What is a Yogi? And How Do You Become One?

Published on September 5, 2019

Simply put, a yogi is someone who is committed to the practice of yoga. So, if you’ve done a few downward-facing dogs in your lifetime, does that make you a yogi? Um, probably not. While this standard definition of a yogi* is commonly stated, it is too simple to adequately define what a yogi is and isn’t. Most importantly, we need to further define what we mean by the words “practice,” “commitment,” and “yoga.”

Practice means that a yogi repeatedly performs yoga to acquire or maintain a level of proficiency. From my experience, I’ve found that it’s necessary to practice yoga for a minimum of three times per week for about an hour. Doing less than that will still certainly be very beneficial but probably not enough to make as much progress and improvement. Practice also infers a long term commitment to the path of yoga. Usually, but not always, you are a yogi for life.

The yoga that is practiced in the West is usually only asana (physical postures) and a bit of pranayama (breathing techniques). However, this is just a sliver of what is practiced and considered yoga in India. Traditionally, a yogi would be approaching yoga in a broader context than just asana and pranayama, incorporating meditation, mudra, mantra, tapas, yogic philosophy, bhakti (devotional) yoga, karma yoga (selfless service), and ethical guidelines (yamas and niyamas).

The Eight Stages of a Yogi

The frequency, intention, and depth that you practice yoga depend on where you land in the four ashramas system of practice. The ancient yogis understood that not everyone can be hermits or renunciates practicing yoga 24/7 and that there are benefits to practicing yoga at different levels and stages of life. The ashramas system has four levels of practitioners: brahmacharya (young student), grihasta (householder), vanaprasthya (hermit), and samnyasa (renunciate/monk). Most of us fall into the grihasta level – living a regular life in a house or apartment, with a steady job, relationships, family, etc.

Additionally, the Yoga-Bhashya, the oldest known commentary on the Yoga Sutras, gives a similar but different four classifications of yogis: prathama-kalpika (beginner), madhu-bhumika (in the “honeyed level”), prajna-jyotis (illuminated/advanced practitioner) and, atikranta-bhavaniya (transcended). Most practitioners in the West fall into the beginner or intermediate “honeyed” level. yogi matrix

If you combine these two systems of yogi classification, then you can create an interesting matrix to plot your current level and plan where you’d like to move towards in your practice. Once you find where you are at on the matrix, then it is easy to see in what two directions to move towards advancement and deepening your practice. While it is essential to embrace and accept your current level of practice, it is also helpful to set a long term intention to move towards the next stage.

If you are near the boundaries between levels and stages, then you may find yourself creating a hybrid path of combining a bit of the deeper practices with an introspective lifestyle for an intermediate/advanced householder/hermit practice. In these modern times, we are also fortunate to be able to experience the hermit stage and advanced levels by taking yoga holidays or yoga retreats without a long term commitment.

Where do you land in the yogi matrix? What yoga techniques are you planning to practice to move to the next level?

The Universal Qualities of a Yogi

While you don’t have to look like anything in particular or act a specific way, there are several universal qualities of a yogi. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna what is required to become a yogi, “Fearlessness, purity of heart, perseverance in acquiring wisdom and in practicing yoga.” He goes on to describe the traditional ethical and moral rules of yoga, the yamas, and niyamas. In essence, a yogi strives to be the best human possible and to embody the virtues of kindness, truthfulness, compassion, and patience towards others.

A true yogi will practice in a clear, focused, step-by-step procedure. A yogi strives to examine, refine, and control the body, mind, and heart so that the soul becomes liberated. A yogi will have a sincere quest for knowing the true self and to evolving to one’s fullest potential.

The Lifestyle of a Yogi

A yogi consciously works on shaping his or her attitudes, habits, and general ways of life to be more congruent with the philosophies, principles, morals, and ethics of yoga. Yogis make lifestyle choices that bring them towards a place of sattva, a state of equanimity and inner peace. Another important quality in a yogi’s lifestyle is the attainment of balance and harmony. Yogis are usually vegetarian and get 8 hours of sleep. The lifestyle of a yogi can seem very boring, but the lack of drama, stress, and anxiety are very conducive to progressing along the path of yoga.

How does one become a yogi?

If you find yourself drawn toward the practice of yoga and wish to become a yogi, follow these basic steps.
1. Practice yoga often. Integrate the practice of yoga into your life and practice yoga and meditation at least three times per week.
2. Find a good teacher. Working with a knowledgeable and qualified yoga teacher will give your practice consistency and depth. Establishing a relationship with a yoga instructor will also give you a resource for inspiration and guidance.
3. Commit to deepening your practice. The breadth and depth of the practice and philosophy of yoga is great. Dedicate yourself to explore the deeper practices of yoga and to understand yogic philosophy through watching videos, reading books and taking workshops.
4. Embrace the Yamas and Niyamas. Take a vow to incorporate the yogic values and ethics as much as possible in your daily life. It’s not advised to practice all at once, just work consistently to explore and practice each one at a time.
5. Make positive lifestyle choices. Examine your lifestyle choices and work to align them towards a lifestyle of peace, contentment, devotion, and balance.

*The term yogi can be used as both feminine and masculine, and yogi is also synonymous with yogin. A yogini is a female practitioner of yoga.

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24 responses to “What is a Yogi? And How Do You Become One?”

