Yogi – ‘a person who is proficient in yoga’ – The Oxford Dictionary
There was never a point where I decided that I wanted to be a Yogi. And never did I imagine that I would become a yoga teacher. When I was little, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I remember my response being ‘a business woman’. My dad set up his business just before I was born, so I grew up watching that evolve and grow, and I was – and I still am – inspired by his dedication, entrepreneurial spirit and hardworking ethic. As a child I remember that my favourite toy was a brown and beige plastic carry case which opened out into a portable office – with a telephone, drawers for my paperclips and drawing pins, and a clip-board, which when removed from its slot, revealed a hidden space to store my pencil sharpener and stapler. Of course I didn’t have an answer when I was asked what my business would be. Why should that fairly significant detail matter to an eight year old?
So, as life unfolded it turned out that I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do. After studying French and Spanish at University (a decision driven by the prospect of living abroad in Mexico for a year), then working in events and PR for a while, I finally embarked on a career in automotive marketing. Looking back I guess at the time that fitted my criteria of being successful – I was climbing the corporate ladder, earning a good salary and I had a company car, all of which in my eyes equalled career success. So I threw myself into my career, made working late a priority over meeting friends for dinner and checking my work phone was the last thing I did at night and the first thing I did in the morning. By Friday evening I was exhausted and on Sunday night I was dreading the week ahead. And this was under the misguided pretence that it all mattered.
The stress manifested itself through what happened to my body. In an attempt to control something, I turned to exercising excessively and being obsessed with what I ate. My nervous system was on overdrive, my hair would fall out in clumps when I brushed it, I couldn’t put on weight and I was constantly hungry. I look back at photos of me then and I’m shocked by how gaunt and ill I looked. But, despite people telling me, I didn’t realise it at the time.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, yoga was my saving grace. A few years prior to the rock bottom point I randomly decided to go on a yoga retreat, fell in love with yoga and found a studio near to where I lived which I went to pretty much every day. It was my sanctuary in amongst the craziness. I remember one day flying to Germany for the day for work, landing back in the UK and driving straight to the studio to catch the last class of the evening. Yoga was my release. I later decided to do my yoga teacher training but at that point it wasn’t necessarily with the intention of teaching full time. It wasn’t until someone asked me to have a serious think about my life that I considered the possibility of changing things. And I haven’t looked back since.
So now I am a yoga teacher. But I am - and always will be - a Yogi in the Making®. The beauty of yoga is that no matter how bendy or how strong you are, how focused your mind is or how many years you’ve been practicing for - you will always be work in progress – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually you will always be a Yogi in the Making®. If you let it, your practice will always keep developing and evolving – day by day, week by week, year by year. There will always be more avenues to explore, challenges to face and things to discover about yourself. I don’t think you can ever be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at yoga or become ‘proficient’ in it, because yoga goes beyond the physical and therefore it’s immeasurable. It’s not like Karate where you reach certain levels and there’s a belt to show that you’ve achieved a particular grade.
In fact, chapter six of the Bhagavad Gita explores the question ‘who is the true Yogi?’ According to Eknath Easwaran’s translation of the Gita the word Yogi can mean a person who has attained the goal of meditation and therefore works with detachment from rewards and is devoid of material desires. Krishna tells Arjuna “Those who aspire to the state of yoga should seek the Self in inner solitude through meditation. With body and mind controlled they should constantly practice one-pointedness, free from expectations and attachment to material possessions.” So through the practice of meditation we become closer to being united with our truest deepest selves.
So, you may practice so that you find ease within a posture that you’ve previously found tricky. You may develop your breath work to the extent that you find a place of serene calmness or ignited energy. You may learn to meditate to the point where your mind becomes free from distraction and you experience a heightened sense of clarity. You may let go of the attachment to buying the pair of expensive sparkly shoes or come to the realisation that you don’t need to eat the massive wedge of chocolate cake. But all those things will be for a moment in time, and nothing is permanent. You can’t tick ‘being proficient in yoga’ off your to-do list. Other things will arise, and so you just keep on learning.
We’re all on our mats peeling away the layers of ourselves until we discover and make peace with who we really are. Whatever our stories - it doesn’t matter how, when or why we find yoga. It doesn’t matter what draws us onto our mat. And it certainly doesn’t matter whether we can touch our toes or stand on our heads. It also doesn’t matter what the people on the mats next to us can or can’t do. We all have our own stories and our own practice. There’s no grading structure, defined objectives or uniformity in yoga; nor is there benchmarking to facilitate comparisons with others.
And there’s such beauty in that; especially in our achievement-driven world where the quest for ‘success’ is often and only at the compromise of ourselves. Yoga gives us the permission to let go of the person we think we ought to be and gives us the space to learn who we really are. And bit by bit we’ll keep finding that out every time we step onto our mats.
So, you see, each of us will always be a Yogi in the Making®.