Physical culture

The physical body needs to be maintained in a healthy state otherwise the power which pours in during spiritual experiences can lead to psycho-physical instabilities.

Photo: Mother Mirra watching gymnastics exercises in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram

The Mother on physical culture

Physical culture is the process of infusing consciousness into the cells of the body. One may or may not know it, but it is a fact. When we concentrate to make our muscles move according to our will, when we endeavour to make our limbs more supple, to give them an agility, or a force, or a resistance, or a plasticity which they do not naturally possess, we infuse into the cells of the body a consciousness which was not there before, thus turning it into an increasingly homogeneous and receptive instrument, which progresses in and by its activities. This is the primary importance of physical culture. Of course, that is not the only thing that brings consciousness into the body, but it is something which acts in an overall way, and this is rare. I have already told you several times that the artist infuses a very great consciousness into his hands, as the intellectual does into his brain. But these are, as it were, local phenomena, whereas the action of physical culture is more general. And when one sees the absolutely marvellous results of this culture, when one observes the extent to which the body is capable of perfecting itself, one understands how useful this can be to the action of the psychic being which has entered into this material substance. For naturally, when it is in possession of an organised and harmonised instrument which is full of strength and suppleness and possibilities, its task is greatly facilitated.

(Collected Works of the Mother, vol 10, p 30)

Athletic competition in the Ashram (1951)

Sri Aurobindo on the fitness required

The body is not only the necessary outer instrument of the physical part of action, but for the purposes of this life a base or pedestal also for all inner action. All working of mind or spirit has its vibration in the physical consciousness, records itself there in a kind of subordinate corporeal notation and communicates itself to the material world partly at least through the physical machine. But the body of man has natural limitations in this capacity which it imposes on the play of the higher parts of his being. And, secondly, it has a subconscient consciousness of its own in which it keeps with an obstinate fidelity the past habits and past nature of the mental and vital being and which automatically opposes and obstructs any very great upward change or at least prevents it from becoming a radical transformation of the whole nature. It is evident that if we are to have a free divine or spiritual and supramental action conducted by the force and fulfilling the character of a diviner energy, some fairly complete transformation must be effected in this outward character of the bodily nature. The physical being of man has always been felt by the seekers of perfection to be a great impediment and it has been the habit to turn from it with contempt, denial or aversion and a desire to suppress altogether or as far as may be the body and the physical life. But this cannot be the right method for the integral Yoga. The body is given us as one instrument necessary to the totality of our works and it is to be used, not neglected, hurt, suppressed or abolished. If it is imperfect, recalcitrant, obstinate, so are also the other members, the vital being, heart and mind and reason. It has like them to be changed and perfected and to undergo a transformation. As we must get ourselves a new life, new heart, new mind, so we have in a certain sense to build for ourselves a new body.

The first thing the will has to do with the body is to impose on it progressively a new habit of all its being, consciousness, force and outward and inward action. It must be taught an entire passivity in the hands first of the higher instruments, but eventually in the hands of the spirit and its controlling and informing Shakti. It must be accustomed not to impose its own limits on the nobler members, but to shape its action and its response to their demands, to develop, one might say, a higher notation, a higher scale of responses. At present the notation of the body and the physical consciousness has a very large determining power on the music made by this human harp of God; the notes we get from the spirit, from the psychic soul, from the greater life behind our physical life cannot come in freely, cannot develop their high, powerful and proper strain. This condition must be reversed; the body and the physical consciousness must develop the habit of admitting and shaping themselves to these higher strains and not they, but the nobler parts of the nature must determine the music of our life and being.

The control of the body and life by the mind and its thought and will is the first step towards this change. All Yoga implies the carrying of that control to a very high pitch. But afterwards the mind must itself give place to the spirit, to the spiritual force, the supermind and the supramental force. And finally the body must develop a perfect power to hold whatever force is brought into it by the spirit and to contain its action without spilling and wasting it or itself getting cracked. It must be capable of being filled and powerfully used by whatever intensity of spiritual or higher mind or life force without any part of the mechanical instrument being agitated, upset, broken or damaged by the inrush or pressure, – as the brain, vital health or moral nature are often injured in those who unwisely attempt Yogic practice without preparation or by undue means or rashly invite a power they are intellectually, vitally, morally unfit to bear, – and, thus filled, it must have the capacity to work normally, automatically, rightly according to the will of that spiritual or other now unusual agent without distorting, diminishing or mistranslating its intention and stress. This faculty of holding, dharana shakti, in the physical consciousness, energy and machinery is the most important siddhi or perfection of the body.

