Yoga, now closely followed by Mindfulness, has become totally mainstream, with more varieties of a theme appearing every day. Many who attend a yoga class come away from it feeling more energized, yet relaxed and calmer than before, which is one of its great benefits. Originally, yoga has its roots in ancient India. However, while in India it is seen as a part of a larger philosophy of being, in the US, in particular, it is more often seen as a form of exercise and fitness, albeit a peaceful form, taught in gyms and town halls throughout the country. Combined with teachers now creating their own methods, this can lead to much misunderstanding of what this ancient art and science of yoga really is.
“Just as it takes years to be a doctor, so it can also take many years to understand the depth of yoga.” Swami Brahmananda
There is an important distinction between being a yogi, and what is known in India as a bhogi: a yogi is one who discovers that the greatest joy and peace of mind is within themselves, they see the exquisiteness of inner silence and their actions are for the good of others, whereas a bhogi is more concerned with their outer appearance, putting themselves first by enjoying and even over-indulging the mind and the senses.
This difference is seen in many of the yoga accroutrements now available, such as expensive skin-tight and brightly colored leotards. And we see it in the idea that a ‘good’ yogi is thought of as someone who can do every posture well, rather than someone who is using their yoga experience to help others.
There is nothing wrong with being a bhogi, to having desires and enjoying worldly pleasures. It is natural to fluctuate between being both a bhogi and a yogi, between desires and the divine.
But the desire realm is endless and ultimately unsatisfactory, like the hungry ghost in the Tibetan Wheel of Life who has a long but very thin throat and a huge belly. No matter how hard the hungry ghost tries, it can never consume enough to satisfy its hunger. So it is with the diehard bhogi. As Mick Jagger said: “I can’t get no satisfaction.
A yogi is someone who realizes that all the actions of a bhogi are ultimately fruitless, that cravings and indulgences are only temporarily satisfying. Then the desire for something more real arises. A yogi is one who embodies compassion and kindness, and who delights in the welfare of others, as the real meaning of all yoga is to wake up to the wisdom and love already within us
Swami Satchidananda used to say how just one taste of ‘true yoga’ is more beautiful than anything in this world, and that taste is our essence, the beauty of who we are. He told the story of the musk deer that lives in India and has a beautiful smell in its belly but searches the forest looking for the smell. Like that deer, bhogis look outside themselves for happiness, while yogis discovers it within themselves.