Mind, Body, Soul|Apr 24, 2003 4:39 PM| by:

Physical and Psychological Culture

An Integral view of health will include the body, mind and soul as one unit. That is to say even in their distinctions; these three elements of our being interact with each other and mutually fulfill. To divorce one from the other is to create an imbalance in the being, the consequences of which may be serious enough. It is for this reason that the well known but misunderstood ancient Indian system of Hatha Yoga is often misapplied to mean a purely physical culture. At best, we admit the mind, at least the material mind, in this scheme. At worst, we confuse the yogasanas as being a synonym for yoga – an aim too high and an ideal too lofty to be limited by this or that system and set of techniques, however useful to a few or even the many. The consequences are a whole lot of confusion which is made worse by a rapid increase in popular easy-to-do reading material on the asanas and pranayams with often astounding claims which only serve to excite the glamour seeking elements in us rather than persuading subtly the nobler parts of our being. A novice often feels (and we all are novices) that by practising a set of asanas for an hour or so, he will find a panacea for life. A panacea it is but not the way it is often believed. For man’s restless mind is often happy if it does ‘something’ concretely visible and seemingly tangible. He finds it difficult and exasperating to sit quietly or even while in activity to observe and shift the subtle psychological elements of his being. Even of meditation, it makes a cut and dried technique – a ritual of a particular mantra for it appears tangible and relatively easy. But no yoga is easy. There are no royal roads to wholeness & integration. So the first dictum in any true healthful living is to understand that health is an attitude – a total attitude as much of the body as of the mind and psyche.

Health as an Attitude – The Problem

It is here that we encounter the first difficulty. For, though we all know the healthy habits, it is somehow difficult for man to keep a healthy attitude towards life. Let us take the very small example of tobacco and alcohol. It is now affirmed the world over that they are detrimental to health. Yet, even though reduced, they continue to take their toll and paradoxically more so in the literate population who know about its ill effects. Thus it is not enough to merely inform the mind of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ habits. Where  then is the heart of the problem? We can make an observation here. We find that the body left to itself in its natural state knows how to adopt healthful habits. To illustrate, one can take two examples. One, the lungs repel tobacco by coughing and the stomach repels alcohol, as all noxious substances, by vomiting. Two, animals, particularly those not corrupted by the domestic life, often live out their natural life span. Thus, our observations lead to the following conclusions:
i)  the body, left to itself, has a hidden knowledge, a kind of intuition regarding what is healthy and unhealthy for it. The first aim of all physical culture should be to awaken this body-consciousness which is occult so far.
ii) The mind and its reasoned arguments often corrupt this ‘instinct’ and create a precarious chain of illness – medicine – deterioration of health – more illness. The ‘resistance’ to any illness goes down and one begins to rely more and more on doctors and drugs.
iii) Even when the mind is informed about what is healthy and what is not, it finds it difficult to convey it to the body, as if there was a gulf between the two.
iv) Since in man, the mind is the primary element; the body tends to lose its healthy attitude over a period of time.

The solution

If these be the main problems in adopting a healthy attitude towards life there must be some ways of circumventing them. For nature never gives a problem without also giving the solution. Illness is one such problem whose extreme end is death, the eternal problem that mankind seems to have been grappling with. In each age a different solution is given to make humanity advance a little. The solutions of one age alone do not suffice for another. The unique discovery of the Vedic age by which they encountered death was to discover the principle of immortality in the soul.

Here we find one bright hint for it gives us a glimpse into a secret part of our being for which health and immortality are natural and native, which is not corrupted by the mind and has the will to enforce its law upon the mind as well as the body. This is perhaps one of the greatest boons that man has ever received – the boon of getting in touch with his soul, his inmost being; the inner healer and the unerring guide. Sri Aurobindo gave it the name of ‘psychic being’. Any talk of wholeness, integration, even physical health without including this soul principle is a mere waste and an exercise of digging a well in a desert. To bring out this part secret within us, to allow its full play in the physical, (as we shall see later) is to open the inner springs of true health so that health becomes a natural state and an attitude which, by repeated impressions upon the mind and body, forms into a habit of the being.