The result of these changes will be to make the body a perfect instrument of the spirit. The spiritual force will be able to do what it wills and as it wills in and through the body. It will be able to conduct an unlimited action of the mind or at a higher stage of the supermind without the body betraying the action by fatigue, incapacity, inaptitude or falsification. It will be able too to pour a full tide of the life-force into the body and conduct a large action and joy of the perfected vital being without that quarrel and disparity which is the relation of the normal life-instincts and life-impulses to the insufficient physical instrument they are obliged to use. And it will also be able to conduct a full action of the spiritualised psychic being not falsified, degraded or in any way marred by the lower instincts of the body and to use physical action and expression as a free notation of the higher psychical life. And in the body itself there will be a presence of a greatness of sustaining force, an abounding strength, energy and puissance of outgoing and managing force, a lightness, swiftness and adaptability of the nervous and physical being, a holding and responsive power in the whole physical machine and its driving springs [mahattva, bala, laghuta, dharana-samarthya] of which it is now even at its strongest and best incapable.

(Sri Aurobindo.  Synthesis of Yoga, Chap XIV, Power of the Instruments)

Diving exercises in the Ashram swimming pool (1957)

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26 thoughts on “Physical culture

  1. ipsa

    Be Healthy, Happy, and Holy – Sleep by 10 pm

    The biological clock and your internal organs, the main internal organs of your body work according to a “Time Schedule.” Knowing how your body works can help you regulate your schedule in order to attain the optimum level of health and well-being.

    9.00 pm – 11.00 pm: At this time, your body eliminates toxic chemicals from the immune system (lymph nodes).
    *It is best to be sound asleep by 9 pm or 10 pm for your body to properly execute this important function.
    11.00 pm – 1.00 am: This is the time your liver eliminates poisons and rejuvenates itself.
    *It is best to be sound asleep by 9 pm or 10 pm for your body to properly execute this important function.
    12.00 midnight – 4.00 am: this is the time your bone marrow produces blood.
    1.00 am – 3.00 am: This is the time your gall bladder eliminates toxins and rejuvenates itself.
    3.00 am – 5.00 am: This is the time your lungs eliminate toxins and rejuvenate themselves.
    5.00 am – 7.00 am: This is the time your colon eliminates poisons and rejuvenates itself. This is the proper time to empty your bowel.
    7.00 am – 9.00 am: This is the time that vitamins, minerals, proteins and nutrients are absorbed in your small intestines. You should definitely eat breakfast at this time.


    1. Sandeep Post author

      Has this information about the exact time when some organ get cleansed been medically verified ? I have a feeling that the schedule may vary based on individual constitution. No point being so fastidious about times.

      1. ipsa

        Specific time is not mentioned. This is what the Mother has to say

        The Time and the Hours

        Why is it better to go to bed early and to get up early?

        “When the sun sets, a kind of peace descends upon the earth and this peace is helpful for sleep. When the sun rises, a vigorous energy descends upon the earth and this energy is helpful for work. When you go to bed late and get up late, you contradict the forces of Nature and that is not very wise.”

        Why are the hours before midnight better for sleep than the later hours?

        “Because, symbolically, during the hours till midnight, the sun is setting, while from the very first hour after midnight the sun begins to rise. ”


  2. ipsa

    As per Mother’s remark given below, good health also requires sleeping at the proper time. “When you go to bed late and get up late, you contradict the forces of Nature and that is not very wise.”

    Also Sri Aurobindo said: “There are several reasons, I shall explain this to you in a few words. Only he who has a body firmly founded in strength and free of disease can fully receive the light and the power that we are bringing down. If you exercise your body in the right way, the more will it become free of heaviness and inertia and inconscience, and each cell will then imbibe the higher light. It is good to utilise the qualities we have in order to increase and make more exact the control of physical activities. It is very obvious that those who practise physical culture scientifically and with coordination acquire a control over their bodies that’s unimaginable for ordinary people.”

    (Nirodbaran, Dream dialogue with children)

  3. suprotim choudhury

    If disease means “dis” “ease” then, ease is what should be preferred.For often at times, the pressure to perform works of any kind requires, first a sound physical medium, capable of producing an appropiate amount of power in order to successfully complete the job. This control, when developed is admirable as physical incapacity is one of the obstacles listed in patanjali’s yoga sutras. Inertia is certainly tar like and sticky in nature and so in order to remove one’s self from this black pit of laziness a certain amount of mental and physical effort is required, till the higher workings of prana become established.

