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Yoga in culture today

In culture today there are many classes where a person can practice the yoga poses from all sorts of styles, inspired by different Eastern and Western teachers. In these classes you may also take up the activity of meditation or pranayama (breathing exercises) or a teacher may speak about the benefits of having a well balanced diet, all these things are generally carried out with the aim to promote heath and well being. A person who has better physical health is perhaps then able to contribute into social life in a lively and beneficial way. In general Western culture appears to promote the health benefits of activities connected to the yoga path.


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Yoga philosophy

Yoga philosophy, however, doesn’t only remain with the health benefits of taking up the yoga path but speaks far more about the original aim of yoga, which is described in the Sanskrit root meaning of the word yoga – to connect, which further refers to the connection of spirit with matter. Hence a person who takes up a yoga path seeks the connection of Spirit with matter. Becoming aware of spirit in connection with matter is an activity that frees or liberates a lower state of consciousness into a higher state of ‘super-consciousness’. A higher state of consciousness is one that perceives true, newly made self-knowledge of the spirit, rather than a lower state of consciousness that perceives an old, habitual, material self–knowledge. As a person creates connection into an awareness of real self-knowledge, they become aware of that which they truly are. Yoga philosophy describes the logic of the conscious connection between spirit and matter.

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How this connection can be consciously achieved, and what it really means has been much debated through out history. For example, in the hindu scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita (recorded between 5th-2nd century BC) we find Lord Krishna narrating to the forlorn warrior Arjuna how life presents many opportunities to develop yoga through the 3 paths of Karma yoga, Jnana yoga and Bhakti yoga.

Historically we also we have the philosophy of Patanjali, a wise Hindu sage from Ancient India, some 200 years before Christ, who complied the Yoga Sutras, which were an organisation and synthesis of knowledge from older traditions of yoga. These sutras, placed into 4 books, are still considered to be one of the foundational texts of Yoga philosophy.  Here Patanjali describes Raja yoga, an 8 limbed path, where the aspirant climbs out of lower consciousness via eight sequential steps towards Samadhi – super consciousness. This route to yoga was an ascent from the body towards awareness of a spiritual reality.

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Integrated yoga philosophy

In more recent yoga history Indian sage Sri Aurobindo, 1872-1950, also synthesised knowledge from older traditions of yoga and proposed an Integrated approach, one where connection to the Spirit wasn’t an ascent from the body towards the Spirit or super mind, but the other way around, he writes:‘

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'The way of yoga followed here has a different purpose from others, - for its aim is not only to rise out of the ordinary ignorant world-consciousness into the divine consciousness, but to bring the supramental power of that divine consciousness down into the ignorance of mind, life and body and to transform them, to manifest the Divine here and create a divine life in Matter.'

(Lights on Yoga, 1935)

In this way yoga becomes a path of creating an opening to an influence as though from above towards earthly, life, as though below. Connecting to the spiritual reality liberates lower mind from its binding ties, and leads to the integration of higher consciousness or real self-knowledge and love into earthly life, in this way earthly life is spiritualised.


How does this aim work, by what means can an integral yoga come about?

Aurobindo explains by referring to a verse from the Bhagavad Gita:

‘…yo yac-chraddhah sa eva sah,

‘whatever is a man’s faith or the sure Idea in him, that he becomes.’”

(Chp 17 verse 3, Translated by Aurobindo in Synthesis of Yoga, click link to verse


Aurobindo describes the meaning of this verse by pointing out a person has both Faith and Will.


Faith or an Idea is what a person perceives or believes in, this perception forms him in life –it is a person in the state of ‘becoming’, and is thus Will in movement.


The Will can work according to a Faith guided by lower Nature, that is, it can move or act with that which a person already knows and that which they already are, here it also

‘acts through limitation and division, is of the nature of Ignorance

and culminates in the life of the ego…’.

But the Will can also work according to Faith in a higher Nature, that is it can act by

‘unification and transcendence of limitation, (it) is of the nature of

Knowledge and culminates in the life Divine.’ (Synthesis of Yoga)

This journey from the lower to the higher, Aurobindo writes, is the aim of yoga, but to him it can’t be met by rejection and escape of the lower nature, as commonly described in yoga philosophy, but by a transformation of the lower into the higher.  Because, the lower and higher action of nature are both integrated into life, hence the path of the action of nature is always integrated into life and not escaping life, therefore, connection to the spirit should be met by its same integrated action expressed in Nature. What a person has in Faith, what they perceive and believe in ‘sure Idea’ so they become in Will, in action into life and manifest form. The manifest form, the physical body is thus an expression of Will that is connected to Faith – sure Idea, what one perceives and believes.


He gives 3 ‘features’ of this higher action in nature as it works on the lower, from which an Integrated path takes its character.  


First, there can be no outer system for yoga, as found in raja yoga for example, because the nature of the individual gives rise to the work to be done.

He writes: ‘a sort of free, scattered and yet gradually intensive and purposeful working determined by the temperament of the individual in whom it operates, the helpful materials which his nature offers and the obstacles which it presents to purification and perfection. In a sense, therefore, each man in his path has his own method of Yoga.’ (Synthesis of Yoga)  

Second, an acceptance of all that we are in our nature, as it stands in from our past evolution, so that it becomes the thing that we seek to transform not escape.

He writes:

‘…we begin to perceive how this lower manifestation is constituted and that everything in it, however, seemingly deformed or petty or vile, is the more or less distorted or imperfect figure of some element or action in the harmony of the divine nature.’

(Synthesis of Yoga)

What we are informs that which we need to evolve into.

Third, all life is yoga. Every experience, outer and inner, whether it be suffering or joy, is the working of the Divine nature seeking yoga.

