The body can change by the power of consciousness from within. In fact, we see this happening more often than we believe. A blind man performs the function of sight by the development of other organs. The consciousness involved in the organ of sight withdraws itself and puts a pressure on other centres and organs for them to develop.
Even the normal functioning of the body reveals that the seemingly blind and mechanical movements of the organ systems are secret with a tremendous intelligence. There is a conscious manipulation, an intelligent adaptation even at the most minute level, in the molecular dealings. Many organs even directly respond to thought suggestions, feelings, desires and emotions, movements which we associate with a certain degree of developed awareness. Quantitatively too, we have already alluded to the fact that the body can be made to do things which appear impossible. And this happens not only as a result of methodical training but also during moments of intense crises. A sense of danger or an overwhelming emotion (conscious experience) triggers a cascade of physical responses through glandular secretions.
Perhaps the links are there through ‘nadis’ (subtle nerve sheaths) in the energy body. These subtle nerve sheaths serve to mediate between the universal forces and the individual. They are like so many knots or centres through which the physical consciousness and other levels of consciousness pass into the gross body and influence its behaviour and change it. What we observe and record as symptoms are the end point of processes in a chain of events. This was well demonstrated by the famous experiment of Sanger. Two groups of subjects were injected adrenaline. One was shown a pleasant film while the other a horror movie. Adrenaline gave rise to joy in the former group and fear in the latter. Thus, the body processes have common pathways to accommodate many types of experiences and forces and vibrations. The difference is not due to the pathways but due to the intensity of the energy stimulus.
The human body has been designed to interpret certain intensities of vibrations and leave out others. Sight, for example, responds to a very narrow range of visual energies; so also with hearing and touch and other senses. Even the sense of pain, pleasure and indifference are a limitation, necessary for the body in our present stage of evolution but not an absolute truth in itself.
It is possible to neutralize pain by conscious will. Instances are known wherein people could pierce their tongue with needles, walk on burning coal and not get hurt or burnt. It is also known that our conscious will can modify pain by a certain psychological process into joy. One can go as far as changing the action of a chemical upon the body through consciousness. In an experiment, saccharin was paired with cyclophosphamide (an immunosuppressant). Later, cyclophosphamide was removed and only saccharin given. The body still responded with immunosuppression. Such a learning would not be possible if the body was a fixed structure. In fact the body is much more plastic than we usually believe it to be. It responds wonderfully to psychological forces. Only we do not utilise this capacity.
Growth – The Physical Dimension
To learn how to alter the body processes to our advantage is therefore possible. But for this two things are necessary. One, we must be able to disengage, discover and develop the powers of the hidden physical consciousness in us. Second, we must rediscover the now lost knowledge which links the body organ systems to the different levels of consciousness and the effects of their corresponding movements.
All physical culture and discipline is essentially a means to develop the physical consciousness and through it make the body strong and healthy, more plastic and adaptable. It is also a means to infuse consciousness into the very cells of the body.
Many parts of the body are not yet under conscious voluntary control of the mind or will. It is however possible to do so through the power of suggestion and imagery. Over a period of time, through practice, the body can be made to respond to the power of thought-will in those parts also which are normally not under its control. Just as anastomoses develop to meet the increased demands of oxygen, so too new nerve channels can develop to link up the organ.
This is not an impossibility — nerves too are known to respond to necessities of growth. New dendrites are known to develop in the brain to accommodate a greater pressure of information and learning. Yogis, less restricted in approach and less conditioned to the idea of physical fixity, know this very well. Elaborate techniques (pranayama, for instance) have been developed to clear the nerve channels, open them and create new ones. Thus, through rigorous and painstaking discipline and practice even the most autonomous organs can be brought under conscious control. Not only that, but the body can also draw energy directly through the senses and live without food. The art/science of converting this directly drawn energy into gross material substance was however not known and hence a minimal intake of food became necessary to provide the substance for the material stuff of the body.
An instance is known in the life of Sri Aurobindo, wherein during one such experiment with the body consciousness, he took nothing for 21 days and carried on with hours of walking, regular writing and all other activities without the least diminution of energy. One can also learn to conserve the energy normally lost through sex, speech and other forms of restless, incessant, meaningless dissipative activities and transmute it into forms of emotional, vital, mental and spiritual energy for corresponding actions.
