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What is a Yogi?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A yogi is someone who practices yoga, a traditional Indian spiritual discipline which includes meditation and spiritual exercises. The female equivalent of this term is yogini. Generally, these terms are only used to describe masters and teachers of this discipline, and they are certainly not appropriate for people who only practice one aspect of yoga, such as the breathing and physical exercises incorporated into this ancient tradition. Numerous famous yogis have developed their own special interpretations of yoga traditions, and they teach them to disciples who are interested in expanding their spiritual practice.

In Sanskrit, yuj means “yoke” or “union,” and yoga is a practice which focuses on achieving union with the divine. Archaeological evidence suggests that Indians have been involved in yoga for several thousand years, as seals, texts, and artwork show people in meditation and yoga poses. Several other Asian religions integrate yogic practice, especially in India; Buddhists, for example, may use meditation positions from yoga for their own meditation.

When Westerners think of yoga, they usually visualize the poses known as asanas which are used to channel and focus energy in some yogic traditions. However, the physicality of yoga is only one small aspect of this practice. A yogi is very focused on inward development through asceticism, meditation, contemplation, and manipulation of physical energy. Many dress and live simply as part of their ascetic values, and they spend a great deal of time in deprivation and meditation to ponder the divine.

In many cases, a skilled practitioner of yoga will lead others along their own spiritual journeys. He or she position may become socially prominent or revered, but this is not supposed to interfere with his spiritual practice. In the West, some yoga teachers also style themselves as yogis, and in some cases this can be technically correct, if the teacher follows a particular yogic tradition such as hatha yoga and observes the spiritual aspects along with the physical ones.

A yogi is generally treated with veneration and respect in Indian society. Various schools have their own etiquette when it comes to yogis, and it may be a good idea to consult a knowledgeable source if you are intending to meet a prominent yogi. Small slips can be perceived as insults, and even when an insult is unintended, it can still hurt.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By truthunter — On Sep 13, 2012

Anyone investigating yoga needs to know that yoga and hinduism are inseparable. Hinduism is a religion that believes in many gods like the sun god and they pray to cows.

By SailorJerry — On Jun 05, 2012

This article was interesting to me because I'm the kind of person who takes yoga classes at the gym from a blond girl in her 20s. I did know that these classes are only part of what yoga is about because they are focused on the physical moves of yoga (not even the breathing as much, at least in the cases of the classes I've been to).

There's definitely a contrast between that kind of thing and the tae kwon do class I went to in high school. That was taught by a grand master of the discipline who had come from Korea. He put a lot of emphasis on the intellectual and philosophical side.

Has anyone done a class taught by a "real" yogi? How is it different from the gym-type classes?

By burcinc — On Jun 04, 2012

@anamur-- The definition of a yogi is controversial but the Hindu scriptures describes what someone must achieve in order to be considered a yogi.

The first requirement is achieving the eight "sidhis." These are things such as becoming weightless or heavy, achieving all desires and reaching all places. Another requirement is becoming like the Hindu demigods, which is increasing one's power. Final requirement is attaining "nirvikalpa" which is the highest form of consciousness- enlightenment.

By burcidi — On Jun 03, 2012

@anamur-- I agree with you.

They say that meeting a yogi isn't something that everyone is blessed with. From my understanding, yogis are also saints. When you are near one, you will feel their presence. And if you get to meet one and learn from him, he will bring you closer to enlightenment with his wisdom and inspiration.

I am one of the lucky ones who had the opportunity to speak with a real yogi, right here in the United States. It was at a yoga retreat in California, and a Tibetan yogi, a lama came to visit the retreat. I spoke with him several times during his visit and it was the most amazing experience. It was through his deep, meaningful words that I began my spiritual experience.

By serenesurface — On Jun 02, 2012

I'm really impressed with this article and I'm so glad it pointed out that not everyone who practices yoga can be called a yogi.

With yoga becoming widespread all across the world, "yogis" have also increased in number. Unfortunately, many people who are not very familiar with the concepts, aims and principles of yogic tradition believe all yoga instructors and practitioners to be yogis. Of course, this is not true, in fact far from so.

Just like the article said, a yogi doesn't only do yoga, but also follows specific spiritual practices and leads a unique lifestyle. A yogi doesn't only train his body, but also trains his soul.

Since yoga and related fields like ayurveda and homeopathy are profitable areas, some individuals take advantage of this and may present themselves as experts in the field when they are not so. And this doesn't only take place in the West, but even in the heartland of yogis, India.

That's why I believe we need to be careful whom we learn yogic traditions from. Not everyone can have the opportunity to become a student of a yogi, but it's definitely the best yoga training one can receive.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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