All of life is a Yoga of the Nature seeking to manifest God within itself.’ (Synthesis of Yoga)

What culminates on the path of Integral yoga is growth into that which we are in our true, unique individual expression. Perceiving the spiritual reality creates individual expression in its growing evolutionary steps towards a more perfect and pure state of being human.


Intergated yoga cultivates a socially creative individual

Today contemporary Western yogi Heinz Grill, carries forward this direction of striving for Integrated yoga.


He writes:

'Within the trinity of body, soul and spirit, the soul occupies

the connecting position between midway between above

and below. The body belongs to the earthly world, to the so

called sensory sphere or to the manifest world of matter.

The spirit, on the other hand, is not the intellect. The spirit is

far more the dimension of self-awareness, which is represented

by the existence of thought. Because there is a sphere of thought

and because the human individuality can become aware of

these thoughts through its own viewing, thinking and experiencing

consciousness, the existence of the spirit can be directly

recognised.’ (The soul dimension of yoga, 2003).

To Grill the ‘sphere of thought’ is the place where the yoga striving individual can become consciously aware of a spiritual reality. Therefore, what they perceive in this sphere of thought becomes Faith or the sure Idea that the Bhagavad Gita speaks of. Hence through the sphere of thought, through contemplating and realising Ideas founded on spiritual truth, so the Will can move with a higher action from a spiritual insight, rather than being moved by that which a person already is and knows.  Perceiving the reality of the spirit, via the sphere of thought, provides the impetuous to transform the Will. From Idea to Will Yoga moves, and in this movement something new is created, new life is created.

Integrated Yoga is thus a path of newly made living action.

It gives into life, rather than taking from life. Just as the

sun shines upon the earth giving newly created life to the

earth, so too a sun-like conscious that perceives a

spiritual reality can shine upon earthly life with a yogic

connection that grows newly made life.

Here Heinz Grill carries out an asana in relation to its idea. 

As person becomes aware of what they hold as faith or Idea so they have the possibility to transform the Will from a lower action in a higher one. Grill thus proposes that through the sphere of thought the human being becomes aware of that which they already are and that which they can become.

He further explains his understanding of the philosophy of Integrated yoga using the picture of the human being within the holy trinity of body, soul and spirit, with the soul (which can also be thought of as consciousness) being the middle point, receiving influences both from the realities of body and spirit.


Grill writes:

‘The soul receives impulses from physical existence, and it receives also influences and stimuli from the thought-life and thus from the spirit.  These impulses that it receives from the body, can only serve as information, they cannot, however, widen the consciousness. In all exercises, especially in the physical exercises, but also in all concentration and meditation exercises, the soul should receive its attunement from a higher spirit. It is not the sense arrested or involved body consciousness, which grants permission to motivate the Yoga exercise. Very concrete thoughts, which from a spiritual truth consciousness are shaped, must accompany the yoga exercise.  In simple terminology you can picture the direction of action, and imagine it as an influence or better said recognise it as a thought process, which flows from above to below in the soul and which from the spirit or transcendent truth-reality outwardly enriches the inner soul structure. The path from above to below or from the thought to the feelings, from the unmanifest to the knowable and finally to the manifest, is for the exercise practice in the given time extremely necessary.’ (The Soul Dimension of Yoga, 2010)


In the practice of a yoga exercise, for example, in the practice of an asana, Grill has given spiritual insights which relate to the meaning of the 7 cakra or soul centres, so that when a person practices they can bring their soul into connection with these meaningful spiritual insights and aim to express them through the body.

These ideas are summarised

in the diagram oppossite.

(refer to the book

Soul Dimension of yoga

for the full picture).

In asana practice, as the soul views the idea, as the soul develops a subtle feeling for the idea, as the soul moves the body with idea, so slowly consciously made experiences arise, which bring with them newly made creative forces for life. In its everyday state the soul is orientated more to ‘physical existence’, hence what arises in the thought life is from what one already knows, its the lower consciousness which Aurobindo speaks of, but by bringing attention to the Idea, which isn’t the spiritual reality but represents it, so slowly the soul orientates to the higher reality, so that it can bring into expression subtle, lively, animated aesthetic forces, which bring the soul quality to life through the instrument of the body. Spiritual song plays through the soul onto the body.  


In this way something new is created rather than something old, the individual creates themselves anew in the moment of the exercise, they bring their individuality into lively expression through creating qualities which relate to the 7 cakra or put another way the 7 soul centres. For example, expressing some of the idea of

                         the Anahata cakra                     or                     the Manipura cakra   

                       (alongside the heart)                                         (alongside the solar plexus)

                 calm and composed, centred                               extending, reaching 

                     sense of self in uprightness                                going beyond a limit








When one thinks of practising the yoga poses without these meaningful insights we realise what a gift they are for the ever evolving path of yoga. Grill uses the annotated diagram of a Triangle to explain this situation:

If a spiritual insight isn’t present

in the practice of a yoga pose,

the soul moves only in the plane

from soul to body and back again.

But with the introduction of a spiritual

insight the soul is lifted out of this

bound side to side, going no where

movement, into the heights of a freer space

which can then shine upon the body below

bringing qualities for life.


So these soul qualities not only promote or integrate health in the physical body, but also give the individual tools for social relationships where they can ingrate themselves into life in a way that is good for everyone.


Integrating yoga into everyday life becomes a joyful activity of individual study as well as independently guiding oneself in relation to others and life situations. It promotes awareness to the thought life and to the emergence of new insights from which new steps can be taken, not just by the yoga practitioner but by others too. The yoga practitioner becomes then, more like a creative force which gives into life.


Just as natural world integrates many meaningful and beautiful aesthetic qualities into life,

so too the yoga practitioner can integrate more meaningful and beautiful soul qualities into life. 

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soul                         body