What is a Yogi? Yogini? Yogin? Yoga Practice and the Practitioner

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Yoga is a popular form of physical fitness in today's exercise culture. Some practitioners separate "doing yoga" for its physical benefits from its other mental and spiritual aspects. This has created a disconnect in the relationship of the terms "yoga" and "yogi."

Professionals and students of the mind-body arts share their thoughts on the subject of yoga vs. yogi. As in much of yoga, there is no one answer, no right answer, but thoughts and experiences that form the collective and evolving ideas about human nature.

The Yogi Arises from his Intentions, not his Practices

A yogi has an appreciation of and respect for the all things in existence. Because he is a part of that community, he naturally desires to care for and better himself. Even if a hatha practice is not begun with this intention, it is often discovered in the practice.

Yvonne Browne, an E-RYT 200 and yoga therapist specializing in the treatment of cancer patients defines a yogi as "someone who works towards an ultimate understanding of themselves and their connection to the universe/God."

"Practicing postures is only one of many avenues which can be used to gain this knowledge," says Yvonne. The practice of hatha yoga may not necessarily lead one to yogic path, she notes. "One who is dedicated to his asana practice is not necessarily a yogi, and one who has never practiced a single posture can certainly be a yogi."

As the field of yoga is regarded as a complete system for living, it can be intimidating for some students. It is not the mastery of yoga that produces the yogi, however, but the effort and intention he puts forth. "I think a yogi is one who aspires to be good at life," says Kaitlin J. Moran, a Reiki Master and RYT. It's a broad goal, but success or failure is not as important as setting the goal each day.

Religious Connotations of the term Yogi are a Misinterpretation

At times, teachers sometimes feel that vague terms can confuse and hinder a student's own path of self discovery. "Some of us who teach [the] 'mindful arts' understand the simplicity and very basic human benefits of the practice and... do not want to see anyone who may benefit [from them] be stopped 'at the gateway' by getting tangled in concepts or esoteric words," says Gerald Moose, a Tai Chi Instructor teaching in Charlotte, NC. "Here in the west, and specifically in the Bible Belt, teachers are sensitive to people's fears of having their belief corrupted... teachers do not want to deny physical benefit because of a misunderstanding."

The history of yoga actually predates the inception of Hinduism and Buddhism, the religions commonly associated with yoga. Hindus and Buddhists do not necessarily practice yoga, nor does one need to change his religious affiliation to practice yoga.

A Yogi is not a Guru, nor is he a Master of his Art

At times, the word "yogi" is confused with the title of "guru." A yogi is not a teacher or a guide. It is a practitioner of healthy living. "I, [like] my teacher, do not like to be called sensei or master," says Gerald, who points to the personality cults of the 20th century as a source of the mystique around the word yogi. "I think in the east... teachers, being human, took some advantage [of their followers] and let ego come to that well for a drink."

Students can be intimidated by the term if they believe that a student or teacher more advanced in hatha yoga is therefore a more advanced yogi. "People just aren't comfortable with claiming a title like 'yogi,' especially in a discipline where the practitioners display such a wide range of skill levels," says Clinton McDade, member of the Charlotte Yoga Club in North Carolina.

A Yogi Rises beyond Labels to Discover his True Nature

Perhaps the most yogic thing about a yogi is that he can see, or has the desire to see, beyond the layers of the material world and the human experience. The interconnectedness of all things springs from their sameness. To that end, some yoga teachers prefer the term "yogin" rather than "yogi" and "yogini," which denote male and female yogins respectively. "The term yogin," notes Angela Benton, RYT, "unites the [male and female] energies as one. A yogin dwells in his own true nature, with recognition of the interconnectedness of all things and with the basis of love, acceptance, peace and joy."

As Yoga Evolves, Yogis Evolve

Perhaps there is no clear definition of a yogi because yoga itself is a living art and science. The yoga practiced today teaches students how best to live this life in this world. Over centuries, yoga has evolved with the cultures and societies that practice it. Ultimately, it is the art of living happy and healthy.

"A 'yogi' is any soul who listens for the truth in their heart," says Joan McDonough Wolfe of Charlotte Prenatal Yoga. "I think the answer, like the yogi is forever evolving. I use the word 'soul' because in my passion (prenatal yoga), I consider both the mama and her baby as students/participants on the mat."

If an unborn child can be considered a yogi than perhaps the term "yogi," like a yoga practice, is best tailored to the individual practitioner. "

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