To seek, find and identify ourselves with this core of our being, the true person, is then the first fundamental step towards a beautiful healthy and wholesome living. There are several ways to approach this central entity in us, which have been abundantly clarified in the writings of the Mother. No single method can be taken as hard and fixed for one and all. Yet, the fundamental thing is to seek it and seek it with all one’s ardour. The rest will naturally follow for one would soon discover that the seeker itself is the sought. All life can be a field of such a discovery and action and any particular method or technique has its value only so far as it helps the individual to getting into touch with his core. But then a question arises whether at all there is a role for the elaborate systems of physical and mental culture that mankind has developed so far. The answer is a distinct ‘yes’ for nothing is meaningless, only things must have their right place.

The role of culture – physical and psychological

What then is the role of our outer modes of living and their relation with this true self in us? As we initially brought out, the science and art of healthful living is a two-fold process:
1.      To discover the psychic being and to identify with it is the first fundamental step. It means to live one’s life seeking it and for it.
2.      The second step is to live in and by it, i.e. to allow it to assume control of our life, our mind and body.

It is necessary to work upon matter, but how? The process can be regarded as akin to the fitting of a bulb to its source. There has to be a wiring to conduct the electricity of the inmost being with the filament strong enough to bear the ‘load’. It is here that a rational system of physical, emotional and mental culture can be extremely useful. It is precisely to make the body and mind more sensitive, more receptive and strong enough to receive, bear and transmit the psychic influence in our lives. Remove this psychic element and all culture becomes meaningless. If exercises alone were enough most animals would be heavenly creatures since unconsciously they adopt the same postures that a hatha-yogin or sportsman does consciously. The same is equally true of emotional culture such as art, music and poetry, as of mental culture through philosophy and meditation. All these techniques and many more can give capacity and strength but are not enough to achieve an integral health when solely pursued for their own sake. Along with strength and capacity comes an important element: receptivity to the psychic influence. In other words, all human capacity has to be offered back and linked to the psychic consciousness in us so that we can add health to vigour and to strength the sweetness of the soul.

Physical exercises help to increase plasticity, speed and strength. But this is not enough. For if there is no proportionate increase in receptivity, these capacities exhaust themselves. The same is true in the psychological domain. Something more is needed. Receptivity. Paradoxically, receptivity increases by the opposite process. Receiving is a twofold process: 1. emptying what is already there and 2. receiving the new. Exercise partly helps in the first and thus increases the receptivity. But usually we then pull back the very same forces that have been exhausted. The result is an endless repetition, each cycle of which creates a further groove making matters worse. There is no real progress and ‘fitness’ becomes a static thing rather than a state of dynamic balance. The body and the mind have to learn to receive from higher and higher levels of our being for which the inmost psyche would serve as a nodus. For such a receptivity what is needed is not activity alone but passivity too, not movement alone but immobility too. We can make a simple observation. If we try to make the body immobile, it becomes restless initially since it is not accustomed to such a receiving. Similarly, the mind too shows an initial increase of restless activity when one attempts to immobilise  it. This happens because the body and the mind are accustomed to outer movements and activity.

Immobility has to be practised. In nature, we find this twofold movement recurring cyclically and rhythmically: inactivity and rest, wakefulness and sleep. Even subtle biochemical events follow this cycle. This movement of nature has to be made conscious, purposeful and concentrated. Just as replacing the restless natural activities of life do much more good when replaced by methodical exercises, practised immobility also helps much more than an unconscious dull passivity. The oriental thought has always experimented with the power and mastery of immobility. It knew that the still pause of the tiger before the leap in an in-gathered, concentrated state is as important as its run and the actual leap. It is the former that prepares for the latter. To increase the receptivity of the body, traditional asanas are useful. But one need not stick to them alone. To remain conscious, concentrated, in-gathered and physically ready to receive from above is the central thing and any movements that help are effective. The whole question is whether we are ready for this state of spontaneous receptivity?