    Even to breathe deeply and correctly requires one to be able to become receptive in terms of directing the incoming and outgoing energies smoothly . This is preceeded by an inward awakening of the tissues and cells in the body, because they are capable of doing so, otherwise the energy called down will be of no use and may cause unequal pressures in the organs of the body creating pain and the possibility of damage.

    Alignment and symmetry of the body must be observed as maintaing the body and aligning it towards the center of gravity checks the unequal flow of pranic energy.It certainly helps one in understanding the more subtle aspects of violence and non- violence, violition and non, action and inaction just by observing the same in the body.

  4. Sandeep Post author

    In this conversation, Pranab Bhattacharya (1923-2010), a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and a fitness buff, is asked if he watches sports games:

    Someone asked Dada: ‘The World Cup cricket games are on, Dada. They are being shown on television. Do you watch television?’

    “No,” Dada replied.

    ‘Even those matches where India is playing?’

    “No,” Dada said again.

    ‘But if India were to win the World Cup, wouldn’t you be happy?’

    “Look, from the age of seven I’ve been involved with exercise and sports. Today I am 76. During my whole life I’ve been continuing my work with sports and exercise. And even today I do regular exercises. For me sports and exercise are valuable in so far as they are useful in our ideal of physical transformation and integral yoga. I cannot see the difference between spectators in a match and the brokers in a stock exchange getting all jumpy and excited. In truth, all these different activities in man’s life, literature, sculpture, handicraft, engineering, if they do not help in the Integral Yoga then all these are meaningless and futile labour.”

    (Pranab Bhattacharya. By the Way, page 121)

  5. ipi

    Health protected by twenty thousand precautions is the gospel of the doctor; but it is not God’s evangel for the body, nor Nature’s.
    Sri Aurobindo

    (400−Thoughts and Aphorisms)

    1. Sandeep Post author

      The interpretation of this aphorism by the Mother:
      “The sovereignty of mind has made humanity the slave of doctors and their remedies. And the result is that illnesses are increasing in number and seriousness.

      The only true salvation for men is to escape from mental domination by opening to the Divine Influence which they will obtain through a total surrender. ”

      (CWMCE, 10:326)

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  7. mike

    So, why did SA never excercise, except for walking back and forth in His room??

    “I cannot see the difference between spectators in a match and the brokers in a stock exchange getting all jumpy and excited”

    Yes, the obsession with sport is unbelievable. l’m sure it’s some kind of brainwashing agenda.
    Didn’t SA say ‘excitement’ is a DISEASE?

    1. Sandeep

      Mike: So, why did SA never exercise, except for walking back and forth in His room??

      My take is that once the Kundalini starts flowing through the Nadis (channels), muscular exercise becomes redundant or even impossible. Its like a whole new system of energizing has been activated within the body.

      As Sri Aurobindo wrote, “Now we come to realise with a very living force of reality, normal and continuous, what the sages meant when they spoke of the soul carrying the body or when they said that the soul is not in the body, but the body in the soul. ” (Synthesis of Yoga, The Conditions of Attainment to the Gnosis)

      Mike: Yes, the obsession with sport is unbelievable.

      The need for vicarious excitement (in particular, the rooting for a particular team) indicates in as indicator of the Rajasic Ego

      1. Ronan

        why frame it as argument rather than discussion? Thats what it seemed like you were saying yet you dont care to make it clearer to me what you meant? I enjoy your site but you seem pretty quick to censor. Peace.

      2. Sandeep Post author

        C’mon where did I censor ?

        I was reluctant to get into a discussion (i.e.argument) because it may not be possible to prove my statement by rational arguments. Nevertheless, I will try now!

        People who go through self-realization start having a different perception of the body. Nagin Doshi, disciple of Sri Aurobindo, found his body felt like a dot in space. There are states where the body feels very heavy or very light (due to siddhis). A Higher power starts working from Above through the Nadis. Under these circumstances, engaging in physical exercises becomes kind of redundant.

      3. Ronan

        Thanks, I would still consider some physical activity beneficial for the body of an advanced yogi. Even the Mother made a point about keeping fit and active. I agree about the incapacity of the body which happens during absorbed/mystical states. I have experienced the feeling of the body being stripped of its power and feeling like a helpless child yet within a rock solid strength and peace. Not a siddhi but just a little taste. For the Integral Yoga it seems that an attitude that looks down on physical activity as something lesser and redundant that can be done away with is well not quite integral. I would hope the supramental being can enjoy some heavy deadlifting 🙂

  8. mike

    “The interpretation of this aphorism by the Mother:
    “The sovereignty of mind has made humanity the slave of doctors and their remedies. And the result is that illnesses are increasing in number and seriousness”

    l can believe that. And l think the main cause might be the drugs and vaccines they’re pumping into ppl these days – there has to be a connection there l think. Bill Gates and his cronies are even using mosquitoes to forceably inject ppl in africa with vaccines – it’s almost unbelievable. Apparently, his agenda is sterilisation, but that might smack of ‘conspiracy theory’ – though it wouldn’t surprise me.
    l even read in a national paper recently [not hard to believe] that when junior doctors qualify and are sent out to practice in the world at large, the Death rate soars. That’s one way of depopulating the planet, l suppose lol.

