Yoga and Yogi Practice
I always smile whenever I hear people refer to themselves as “yogis” or “yoginis”. Especially when the person is a bit of a self-promoter to begin with. So I found it interesting to read the following passage from a recent essay by David Gordon White: my instinctive reaction does have a historical basis!
From Yoga in Practice pages 11-12:
Here it is helpful to introduce the difference between “yogi practice” and “yoga practice”, which has been implicit to South Asian thought and practice since the beginning of the Common Era, the period in which the terms “yogi” and “yogi perception” first appeared in the Indian scriptural record. On the one hand, there is “yoga practice,” which essentially denotes a program of mind-training and meditation issuing in the realization of enlightenment, liberation, or isolation from the world of suffering existence. Yoga practice is the practical application of the theoretical precepts of various yogic soteriologies, epistemologies,and gnoseologies presented in analytical works like the YS and the teachings of the various Hindhu, Buddhist, and Jain philosophical schools. Yogi practice, on the other hand, concerns the supernatural powers that empower yogis to take over other creatures’ bodies and so forth. Nearly every one of the earliest narrative descriptions of yogis and their practice underscore the axiom that the penetration of other bodies is the sine qua non of yoga.
The cleavage between these two more or less incompatible bodies of theory and practice can be traced back to early Buddhist sources, which speak of a rivalry between meditating “experimentalists” (jhayins) and “speculatives” (dhammayogas). … The gulf between yoga practice and yogi practice never ceased to widen over the centuries, such that, by the time of the British Raj, India’s hordes of yogis were considered by India’s elites to be little more than common criminals, with their fraudulent practices — utterly at odds with the true “science” of yoga, which, taught in the YS, was practiced by none — save perhaps a handful of isolated hermits living high in the Himalayas.