What do you picture when you hear the word yogi? Do you picture a “hot” girl decked out in Lululemon, carrying a Starbucks latte and a yoga mat under her arm? Do you picture a girl in a bikini doing handstands on the beach? Do you picture an Indian man in a pose that you could never imagine being able to do? When you hear the word yogi, do you picture yourself?
I wanted to spend a little time talking about what I believe a yogi is, and I want to give you some insight on how to become one. Because most likely, yoga is not what you think it is. Did you know that the yoga you think of, the physical yoga practice, is only one of the eight limbs of yoga? Yes, EIGHT. Yoga is so much more than what meets the westernized eye. So, I’m going to dedicate the next ten blog posts to breaking down the practice of yoga, its eight limbs, and how you (yes, YOU) can become a yogi.
A yogi is defined as someone who follows the path of yoga. So, let’s start at the beginning: What is yoga? The literal meaning of yoga is to bind, to join or to attach. It also means union, and it is most commonly understood as the union of the body with the mind and the mind with the soul. I think it could also apply to several other unions. The union of breath and movement. The union of people in their communities. The union of a person with their environment and their surroundings. Basically, yoga has the power and the means to bring people together and most importantly, to bring you closer to yourself.
How many of you think yoga is just stretching? Or for those of you who have actually practiced yoga, how many of you think it’s a great workout? How many of you think it’s a weird cult-like, hippie religion? Okay, so yoga may include stretching and can be a great workout, but no, it is not a religion. It is a practice. It’s a lifestyle. And it is so much more than stretching and strengthening and burning calories (and if you don’t believe you burn many calories practicing yoga, you haven’t tried Sun Salutations. Hint: more about these later).
Yoga is an ancient tradition dating back 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, developed in Northern India to gain mastery over the mind, the senses and the emotions resulting in spiritual growth. The first time a yoga master brought the practice of yoga to America was thought to be in the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Hatha Yoga, which is a yoga style that is physically based and designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life, is the style of yoga that is typically practiced in America and was originally developed as a way to prepare one for meditation. Over the past few decades, Hatha Yoga has really begun to gain popularity in America and has kind of taken over as the norm when it comes to yoga style. Unfortunately, most studios here focus solely on the physical practice of yoga, with the occasional breath work and meditation, leaving a lot of us misinformed about what the practice of yoga is truly all about. Of course, there are many yogis in America who understand the full practice of yoga and do everything they can to pass this onto their students. However, the general view of yoga in this country has been limited to the physical practice, especially for those who have never tried it. This is an idea that I hope will shift in time, and I am passionate about shining light on the true practice of yoga and sharing it with as many people as possible.
Although the physical practice of yoga is wonderful and is a powerful source of self-transformation on its own, I think the other aspects of this beautiful practice are just as life-changing, and absolutely worth learning more about and incorporating into our lives. Besides, it’s never (EVER) a bad thing to learn more about the unfamiliar. Being a student is a big part of being a yogi, and that means forever looking for new opportunities to learn and study and grow.
My next few blog posts are going to be dedicated to diving deeper into each of the eight limbs of yoga. These eight limbs are basically guidelines (designed by Patanjali – one of the original and most honored yoga sages, creator of The Yoga Sutras) on how to live a meaningful life and are the basis of a yoga practice.
1. Yamas (universal moral commandments)
2. Niyamas (rules of conduct)
3. Asana (posture/physical practice)
4. Pranayama (breath)
5. Pratyahara (control of the senses)
6. Dharana (concentration/stillness of the mind)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (state of super consciousness)
You will learn what each of these limbs entail, how they all connect and support each other, and how to incorporate them into your daily life. These eight limbs are a practice, something you have to keep working on and coming back to over and over again. A practice that you dedicate your life to, in order to become the best possible version of yourself. A practice that is by no means easy, but always worth it. This practice is yoga.
B.K.S Iyengar nailed it when he said:
“As a well cut diamond has many facets, each reflecting a different color of light, so
does the word yoga, each facet reflecting a different shade of meaning and revealing
different aspects of the entire range of human endeavor to win inner peace and
happiness.” (Light on Yoga)
Yoga can give you these things, inner peace and happiness. But it’s a never-ending practice. And there are many ways to get there. Many different aspects to consider. And yoga for one person may look completely different for the next person. So, it requires an open mind, an open heart, creativity, and a willingness to practice self-love. Because yoga and self-love and creativity are all one in the same. And anyone, even you, can become a yogi. So, the next time you hear the word yogi, I want you to picture yourself.