September 2, 2014

What Truly Makes a Yogi a Yogi?


vibes namaste yoga

Editor’s note: Elephant is a diverse community. We are reader-created. Many blogs here are experience and not fact or The One Right Point of View. We welcome all points of view, especially when offered with more sources and less invective, more frankness and less PR. Dislike this Op-Ed or opinion? Share your own take here


What makes a yogi a yogi?

I practice yoga at home. I go to group yoga classes. I read yoga books. I write about yoga. I watch documentaries about yoga. I wear yoga clothes. I teach yoga. I subscribe to Yoga Journal.

What? You read Yoga Journal?

Hilaria Baldwin has caused quite a stir as the cover model for Yoga Journal this month. She is the gorgeous, Instagram-loving, rich, famous, picture-perfect, has no cellulite—a ‘makes-everybody-jealous’ kind of yoga girl.

Yoga Journal has been coming under a lot of scrutiny from independent minds and publications (like Elephant Journal) because Yoga Journal is all about making money…yoga fashion, yoga image, yoga skinny, yoga beautiful, yoga sexy… And everybody knows that those things aren’t yogic. Right?

But try this idea on for size: what if Hilaria Baldwin is reaching out to the group of people who need yoga most, the YouTube generation—the teen and twenty-something women who are in the process of shaping their identities right now, and whose other options for role models include people like Snooki from Jersey Shore.

Could Yoga Journal, Lulu Lemon, and Hilaria Baldwin actually be gateway drugs? Could they be the foot-in-the-door, introducing a massive population to yoga, meditation, and conscious living? I think they could be. And that is good news for everybody, including Ele.

I believe that yoga begets yoga.

When I started doing yoga, I wanted more yoga in my life. I wanted more yoga people, more yoga philosophy, more yoga practice. And as more people want more yoga, the yoga community spreads exponentially. Today, there are more people practicing yoga in America than practice yoga in India.

To me, that means more people reading Yoga Journal and more people reading Elephant Journal.

There is a deep sense of unrest that plagues much of the female yoga community. There is a tug-of-war between whether or not we should go makeup-free, let our armpit hair go wild and isolate ourselves from pop culture and the media in search of inner peace.

My view of what yoga is continues to be shaped as I learn about yogis of the past and present. Let’s not forget that even deep in the mountains of Tibet, there is a stereotype of what a yogi is… First of all, he is male. He is a recluse. He practices yoga in caves, and spends days, months, and even years in meditative retreat. He wears draping robes, and grows out his hair, never cutting it until the end of his life as he prepares for death. He is a master of his thoughts. Is that what a yogi is?

In modern day America, there is also a stereotypical yogi. Female. Ultra flexible. Sculpted arms. Fat-free thighs. Tight clothes. Perfectly-pedicured feet. Calming demeanor. Is that what a yogi is?

Before we judge the reason that a woman comes to the mat, we should admit that often we start our yoga journey with one goal in mind, yet the process leads us to a totally different outcome—spiritual growth and awakening. I agree that reading magazines and watching popular TV shows can have a negative impact on women’s self-esteems, but does that mean we should run away from all of the things in the world that “make us” unhappy?

Or can we use our understanding of yogic philosophy to find a way to increase our understanding of the modern world and have compassion and empathy, without being controlled by these influences?

The way a woman looks, how she dresses, how she does her hair, whether or not she shaves or uses hair products, how much time she spends on the mat, or what yoga publication she reads doesn’t make her a yogi.

She is a yogi if she can see that yoga is the natural state of her soul.

We all have an ego. We all have thoughts and materialistic desires. But we are not our thoughts. We are not our ego. We are all in essence the same thing. If she can look first to see what we have in common, instead of what makes us different, she is a yogi.


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Eliza Groff

author: Eliza Groff

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