What Makes a Yogi?

I was chatting with a friend the other day and in our conversation, it was asked, What makes a “real yogi”? Are we “real yogis”?  My friend's initial response was that because she was not super flexible or couldn’t do arm balances, she was not qualified. Her answer gave me pause, so what makes a “real yogi” and who decides?

I know there is much more to yoga than headstands, flexibility, and arm balances, but what else is needed in one's practice to become yogafied?  In my humble opinion, if the practice brings you joy, calm, contentment, accomplishment, or anything else that keeps you coming back, day after day, week after week, year after year, then I would say that qualifies you as a yogi.

People new to yoga often say they are “not flexible enough” or they are “not thin enough” or can’t sit still “long enough” to practice yoga. Somewhere along the way, yoga became this idealized image in society; tall, thin, females, dressed in pricy lulu lemon gear and doing amazing poses with picturesque backgrounds. This is a far cry from images of yoga in the East; all sizes of men, women, children, dressed in loose clothing, and practicing beneficial poses working towards sitting in meditation. I feel that the commercialization of yoga by the West has conditioned people to think that they must have the right mat, clothes, body type, stand on their hands, or contort their body into unthinkable shapes. 

I believe yoga should focus on who we are individually and the practice should be tailored to our physical and emotional capabilities. The physical sides of yoga (poses and breath) are just two aspects of yoga. Many people start here because they find it the best place to begin to connect with their body and mind. A person may stay here and this is their practice and they love it, inside and out. Or a person might move towards other aspects of the practice they have discovered that resonate with them like meditation or the philosophy of yoga. 

Through my practice, I have learned that yoga is about the ability to be with yourself, your breath, your thoughts. Yoga is about accepting yourself. Yoga is about building awareness of your body and celebrating your body and mind. Yoga is about noticing the thoughts in the head, what distracts, what calms, and how to find yourself in the present for extended periods. Yoga is a very personal practice that cannot be defined by others. Each person will find the path that is right for them. I believe that being true to yourself and allowing the journey to unfold without forcing or judging makes you a yogi. Enjoy your journey!