Far Beyond What You See

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What is a yogi? Is it someone with extreme amounts of contortionist-like flexibility, that can easily wrap their body into difficult positions with calm and grace? Is it the person who wakes up religiously at 4am to get on their yoga mat and do their daily practice while their family quietly sleeps? Is it that spiritual person you follow on social media who can sit cross-legged for an hour at a time, seemingly deep in meditation, whose feet never go numb, yet your feet (and butt cheeks for that matter) go numb just watching them? Is it your yoga teacher? Who is it? How did they get that title? And who gave it to them anyway?

 I believe there is a misconception with the term “yogi”. We’ve been conditioned to automatically call to mind the image of an enlightened being - A strong and bendy human, someone who has spent many years of their life fully dedicated to yoga practice and scripture, a person that is spiritually advanced, a body that has the ability to sit still forever with a quiet mind that never looses its single point of attention. 

With this as our vision of what a yogi is, it’s no wonder people get nauseated and annoyed when anything yoga related pops into their Facebook news feed! Thinking of yoga and yogis in such a way is bound to make the average person feel inept, lacking, and quite possibly like a fidgety, neurotic, inflexible piece of poo.

 So here’s the skinny… All of those spiritual, flexible, quiet-minded people could in fact be BALLER yogis. That’s very true. Yet it’s quite possible some are not… If someone can freely put their foot behind their head while standing on one leg with ease and comfort, yet they treat strangers with standoffishness, irritation, and an inflated ego, are they still a yogi? If a person can stay put on their meditation pillow for extensive periods of time, speak Sanskrit and quote yogic scripture from memory, yet they speak harmful words to homeless people on the street, are they still a yogi?

Let’s take this preconceived notion of what a yogi is and throw it in the garbage… No, really. Let’s get rid of it. By clearing the slate, opening the mind, and letting go of perception, you may realize that yogis are not who you thought they were. 

I practice Ashtanga yoga. Within this practice, we follow eight limbs or precepts. The eight limbs of yoga can be very complicated and esoteric. What it really boils down to is your relationship with yourself, others, the world around you, creating a healthy body and mind, and ultimately finding liberation from suffering. Does that sound very fancy? Because it’s not. Being a yogi truly has very little to do with the stunning postures you see all over social media and much more to do with being a good person.

 Try this on for size - Yogis aren’t special. Yogis look, act, and speak like real humans… Because they ARE real humans. Some yogis are flexible, some can’t even bend over or raise their arms. Some yogis have an infinite amount of knowledge about the yogic path, others don’t have any. Some are graceful, others fall over regularly. There are yogis that can spend hours discussing the meaning of a single yoga sutra, while many yogis are clueless as to what a yoga sutra is. Some yogis practice asana every single day, rain or shine, through sickness and health. Other yogis have never even heard the term “asana.” 

 Being completely enamored while riding your bike on a gorgeous desert trail in the middle of nowhere is yoga. Hearing your favorite song on the radio and being moved to tears is yoga. Treating a stranger with kindness, patience, and modesty is yoga. Extending love filled words to everyone you meet is yoga. A yogi is the woman with fibromyalgia, who is in such extreme pain that she can’t even imagine getting out of bed, yet she tries anyway. The yogi award goes to the dad who knows how to show love and compassion for his child, even when his kid is acting like an asshole in the middle of the grocery store. The person mindfully and diligently picking up trash on the side of the highway in order to make this world a little more beautiful is just as much a yogi as the person who practices Ashtanga primary series six days a week.

You don’t have to be bendy, flexible, or centered to be a yogi… As a matter of fact, some of the worlds best yogis are the exact opposite. If what I have written seems confusing and contradictory to what you’ve always believed a yogi to be, dig a little deeper and find out for yourself. Challenge your notion! Who knows? Maybe even YOU are a yogi.

-Nikki

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Nikki VanVoorhisComment