  1. Randy Fenton Avatar
    Randy Fenton

    Do you have a yoga program for someone with artificial knees

    1. Timothy Burgin Avatar
      Timothy Burgin

      Unfortunately no. This post might be helpful to you: http://www.yogabasics.com/learn/yoga-poses-for-knee-pain/

  2. David Goodwin Avatar
    David Goodwin

    Thank you for creating this site. I aim to consult with it daily.

    1. Timothy Burgin Avatar
      Timothy Burgin

      You’re welcome David, we are happy your benefiting from the website!

  3. Pristine Pascasio Avatar
    Pristine Pascasio

    I hope to learn more from this site. You give a good introduction. Thanks.

  4. A true yogi Avatar
    A true yogi

    A true yogi is he(she) who is in union with God and is beyond birth and death. Doing physical yoga excersizes is not required for liberation and therefore there is a large distinction between a yoga instructor or practitioner and he(she) who is immortal.

  5. Sujeewa Udawatta Avatar
    Sujeewa Udawatta

    Dear sir this is very good for me understanding..
    Thank you..And i like to veryfy the word girihastha…or grohastha .i would like to come to you and study.
    Thank you…
    Sujeew udawatta

  6. Om Avatar

    Human is a combination of subtle & gross body..
    Due to the food habits & other materialistic reasons the energy in body vibrates in low frequency…
    Yoga is one of the means to raise the vibrations to channel the flow of energy properly…

    Whereas yogi is one who seeks liberation from the matrix/illusion of earth…
    For which he has to detach from materialistic & sense pleasures…
    He gains control of breath, mind & consciousness & finally unites with cosmic energy..

    Just doing yoga does not make anyone a yogi.

  7. gregory Avatar

    nice website. needed. can also be useful for yoga groups.

  8. Atlanta Carrillo Avatar
    Atlanta Carrillo

    Thanks for this wonderful article about the lifestyle of a Yogi.I loved it a lot!

  9. Grady Edge Avatar
    Grady Edge

    I really loved this article about a yogi and appreciate all of the exhausting work that you put into creating it.

  10. Sila Hodge Avatar
    Sila Hodge

    Thanks for the great instructions on how to become a yogi.

  11. Paul Avatar

    Yoga is wonderful in my life. I love to stretch and yoga classes help me remember different stretches. The teachers in my studio are great. Yoga gives me flexibility so I can move better at 61. Yoga stretches are wonderful.

  12. Victor cordero Avatar
    Victor cordero

    Please continue your path towards enlightenment and sharing your insights, the goal is liberation from the enslavement of material reality, if you would like further commentary on the subject you can reach me.

  13. Truth Avatar

    Body and mind are the tools given to you as a human being. Yoga is the way to use the tool called body to become conscious and it may lead to awake. Mind is also a fantastic tool you can uae it to become conscious and awake. By meditation it’s possible. Not only doing Yoga can bring you Liberation or make you a yogi. Yoga means union. If you are realizing the nature of your existence and become whole with everything you are a Yogi. It doesn’t mean that you should do Yoga in order to become a Yogi. It’s just a myth. But as I said earlier Yoga has profound benifit which is handled correctly you can raise your consciousness & by that become one with everything.

  14. Janice Neely Avatar
    Janice Neely

    Really enjoyed all the comments made regarding Yoga. It means different things to everyone, but it is all good.

  15. John Lawrence Avatar
    John Lawrence

    I’m glad to have read your description of what comprises and defines a yogi. I’m not convinced about your assertion that any individual can participate to whatever degree he or she feels appropriate:- I perceive it to be an all or nothing life of living, otherwise there is no point at all and it becomes something that you take like anti-depressants or speed. Events today seem to me to be confirming this view, and certainly the great Yogis, like Christ or Moses constantly emphasise the necessity of material renunciation, where one has faith in andaccepts the support of the laws of nature and attempts to overcome one’s addiction to the bondage of material values – including family life.

  16. Megan Avatar

    How do I start ? I quit cigarettes and got a vape to taper off and I quit night eating snd I’ve been reading yogi . Anyone have any advice to help me in my path ?

  17. Diana Avatar

    Congratulations on quitting smoking! Perhaps there is a yoga teacher or spiritual mentor in your area that can support you with your next steps! ❣️🌀🦋

  18. Susana Hannaford Avatar
    Susana Hannaford

    This is an incredibly informative article about the practice of yoga! I’m so glad I came across this resource

  19. Mark Taylor Avatar
    Mark Taylor

    This article is so encouraging – I feel like I can finally commit to my yoga practice and live a healthier lifestyle. Thanks for the amazing resources!

  20. Sophie Fischer Avatar
    Sophie Fischer

    I have been practicing yoga for several years now, and reading this article has made me even more enthusiastic about it. It’s amazing to see how yoga can positively impact all aspects of your life.

  21. Liam Green Avatar
    Liam Green

    This article is a great reminder that yoga is not just a physical practice, but a way of life.

  22. Amelia Turner Avatar
    Amelia Turner

    The matrix combining the ashramas system and the classifications of yogis gives a unique perspective on one’s current level of practice and future goals. Thank you for providing such thoughtful information in an engaging manner!

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Timothy Burgin Avatar
About the author
Timothy Burgin is a Kripalu & Pranakriya trained yoga instructor living and teaching in Asheville, NC. Timothy has studied and taught many styles of yoga and has completed a 500-hour Advanced Pranakriya Yoga training. Timothy has been serving as the Executive Director of YogaBasics.com since 2000. He has authored two yoga books and has written over 500 articles on the practice and philosophy of yoga. Timothy is also the creator of Japa Mala Beads and has been designing and importing mala beads since 2004.
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