London Yoga in
Camden & Islington
yoga from within


Talk on the History of Yoga

Yoga, as you probably all know, literally means "union", union with the higher, the divine, or whatever you wish to name it. In the West we may think of yoga nowadays mainly as physical exercises, poses or asanas, but in its origins and philosophy yoga is far more than a physical discipline or practice. As contemporary German spiritual teacher and yoga master Heinz Grill says: "It is an infinite, mental, internalised and joyful attempt to realise the highest, most widely conceived and perfect ideal of humanity." 1 In order to understand yoga and this need and wish for this perfect ideal of humanity, we have to go further back in time, to the culture of the East.

The Eastern art of thinking developed from a unified and close connection with the eternal and in North India the philosophy and approach of yoga grew very early out of this understanding. From 9000 BC to about 7000 BC a highly evolved society and culture developed there, a culture of higher knowledge, one which is perhaps not easy to comprehend from our present day consciousness. If we think of how differently our parents and grandparents look at the world from us, we can imagine how completely ignorant we are about this earlier, more spiritually connected state of consciousness.

Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy and a great 20th century visionary writer, brings us closer to this state of mind in a fascinating way in one of his many lectures.2 He describes in detail how early human consciousness actually experienced the world in a very different way from how we do now. For one thing people had a completely different sense of space and time: "In surveying the world, they experienced a survey of immeasureable spatial distances and they had a simultaneous experience of the various moments of time." Maybe we could imagine this as a state of being in which people felt almost poured out into space, not so aware of their own boundaries and had no sequential sense of this has happened and now this happens. It is really hard for us to imagine, to put ourselves in this different mindset.

And Rudolf Steiner continues, they actually saw in a different way, they saw light and shade, more than defined outlines: "In that ancient time the main concern of the human being is to interpret the things of the world as various shades of light, brilliancy, and darkness, obscurity." I have a picture of it like this, which may of course not be as it was, but that they saw an indistinct physical outline, a blurred unclear substantiality, just the spiritual essence of trees, plants, nature and of human beings in the degree of light present. They saw spirit rather than matter.

And as Rudolf Steiner continues, they understood goodness and badness in relation to the light and dark that they could see.

"This was also the way the moral order was conceived of. A human being who was benevolent and kind was experienced as a light, bright human being, one who was distrustful and selfish was experienced as a dark man."

So we could understand this perhaps in thinking of how sometimes when we meet people and take some kind of a dislike to them, we might say they seem a bit gloomy, they make us feel heavy and unhappy. We may not be making moral judgements but we are certainly being affected by something we perceive in the other person.

In that earlier state of consciousness it was as though human beings saw the divine everywhere, ...    
read more in the print-version PDF-Document (74 KB)

1) Heinz Grill – Bhagavad Gita back to text
2) Rudolf Steiner – Self-transformation: The Ancient Yoga Civilisation and the Michael Civilisation of the Future back to text

Other articles:
International guest teacher Bernhard Spirkl:
PDFCaring For The Souls Of Dead (PDF 85 KB)





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