Through out history various spiritual teachers have offered teachings that describe how to approach the path of yoga. In the West people are perhaps familiar with the teachings of Swami Sivananda, or Iyengar, or perhaps they’ve heard of Sathya Sai Baba or the yoga philosophy of Sri Aurobindo, or Vivekananda. Each of these inspiring teachers bringing with them an understanding of what the yoga path is, and how to walk it.
The intended aim of the Yoga path is described in the origin of the meaning of the word Yoga, which contemporary Spiritual teacher Heinz Grill points out, ‘…comes from the Sanskrit root yui, which means to connect’, (The Soul Dimension of Yoga). The word Yoga, historians commonly agree, was first recorded in the Vedic scriptures, which arose out of the ancient Indian civilisation approximately 2000 years ago. The Vedic scriptures describe the path of Yoga, on which people carried out various exercises and followed a way of life in an endeavor to connect that which is spiritual with that which is earthly. This is generally understood as the meaning of Yoga, the union or coming together of spirit and matter.
The Vedic scriptures describe at length the aim of Yoga as understood during the time of the Ancient Indian culture, but if I read some of these books to try to understand what was meant by the practice of Yoga its quite difficult. The language, the images, the structure and the ideas in these books seem a bit alien to me as a contemporary western reader. From this I begin to understand the ancient civilisations had a very different conception of the world in which they lived, they had a different way of connecting to each other and to their surroundings. Their thought life expressed a different view to the world.
Since the time of this ancient Indian civilisation the path of Yoga and the exercises practiced have changed, and now in this current time there are many different ways to approach the path of Yoga, as described both in the East and in the West. Some are practiced more for health and well-being, and some in a more spiritual endeavor.
Today, through the personality of spiritual teacher Heinz Grill, a southern German man living in Northern Italy, a new possibility on the yoga path has arisen, which is not so well known in the UK. This teacher has not stayed with the approach or methods from the past, but has conceived an approach, which addresses the human soul in its connection between the spiritual and earthly life.
To him the capacities of the soul, namely the capacity to think, to feel and to act (the will), can be developed in such a way that a clearly discerned connection arises from the spiritual realities onto the physical body.
In their usual everyday orientation, these soul capacities are more mixed up, creating something like a cloudy atmosphere around a person. But with the introduction of thoughts, which contain a spiritual insight,
the soul is able to connect with this spiritual reality, as it finds its connection onto the physical body. What results is a new position of the soul, one in which new inner experiences arise and also the body comes into a more enlivened expression.
In asana practice, for example, simple thoughts that relate to the meaning of the poses are brought into the practice. Just as a sailor can use the stars shining from above to steer their boat across the wide seas, so too the yoga practitioner can use these inspiring thoughts to steer the body in an intended direction.
The following is a short description of how I have worked with this approach in the practice of the Triangle, Trikonasana.
- The beginning starts with the soul’s capacity to think, and this means to bring attention to the picture of the pose, both in its outer shape and inner meaning, like drawing a first sketch of the pose with the thinking in the space of the imagination.
- In the triangle we can observe – through pictorial thinking- how we take up the form of a triangle, this form is connected to the idea of expansiveness, which is first seen as a person takes up the stable triangular stance and extends exactly to the side.
- This movement isn’t forced but encouraged by maintaining 3 areas, namely a stable stance, an active tension in the region of the solar plexus, and a relaxed upper body.
- With the soul’s capacity to feel we register the inner feeling quality of expansiveness, like a movement that extends, freely and lightly over the contrasting heavy, stable body below.
As you consciously participate with the picture, through observing and feeling, you begin to participate and act with the pose in a new way, not out of old habitual movement, but in the newly made present moment. This is the arrival of a new will movement, released from an old will movement.
This way of practicing takes time and repetition; the soul needs time to orientate itself to the meaning-filled thought, which it brings into practice onto the physical body. Further, the meaning of the pose has a connection to everyday life, to how a person relates into everyday life. In the Triangle, this picture of extending outwards in to life, relates to the capacity to extend over to others freely, not imposing and taking up space but meeting others, leaving the other free, and encouraging the way of relationship into a new present moment.
Asana practice isn’t then an isolated physical activity for vitalizing the physical body, but becomes an opportunity to give into life, to develop qualities in the soul that benefit others, as well as promoting health to the physical body. This way of practicing asana, to work with the inner meaning of the poses out of an imaginative approach, isn’t so well known, but offers a new step to those who want to express the aim of yoga as it continues to sing out in the depths of the soul. These three spiritual teachers, Sri Aurobindo, Rudolf Steiner and Heinz Grill, in their books offer more insights in relation to this new step on the path of yoga.