There is a third approach: rhythmic movement. When more psychologically oriented it takes the form of dance, music, poetry. Dance combines the body, mind and motion in beautiful rhythms. Among the more physically oriented are gymnastics and certain types of sports. Here again, one may or may not adopt the elaborate forms but use the essential elements. For instance, walking, a common activity may be done consciously and rhythmically with a sense of balance and proportion.

Psychic culture

These three then are the main approaches to develop the outer instruments so as to make them grow constantly toward higher and higher form – vigorous activity is the first, stillness is next, rhythmic activity the last. To combine the three judiciously would perhaps be ideal. But none of these pursued for their own sake would be useful. These must be linked to the indwelling guide constantly so that they receive the newer, fresher, invigorating streams of the nectar of immortality to change their substance into the substance of truth and delight. With practice one can then link up all one’s energies to this soul within us. And this can be done simply by offering all one’s activities, material and psychological, food and sleep, thought and feelings, all, without exception, to the Source. The more we thus link ourselves, the more will our bodies and mind partake in the nature of this psyche in us which is immortal. Thus, our body shall develop faith where it first had fear, our mind develop a luminous view of the self and world where originally there was pessimism, our life develop a true sense of well-being. It is then alone that health would be a natural attitude of the being.

A word of caution is needed here. For we are very likely to be led into a belief that under such a condition one would be free from all illnesses. This would be a grand presumption which is not true, because:
1.      Such an ideal state of a total psychic influence upon the physical and psychological parts is itself not easy. It needs persistence and sincere effort for which few are ready.
2.      Even when possible, this itself would not grant a total immunity from illnesses but would create an ideal attitude in the body and mind to spontaneously repel illness, and regain an equilibrium. This is because the fundamental nature of matter and mind does not change. It is only brought under a more direct influence of the healthiest part in us – the soul.
3.      Even when higher and higher level of energy act, they too being subject to error and falsehood, the chances of ill-health remain though their nature and means of cure may drastically change.

Finally, as a result of this evolutionary process, a time may come, according to Sri Aurobindo when the very nature of the body would change and become the truth substance not subject to falsehood and hence to pain, disease and death. That would be the perfect state of health. Doctors and drugs would cease as would diseases.

Healthy living – An experience

This is the Integral view of health as we understand it. It is less of a conceptual and more an experiential view. Its justification lies not so much in the discoveries of modern science but in the sheer mass of empirical evidence accumulated over the centuries since man first began to walk on earth and lift his head to the sun. The experience has been verified throughout the ages by men and women of all races, education and culture. It is naturally enough understood that when one uses terms like psychic being, or higher levels of energies one is likely to locate them in the body and hence identify physically. But this is not so. The Integral view does not limit itself to the assumption that matter is the sole reality. The limitations of this view lie in the limitations of the human instruments of sensory experience and narrow logic. We shall attempt to expand this model in subsequent issues but doing so carries the risk of reducing it into a rigid formula. That is why only broad outlines are presented. The rest is to be filled up by each according to his individual need and turn of nature. The subscribers to these views may be few because the mind of humanity is still conditioned by the physical discoveries of science.


Thus we find ourselves far removed from the traditional view of health and body as well as psychological fitness. To discover health one has to discover its source. The need for health and immortality arises from our soul of which we are usually not conscious. The first step then toward a healthy living is to discover this secret soul in us. Next, we have to take each and every activity of our physical-nervous-mental being as an opportunity for linking up the outer instruments to the soul. Depending upon our present need and turn of nature one can take up one or the other of these to prepare and discipline oneself in the ‘right’ direction and with ‘right’ attitude. Gradually, the whole of life has to become a field of action and work of this kind. Finally, with the aid of the psychic one has to develop an increasing receptivity to higher and higher levels of being till finally, one touches the Truth-Substance. It is then that health will be spontaneous and immunity from illness automatic and total.

Dr.Alok Pandey