A yogi is someone who practices yoga, a traditional Indian spiritual discipline which includes meditation and spiritual exercises. The female equivalent of this term is yogini. Generally, these terms are only used to describe masters and teachers of this discipline, and they are certainly not appropriate for people who only practice one aspect of yoga, such as the breathing and physical exercises incorporated into this ancient tradition. Numerous famous yogis have developed their own special interpretations of yoga traditions, and they teach them to disciples who are interested in expanding their spiritual practice.
In Sanskrit, yuj means “yoke” or “union,” and yoga is a practice which focuses on achieving union with the divine. Archaeological evidence suggests that Indians have been involved in yoga for several thousand years, as seals, texts, and artwork show people in meditation and yoga poses. Several other Asian religions integrate yogic practice, especially in India; Buddhists, for example, may use meditation positions from yoga for their own meditation.
When Westerners think of yoga, they usually visualize the poses known as asanas which are used to channel and focus energy in some yogic traditions. However, the physicality of yoga is only one small aspect of this practice. A yogi is very focused on inward development through asceticism, meditation, contemplation, and manipulation of physical energy. Many dress and live simply as part of their ascetic values, and they spend a great deal of time in deprivation and meditation to ponder the divine.
In many cases, a skilled practitioner of yoga will lead others along their own spiritual journeys. He or she position may become socially prominent or revered, but this is not supposed to interfere with his spiritual practice. In the West, some yoga teachers also style themselves as yogis, and in some cases this can be technically correct, if the teacher follows a particular yogic tradition such as hatha yoga and observes the spiritual aspects along with the physical ones.
A yogi is generally treated with veneration and respect in Indian society. Various schools have their own etiquette when it comes to yogis, and it may be a good idea to consult a knowledgeable source if you are intending to meet a prominent yogi. Small slips can be perceived as insults, and even when an insult is unintended, it can still hurt.