I always thought a yogi was someone who practiced and enjoyed yoga. Seemed simple enough. I do yoga a lot, therefore I am a “yogi” or as a female, a “yogini.”
I was re reading one of my books recently, The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V. Desikachar, to remind myself about some basic principles of breathing and pranayama in practice. As a teacher I am always pointing back to the breath and claiming its importance. And for the sake of not sounding like a recording, I wanted to go back to basics. I then ran across this definition of a yogi:
“One whose prana is all within the body.”
“The idea that yogis are people who carry all their prana within their body therefore means that they are their own masters.” -Desikachar
A-ha. I see.
Leading up to this definition was an explanation of prana in relation to pranayama, the body, and the mind. To recap that bit:
The goal of pranayama (breath technique) is to keep more prana (energy and vitality) inside the body. Pranayama accomplishes this by reducing the “rubbish” inside the body which is acting as a prana block. Prana gets forced out of the body by things that shouldn’t be there. More than physical blocks, these are mental blocks. All this mental rubbish was caused by Avidya (incorrect knowledge). Normally our state of mind influences our breath. Through pranayama we can reverse that process and our breathing can actually influence or control our state of mind.
Regular breathing practice means you have more life energy in the body and less mental junk, thereby gaining you self-control and ownership of your life.
Sounds a lot like decluttering to me, getting rid of that which does not serve you anymore: the self deprecation, harmful habits, anger, resentment, and so on. After the blocks are removed, what is revealed is the best version of yourself. And in that way you are your own master.
One of the easiest ways to have a breathing practice is to use ujjayi during Asana practice. By making the breath audible you make it easier for the mind to focus on it. Focus on the sound of the breath, and soon your breath will focus and still your mind.
Can you be a yogi without partaking in asana (physical postures)? My interpretation is, “yes.” The steps to becoming a yogi are: inhale, exhale, and repeat. Then, be you. Be the best you.