    1. Sandeep

      Mike: Bill Gates and his cronies are even using mosquitoes to forceably inject ppl in africa with vaccines – it’s almost unbelievable.

      Yes, he wants to use genetically modified mosquitoes. When he released them before an audience at a TED talk, someone quipped that he is still spreading bugs 🙂

      1. Sandeep Post author

        Kian, welcome back !

        If the Zika outbreak is tied to genetically-modified mosquitos, it would be a good occasion to post the Mother’s comments on the hostile beings which work behind insects.

  9. ipi

    By its very nature it [the body] is a docile and faithful servant. Unfortunately, it rarely has the capacity of discernment it ought to have with regard to its masters, the mind and the vital. It obeys them blindly, at the cost of its own well-being. The mind with its dogmas, its rigid and arbitrary principles, the vital with its passions, its excesses and dissipations soon destroy the natural balance of the body and create in it fatigue, exhaustion and disease. It must be freed from this tyranny and this can be done only through a constant union with the psychic centre of the being. The body has a wonderful capacity of adaptation and endurance. It is able to do so many more things than one usually imagines. If, instead of the ignorant and despotic masters that now govern it, it is ruled by the central truth of the being, you will be amazed at what it is capable of doing. Calm and quiet, strong and poised, at every minute it will be able to put forth the effort that is demanded of it, for it will have learnt to find rest in action and to recuperate, through contact with the universal forces, the energies it expends consciously and usefully. In this sound and balanced life a new harmony will manifest in the body, reflecting the harmony of the higher regions, which will give it perfect proportions and ideal beauty of form. And this harmony will be progressive, for the truth of the being is never static; it is a perpetual unfolding of a growing perfection that is more and more total and comprehensive. As soon as the body has learnt to follow this movement of progressive harmony, it will be possible for it to escape, through a continuous process of transformation, from the necessity of disintegration and destruction. Thus the irrevocable law of death will no longer have any reason to exist.

    The Mother, Collected Works of the Mother, Vol.12, pp.7-8


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  11. mike

    l saw a news item about B Gates [and two others] recently, concerning his wealth. He’s worth as much as the country of Croatia – 79.2 billion USD..
    As for his Philanthropy,this, apparently, is what he’s really up to:

    “The Gates Foundation was described as a shell for tax avoidance by philanthropist and accounting expert, Sheldon Drobny. Techrights has collected evidence that shows the same and will organize it here. Through the foundation, Bill, Melinda and Microsoft maintain pharmaceutical patent investments, tobacco investments, investments in alcoholic beverages, petroleum investments, investments in experimental and controversial crops, and even investments in news/media. Gates need not even pay tax, though he keeps control of the assets and uses that control to influence private and public policy. Money talks and politicians can in turn be persuaded to buy from Microsoft. This dependence/lock-in cascades down to businesses and homes, creating a revenue stream that would not exist in a free market. Gates is also able to bring public money to himself through energy and public health policy. As Gates has diversified, his corrupting influence has spread to other portions of the economy.”

  12. 01

    Wow, these photos look like they’re training olympics team!

    Don’t get me started at weird waking times… I think they must be true because when I became healthier I automatically started to wake up at weird hours… 5, 6, 7 am… Different hour each day, but with, like, cycles? 5 am is the worst, when this happens I go back to bed anyway, I don’t want to wake up at 5 am! 7 I can understand, although reluctantly… But 5 is inhuman. I had some nights when I was very sleepy and went to sleep by 9 but most the time it doesn’t happen. I have to control my insomnia. I’m always trying to sleep before 12 and it’s ok, but these early 9 pm nights were the most refreshing, to be honest. I always either laugh or complain about it because I’m really, really sleepy at evening events and have to quickly go back home like good girl. I don’t believe in night owls, I was supposedly night owl!

    How come Gates doesn’t pay taxes? What jurisdiction is his foundation in? Foundations do pay taxes, but less than other companies. He would have to at least pay taxes on his own salary! I don’t get it. Unless he doesn’t pay himself salary and does it some other way.


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