Until 2013, I grew up and studied in Southern India. While the West has embraced yoga like its’ own, I’ve noticed that the term “yogi,” along with various other sanskrit terms, has become a sort of “buzzword.” While in the West, the word “yogi” symbolizes someone who loves yoga, does a lot of asana practice, and maybe wears a fancy set of mala beads with the latest trending yoga pants, the word “yogi” is understood and used quite differently in India. As a matter of fact, it is not a term you hear or use so freely. You don’t see a true “yogi” in everyday life, as it would be somewhat contradictory to the true nature of their lifestyle.

I do not consider or call myself a “yogi.” At best, I am a yoga enthusiast!

Why Only a “Yoga Enthusiast” You Ask?

Because we use the word without understanding the depths of its true meaning. A yogi embodies specific qualities and lives a lifestyle that few of us can barely imagine living. In my opinion, calling myself a yogi is no different from calling myself a doctor. It is a title to be earned and given to you – just because we know a little does not mean we know it all.

What is the true meaning of the word “Yogi?”

One does not become a yogi by calling himself one – rather, it is a title that is bestowed upon you by people around you and the community that you serve. Below are qualities that make up a true “yogi.”

  • A yogi indulges in intense self-study through the practice of asana, pranayama, dharana and dhyana. This is his (or her) only purpose.
  • A yogi withdraws from society, as he sees society as a distraction from his yogic journey towards his inner being.
  • A yogi does not boast about progress in their practice, but rather serves as a light, a teacher, and an example. You will not find contorted yoga poses flooding their newsfeed.
  • A yogi eats only two vegetarian meals a day. Yes! And absolutely no caffeine!
  • He/she lives their lives by the principles of yamas and niyamas (the moral codes of yoga).
  • A yogi follows asteya (truth) and aparigraha (non-possessiveness) – they do not hoard material possessions, and aim to lead a simple life often with little or no possessions at all.
  • They serve society for the betterment of the people and the community at large. And expect nothing in return.
  • They seek knowledge despite all obstacles.
  • They spend a lifetime studying, serving and contemplating without expectations or entitlement.
  • They have no bonds or attachments to anyone or anything.
  • They do not seek gratification.

To be called a yogi symbolizes a lifetime of sacrifice and hard work without being attached to the fruits of action. If one truly understands the depths of being a real yogi, it is neither as glamorous nor cool as it is often portrayed on social media. It is sheer hard work, discipline, and transformation. It has nothing to do with Instagram, Facebook or yoga pants.

At best, I am a yoga enthusiast. And it is important for us to understand the distinction so that we can pass yoga on correctly to the generations that follow.

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