditional Sanskrit chant like “Sat Nam,” which means “truth is my essence.”
Mantra tones the throat chakra but also allows the yogi to cultivate the state of meaning or inner belief they are aiming at. We know the entire universe is created by sound and that all sounds carry a specific energetic frequency. Mantra is the yogi’s tool for sending vibration out into the world.
A Yogi Routine
As peace and purity are ideal, yogis often aim to wake up before sunrise while the rest of the world is quiet. This allows them to reflect on their inner world and set intentions for how they will move through the rest of the day.
Yogis may do kriyas or other practices to further optimize their health and clarity. Popular techniques are pranayama (breathing exercises), Neti (nasal cleansing), or Trataka (eye exercises).
When your yoga practice awakens you to your innate interconnection with everything and everyone else, you tune into the power of giving and doing for others.
By removing the illusion of separateness, we see that we are all small parts working together to serve a grander function. Serving only yourself prevents harmony from flowing throughout the larger system of things.
This is why taking your time, energy, and abilities and gifting them to others strengthens your relationships and enables you to receive others’ gifts in return.
What is a modern yogi?
Though the yogi life promises us meaning, peace, and vitality, many traditional lifestyles are unattainable as the world shifts. The trick is understanding the fundamental principles of these teachings and adapting them to our current circumstances.
Many of these practices and the atmospheres to dive into them are easily accessible if you want to renounce your family, live in an ashram, and own nothing.
Most of us have full-time jobs and bills and are often in situations where stimulating food is the right thing to do.
If we can set aside time to learn and contemplate how to approach ourselves and others and strengthen our ability to focus and take control of our mind, body, and soul, we are on the yogi path.
Taking steps to become a yogi
Perhaps the life of a yogi appeals to you, but all of these guidelines are a little too much to digest. The key word here is “practice.” Aspiring yogis must remember that every amount of energy put towards changing your lifestyle counts. We are incredibly adaptable beings; when you participate in the smallest exercises, you slowly change your neural pathways and shift your habits.
Some steps you can take are:
- Take a moment: Whether it’s buying an item, making a food choice, or saying something to your friend, taking a moment to reflect on how the decision is making you feel and how it might impact the world will help to expand your awareness and take control.
- Learn From Others: Even the most experienced yogi’s always have something to learn. Creating a schedule where you can fit in some classes and perhaps giving something up to pay for them will inspire you to stay consistent on your spiritual path.
- Learn to let go: Letting go may be one of the yogi’s most powerful tools, and being able to do so means that they can remain in control of your focus. Whether you’re letting go of work worries in a morning meditation or letting go of the antique lamp your new puppy knocked over, detachment allows you to be at peace with every passing moment.
Just remember that you are one with all that is and that Yoga is the tool to aligning every part of you to this truth, and the inner yogi is awakened.