On Yoga Terms and Philosophy: Who is a Yogi or Yogini?

On Yoga Terms and Philosophy: Who is a Yogi or Yogini?
[Second article in a series]
by Alice Koh

Who is a Yogi?

Chapter 5, Verse 23 of the Bhagavad Gita reads:

"Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and check the force of desire and anger, he is a yogi and is happy in this world."

Chapter 5, Verse 27-28 continues:

"Shutting out all external objects; fixing the gaze between the eyebrows; regulating the harmonized currents of prana and apana within the nostrils; the senses, mind and intellect restrained with moksha as the supreme Goal; free from desire, fear and anger; such a man of meditation is verily liberated forever."

A yogi is one who practices yoga. Yoga is meditation and the union with god consciousness.

A yogi renounces his desire for the material aspects of life and is not attached to the fruits of his labour. But he is still very much devoted in his service to God.

A sadhu is one who follows a path of spiritual discipline. He is most likely a monk whose sole dedication is in achieving moksha (liberation and union with God).

Most sadhus are yogis but not all yogis are sadhus. Sadhus are more ascetically disciplined. However, in today’s context, the words “yogi” and “sadhu” are interchangeable.

In the Hindu Epics, the word “sadhu” implies someone who is a saint, sage, holy man or seer.

He literally renounced worldly pleasures and every material possession including the clothes on his body. Some wear robes of saffron or white colours and their only possession is an alms bowl.

He doesn’t cut his hair. Instead he lets his hair grow and flow. But why?

The Autobiography of a Yogi teaches: “The spinal cord is like an upturned tree, with man’s hair as its roots, and afferent and efferent nerves as branches.” Paramahansa Yogananda further postulated “… like an upturned plant, man similarly absorbs through his hair electric currents helpful to the body.”

He practices in silence, away from the disharmony of life. He single-mindedly focuses on God having already subdued the wild monkeys of his senses.

Yogis follow a very austere lifestyle (note, women who practice Yoga are called Yoginis). They start their day as early as 2 or 3 am, go through the ritual of purification by submerging themselves in the cold holy waters of the sacred river, the Ganga. Then, they meditate initiating their daily spiritual practice of uniting with Brahma consciousness.

Asceticism is still practiced religiously in India. Some involve body mortification and self-infliction of pain such as sleeping on a bed of nails; walking in hot burning coals; sleeping hanging from a tree; standing on one leg for hours, even days. The extreme weather of cold and heat doesn’t bother them. In fact, they are able to overcome any physical, emotional and mental dis-ease as their body and mind is in perfect harmony and in self-control.

It is no mean feat to rein in a mind full of chattering monkeys who are hell bent on swaying your thoughts and emotions. To be detached from worldly pleasures of food, wealth, sex and power requires an overwhelming resolve and constant intense practice of perseverance, devotion and passion. Not an easy thing to do, indeed!

The ultimate goal of yoga can be achieved in this lifetime or through many lifetimes. Do not despair if your passion and desire are still running wild. Do not despair if you are still intoxicated by the lovely aromas of flowers; by the beautiful colours of the rainbow; by the warm touch of your lover; by the sounds of rain and thunder; by the lyrical flow of poetry and music……

One day even the desire to be right will no longer be omnipresent.

And when you are about to die, when your breath leaves your body for the last time, think of God . Pronounce the name of God. For your last utter of God’s name, your last thoughts of devotion, will have profound significance in your next life.

A yogi once said, “… take advantage of the life we have received each day and to live life for others. To have a human life, is to have the most auspicious life and so much opportunity to do good. It should not be let go to waste.”