Fitness Magazine

What is a Yogi?

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina 
What is a Yogi?“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.”—Henry David Thoreau 
A while back, a friend of ours who has been taking yoga classes for many years was stunned to hear me refer to Mohandas K. Gandhi as “the most famous yogi of the 20th century.” He challenged my statement. Apparently in his mind, unless you did Sun Salutations or, perhaps, spent years meditating in a cave, you weren’t a yogi. I explained that not only did Gandhi follow the yogic path of selfless service (karma yoga) and was an dedicated practitioner of the ahimsa (non-violence) but he also considered the Bhagavad Gita, with its message of non-attachment, to be his “mother.”  
“When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and when I see not one ray of light on the horizon, I turn to the Bhagavad Gita, and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. My life has been full of tragedies and if they have not left any visible and indelible effect on me, I owe it to the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita." —Gandhi
To be honest, I think I failed to convince our friend. In his mind, he said, it was only the classic yoga text the Yoga Sutras that defined what “yoga” meant. But it got me thinking.
Then, later on, Brad and I spent our Thanksgiving holiday in the Boston area. While most of the time we were in central Boston and Cambridge, we also visited friends and family out in what are now suburbs but what used to be—back in the day—small towns. As we were driving through the area, I realized we were very near the original towns where the Transcendentalists, including Emerson and Thoreau, lived. Many people don’t realize that in the mid-19th century both Emerson and Thoreau read early translations of the Bhagavad Gita and both were heavily influenced by this iconic yoga text.
“It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson  
"In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-Gita, in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seems puny and trivial." —Henry David Thoreau
In fact, Thoreau, who later became famous for the time he spent in solitude in a cabin on Walden Pond, was so affected by reading this work that he actually said:
“Depend upon it that, rude and careless as I am, I would fain practice the yoga faithfully. . . . To some extent, and at rare intervals, even I am a yogi.” 
Of course this didn’t mean he was doing Sun Salutations or Triangle pose (though he did give meditating a try). For him, after reading the Bhagavad Gita, being a yogi meant adopting a certain attitude toward life.  
"To be calm, to be serene! There is the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind. . . . So it is with us. Sometimes we are clarified and calmed healthily, as we never were before in our lives, not by an opiate, but by some unconscious obedience to the all-just laws, so that we become like a still lake of purest crystal and without an effort our depths are revealed to ourselves. All the world goes by us and is reflected in our deeps. Such clarity!" 
This is one of the things I was getting at when I listed equanimity as one of the three major aspects of healthy aging (see What is Healthy Aging, Anyway?). I believe that it is not just the stress management techniques, meditation, and breath practices that will help me handle with some measure of equanimity whatever life throw at me in the years (though I do intend to keep up with those practices), but also the attitude that I take.
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."  
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