If you’ve taken one or one thousand yoga classes, you have probably heard the term Yogi. Perhaps, you have heard people reference themselves as a Yogi or a Yogini (the female version of a Yogi). And no, people, we are not talking about Yogi Bear here!
The Yogic Tradition
We are speaking about a term used much more aptly in the Western yoga culture these days. It is not uncommon for someone to call themselves a Yogi/Yogini, one who practices yoga. However, this person is more than just one who practices asana (the yoga poses/postures). To be a Yogi/Yogini means more than just the physical component of the practice. To understand and to live by the code of conduct of yogic philosophy embodies the essence of being a Yogi/Yogini. This applies greatly for those who teach yoga.
Yoga Alliance is a solid source to reference this information from for teachers or for those seeking to become one. It is the “national education and support organization for yoga in the United States” (yogaalliance.org) and it offers an excellent introductory guideline.
Throughout the East, a “yogi is one who is bound by a code of moral conduct and restraint (including celibacy) with a view to the realization of moksha (liberation). The words are often used to describe Buddhist monks and any lay person who is devoted to meditation” (wikianswers.com).
I find it most unlikely that many modern day Yogi/Yogini’s are choosing the path of celibacy. More precisely speaking however, the concept and idea of a Yogi/Yogini is to live one’s life by a standard of moral and philosophical codes taken from the yogic tradition, which we must remember is very old. Think of the term “celibacy” more along the lines of conscious moderation, living your life by balance of the external stimulants and behaviors practiced. This is actually one of the Yama’s, which will be explained in the next article.
The Eight-Limbed Path of Yoga
The Eight-Limbed Path of Yoga is the most understood code of conduct the Yogi/Yogini strives to mindfully respect and live by. “Just as the Buddha proposed the Noble Eightfold Path as the way to end suffering, Patanjali conceives of the yoga program as a holistic process with eight components” explains Chip Hartranft in his new translation and commentary on the ancient text, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
We call the components within the system, “limbs” because “Ashtanga-Yoga literally means ‘eight-limbed yoking’, with each ‘limb’ meant to address a different aspect or threshold of being” (Hartranft). The reader should note that this is a spiritual system of guidelines to live one’s life by, and not a religious doctrine.
Similar to the instruments of an orchestra, each limb works together in concert to produce a beautiful song. Structurally, this path works on an external perspective moving into an internal one.
Thus, this journey is one of inward reflection, breaking through the layers of our shells to better understand our truth and wisdom within. Hartranft reminds us that “at the same time, all the frontiers of being are interconnected, with the work at each supporting the work at the others. In this sense, cultivating all eight aspects simultaneously.”
Ok. Hold up. Taking a yoga class has now turned into this? Really?
Unfortunately, however grateful, the Western culture at first approached yoga by latching onto only one of the Eight-Limbed Paths of Yoga, the third limb, Asana, the most widely understood component of what yoga is. By doing so, we forgot or just chose to negate the other seven limbs. However, respectfully, this is slowly beginning to evolve in our culture with the magnitude of yoga retreats, teacher trainings and weekend workshops focusing not just on the asana but on yoga as a whole unit.
The third limb of yoga is the Asana, the poses and postures. It is a very important component and in turn it helps us practice the other limbs. Not only does this limb aid in digestion, release excess energy or prana in the body, produce heat for cleansing, but it also helps us to find clarity in the thoughts of the mind, synch the movements of the body with the breath (pranayama, the 5th limb), and find a sense of dharana (concentration, the 6th Limb), which comes in handy when we meditate (dhyana, the 7th Limb). Therefore, practicing just one limb is nearly impossible; they are all interconnected in way or another. Can you see how these are starting to blend and that the path is much larger than the goal of touching your toes or holding handstand in the middle of the room?
The Eight-Limbs of Yoga
1. Yama – external disciplines
2. Niyama – internal disciplines
3. Asana – poses/postures
4. Pranayama – breath control
5. Pratyhara – sense withdrawal
6. Dharana – concentration
7. Dhyana – meditation
8. Samadhi – absorption
So, can you call yourself a Yogi/Yogini even if you don’t know what the Eight-Limbed Path of Yoga is? Sure. You can call yourself anything you like. Just know that the farther you walk down your yoga path, you may encounter some people who will want to pick your brain on these limbs, the yogic philosophy and tradition, especially if you are yoga teacher out there. Having knowledge of the history and tradition of yoga, student or teacher, is a great way to deepen your practice, observe yourself with a new perspective and to connect not only to yourself in a yummy and rich way, but to also connect with others; spreading the “yoking” of the yoga.
Next week, Kristina will break down the 5 Yama’s.
Kristina Kuzmich, born and raised in the Midwest, first found Colorado through Naropa University in 2004, and instantly called it “home.” Kristina is a 200 E-RYT and a Licensed Massage Therapist residing in the Vail Valley, and is the founder and owner of Mindful Evolution Yoga. She is the Yoga Director for the Aria Yoga Program at the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, the only certified SmartFLOW © Yoga Teacher in Colorado and is proud to be a yoga ambassador for lululemon athletica and Manduka. A lover of dark chocolate and mate tea, an avid hiker, snowboarder, writer and community worker, she insists on traveling the globe in her diligent pursuit of perpetual growth. She is a junkie to the card game, Rummy, and while not shy to share her obsession for fairy tales, particularly devouring up The Brother’s Grimm, Kristina has an exploratory skill in creating meals in the kitchen. She isn’t afraid to dabble into her favorite styles of wine (all things French), share her opinions when asked, and will continually practice seeking the truth and finding clarity, though the wine may cloud that at times.
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