What is a yogi? I’m not the first to ask this question or ponder whether I fit the mold. Am I good enough to call myself a yogi? Do I need to be able to hold my ankle behind my head for an indefinite period of time or slip spontaneously into samadhi before I reach this status? I recently had a discussion about this with someone who I consider to be a wise and experienced yogi and we talked about self-honesty, expectations and awareness of prejudices etc.
I thought about who I am, what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
Usually, when I’m writing a bio or similar I put something like: Shari has a PhD in psychology, post-graduate training in mindfulness, meditation and Buddhist psychotherapy, she is a registered yoga teacher, yoga therapist and has also trained in the areas of massage, nutrition and mind/body medicine. What does that tell you about me? I’m academically inclined, sure the PhD is a bit of a give away there. I’m drawn to areas of self-development, self-awareness and consciousness; hmmm, yes, but (WARNING) that doesn’t necessarily mean I am self-aware or even a nice person! I sound nice, don’t I? Meditation, massage, nutrition, yoga. But have I explored these areas for my own well-being or because I want to help other people? Just because someone has lovely looking, appealing qualifications and training that sounds like the training a yogi should have, doesn’t mean they are kind, loving or compassionate. They could well be egotistical, selfish and narcissistic.
So, what if I was to go on and tell you more personal things about myself: Shari is also a mum and a wife, a cat-lover, a lover of food and a good glass of wine. She enjoys sci-fi, action, vampire and zombie movies, she eats chocolate, likes kick boxing, the UFC, tattoos and occasionally gets a little hot-headed about topics like education, parenting and general, run-of-the-mill stupidity (which she doesn’t always tolerate well). She forgets to say ‘no’ when she should (sigh) and sometimes even yells at her kids (gasp).
Well that’s just confusing! I like wine, zombies, fighting and I sometimes yell at my kids! AND – I often do these things while wearing my best Lululemon!!! A yogi???
But wait! There’s more! But most importantly, Shari is oriented toward love, she is driven by compassion and motivated by people’s genuine, honest desire to be themselves, free of what society and other people want us to be, free to be ourselves. Ahh! There’s the yogi! (I knew she was in there somewhere).
What makes me (and you) a yogi (in my novice opinion) are the times when we base our decisions on love, peace and freedom. When we consciously and deliberately choose time with family or friends over extra hours at work for more cash, when we take old things to a charity rather than hold a garage sale, when we allow ourselves to be late for an appointment because a friend needs a shoulder to lean on and an ear to hear them. I deliberately seek out other yogis for friendship and mentoring because I feel safe with them, there is a shared understanding that we are all on our own journey and each of us needs the space to explore, make mistakes, sometimes face in the wrong direction and these people are able to turn me back around when I need help. In Buddhism, our sangha, our practice community, is of vital importance to our journey toward awakening. Sangha is so important it is regarded as one of the ‘Triple Gems’ of Buddhism (Buddha, Dharma & Sangha). These people are our friends, but they love us enough to tell us when we’re heading down the wrong path and guide us back when we need it.
However, there is a trap in hanging out with like-minded people and progressing along the path to awakening. As we gain a sense of clarity and deeper connection to our inner wisdom, very often we discover an element of ‘spiritual snobbery’ emerging as well! We may become ‘self-righteous and superior, and judge others for their transgressions’ (Bhava Ram). What a lovely trap this is to fall in to! Our egos love anything self-affirming! Our work though is to remain humble and compassionate and realise that every day we need to start our work afresh, even those who have awakened need to work everyday to remain that way.
So, what is a yogi? What do they look like? Here’s a few things I look for (please make your own list, mine is just opinion):
- a gentle attitude toward themselves and others, free of self-loathing or constant criticism;
- an openness to and acceptance of the diversity of the human experience;
- a willingness to go slowly enough to gain understanding rather than move forward on the basis of assumptions, or otherwise be willing to stop and realise when assumptions have been at play and need to be set aside;
- a willingness to look at themselves, in a gentle, non-judgmental way, with humour and humility and accept their own humanness;
- someone who can prioritise their yoga or self-development or self-exploration, this doesn’t just mean showing up to class each week but is linked to the previous point; can you put aside other things to focus on this very important work? (within which is another thing I look for – do you regard this as very important work?).
They’re the main things. I don’t mind if you do these things wearing Lululemon or K-Mart leggings or Byron Bay style hippie pants. I don’t mind if you do them with a glass of wine in your hand or standing on your head. You can do them in my studio, some other studio or in your own backyard. You can do them while watching True Blood or Gilmore Girls, I really don’t mind. And if you slip up and judge me, criticise me or harm me in some way, I’ll probably be tempted to mirror that slip up and have an initial reaction of anger or frustration. But also, I will try to recognise my fear as quickly as possible and set us both back on the path with a soft strength that keeps us facing in the right direction.
May I always recognise and honour that place in you that is the same in me,