I’ve been guilty in the past of using the word Yoga loosely. 

I used to say, “I’m doing Yoga.”

One cannot “do” Yoga. One can practice yoga, and that practice isn’t a 50-minute classroom routine. In fact, it is a whole way of life, a philosophy, a change of gauge that takes you on a journey of discovery of your True, Cosmic consciousness. 

To a Yogi, you can’t imagine how ignorant and blasphemous the statement “I’m going to do some Yoga” could sound. But then, what’s a Yogi, and what do we care about what a Yogi thinks?

Saffron-clad impostors on the banks of holy rivers who pose for you for 200 rupees ( mind you, selfies cost 500), have further misplaced the images conjured up by our minds when we think the word Yogi. 

Well, a Yogi in the original sense is one who truly practices Yoga. Both the words Yoga and Yogi have taken a fair beating thanks to their loose use in conversation and commercial abuse worldwide. 

If you understand the meaning of the word Yoga, that will indicate to you the essence of Yogic philosophy. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word Yuj, which means “to link” or “to connect”. 

One can never really be sure when Yoga was first practiced. But archeological evidence suggest that Yoga was a way of life for the residents of the Indus valley, 3300–1900 BCE. It is believed that the Indus people were pantheists (people who believe in the totality of everything, with no belief in any distinct personal or anthropomorphic god.) They embraced nature and treated everything natural as a blessing, revering rivers, sunlight, forests, soil, wind, animals that they hunted, food that they consumed etc. Because they connected them with the divine universe. Ritual practices began to be followed during this time, which revered every obvious or subtle source of sustenance. If you remember the scene from the movie Avatar, where the hunters who shoot animals apologize to, thank and bless, the prey before it breathes its last. It was something like that, it is believed back in the Indus valley days. And that’s believed to be the beginnings of Yoga.

The rituals were documented during the pre-Vedic and Vedic times (1700 to 500 BCE), and became indoctrinated during the Brahminisation of Hindu people’s practices in the 3rd to 6th century CE.  Very soon, the philosophy of Yoga was documented, charted, and became associated with the Hindu religion.

The origins of Yogic philosophy and practice are far older than Hinduism and the Sanskrit language. They are also older than Patanjali who is considered to be the father of Yoga and wrote the Yoga Sutras (a collection of 196 Indian aphorisms about Yoga and theory and practice, viewed by many as the foundational texts of Yoga) in 400 CE. To quote:

“Yoga is the suppression of the activities of the mind”

In the words of Adi Shankara, the founder of Advaita or Non-Dual Spiritual Philosophy (which is the Yogic order of the Nath Panth that I have been practicing for over 20 years):

‘Yoga is the means of perceiving reality.”

As Knut Axel Jacobsen  a Norwegian scholar of history & religion explains, Yoga in fact in connection with other words, such as “Hatha-, mantra-, and laya-,” referring to traditions specializing in particular techniques of yoga

When I say, “I’m going to do some Yoga” I am referring to Hatha, which is a section of Yogic practice. Hatha is an only physical exercise with no spiritual effect, unless one adds the word Yoga (connect), thus associating the physical actions involved in the Hatha class, with the Self. In any Hatha Yoga class, you will have some participants who are simply exercising, and you’ll find some Yogis who are actively connecting, synching, evolving.

The latter find themselves not by intention but by outcome, carrying the habit of Yoga (connecting) everywhere they go. At work, they are Karma Yogis; while they gain the knowledge they are Gnyana yogis, connecting every learning with their evolved higher selves; while they ideate and think, they are Kriya Yogis, who connect every thought with their higher consciousness.  

As much as a great set of abs might make you feel like a million bucks, and as much as you might feel energized and positive with Hatha practice, you’re only a true Yogi if you’ve successfully connected your every posture, every breath, every movement, every pulse, with your true cosmic consciousness.

So the next time you’re on your way to “Yoga Class” which in essence is Hatha Yoga (maybe with a few minutes of mindfulness and meditation, but still, just a class), please remember that you’re on your way to only dip the tip of your pinky toe into the ocean of Yogic philosophy!

Hold a mirror to your face, look into your eyes, and ask yourself: Am I a true Yogi?

Article by 

Kaveri Sinhji

Psychologist, Anthropologist & Historian

Founder of Culture Rings /

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