Growth – The Spiritual Dimension
But most of all, the consciousness can grow and develop by opening itself to a consciousness higher than the mind. This it can do by two methods. One method is to first bring the body under the control of the mind. Next, one can use the mind as a mediating link by opening it to higher ranges of consciousness through faith, aspiration, invocation or offering. The mind of man can, instead of moving in fixed, narrow circles of conditioning, open to wider and higher movements. Thus, one can bring down the power of ‘peace’ and ‘stillness’ into the body through the mind. Peace and stillness are concrete forces that can actually alter the sense perception, cancel pain, give a sense of rest and well-being, create conditions of harmony and the early return of balance and health, and even effectuate a cure. A disturbance of the body’s normal rhythm can arise due to strong and violent internal forces like anger and fear (observe how our breath becomes irregular under the influence of these movements) or the impact of strong external forces impinging and crowding upon us. Peace, if invoked, restores the inner rhythm by quietening the system and its violent upheaval. But it can also create a wall of stillness that separates us and our senses from contact with strongly violent forces that come from outside.
Whatever enters the atmosphere of peace and wherever peace penetrates, there it creates a quietening effect.
Peace however is only one such higher force which our body-mind conglomerate is not normally aware of. There are other even stronger forces that can help the body consciousness to grow and develop — the forces of Wideness, Harmony, Strength, Love, Beauty, Delight and the mysterious and wonderful power of Grace.
However, the Mind is not the only way through which one can open the body-consciousness to the action of higher forces. The body contains in itself its own principle of divinity and if one can, through practice learn to still the body and concentrate its energy on a point, a moment comes when the physical consciousness is disengaged and can directly open to higher forces. This originally was the principle of Hatha Yoga. But it requires a very arduous, painstaking and time-consuming labour. The method of opening through the mind is easier and swifter.
Apart from these two methods, there is the discovery of the secret soul, the psychic being within oneself. This is the divine principle in man, the secret psychological centre which is the key to everything else. It holds all the movements of our complex nature together. Once discovered, the psychic being can spontaneously bring the body into contact with the highest forces to which even the mind and life in us have no access.
Our body has learned to respond to ignorant forces like fear, desire, pain and pleasure, greed and lust. The price it pays for this contagion is a wearing out, exhaustion, premature decay, disease and illness. But it can also learn to open to the influence of higher forces and develop harmoniously and function smoothly under their pressure.
For a fuller understanding of the process of a consciousness approach to health and healing, we have to turn for a while towards understanding of the principle and power of consciousness itself.
Source of Consciousness
We have been referring to a higher as well as lower consciousness and its action upon the body. All this may present a picture as if there are different types of consciousness and also that the body is different from the consciousness.
This may be true from a strictly pragmatic point of view. It is also easier for our sense-experience born mind to understand things by contrast and comparison. But it is not the whole truth of the matter and leaves many gaps and unresolved questions.
The original truth is essentially oneness, whatever we call it. Yet, right up to the atom we find differentiation and differences (even the constituting charges are not one but two or three or more). This problem arises because we have been working the Creation backwards. But once we open to the other end of the experience we see that the roots of Creation are not in the atomic void but elsewhere. We then begin to discover through hidden faculties that at the origin there is something that nothing can describe. It is supremely undifferentiated, an infinite and eternal, concealing or showing itself through infinite ways. No law can be made of it, no symbol or language or formula describe it. It simply ‘is’ or ‘is not’. The ancients gave it the name of ‘Parabrahman’ — the Reality that transcends all and yet contains all.
Consciousness is the power of this Reality. The One Consciousness becomes many by a process of differentiation and concentration or we may say absorption and involution. Thus, we have the many levels and layers of ‘consciousness’ arising out of the One Consciousness, yet supported by it. Thus is also created a hierarchy of planes and substances and energies and systems of worlds that finally precipitate themselves into the atomic void or gross matter as we know it. Thus, matter and its processes are the last step, in the process of differentiation and involution making them dense and limited. So an emergence out of it brings forth all the hidden possibilities. Each hidden possibility that emerges alters matter, making it more pliable, capable and subtle. This is another process of evolution.
The Evolutionary Transformation of the Body
A perfectly healthy body as we envisage it now is a body fit, open and receptive to higher forces. Short of it there is only an absence of disease or its presence. The concept of health has shifted therefore from a passive to a dynamic one. Passive adaptation is the equilibrium that Nature creates between the organism and the world around it. Evolution follows by a temporary dissolution of this equilibrium! An active adaptation would therefore mean the ability of the body to not only survive but also to evolve by a collaboration with Nature. The stress of survival is born because of a sense of separateness. Each organism therefore tries to overpower or ‘outsmart’ others in the competitive game of life. This leads to an equal adaptive reaction in other forms of life that assert their right to existence. The individual unit holds out for a while against the rest, but, sooner or later succumbs as it must, since no individual form of life can be greater than the whole. But while the individual form cannot be greater than the whole, the individual can rediscover its link with the whole and thus arrive at a new mode of mastery.
Elimination versus Assimilation
If we step back from our excessive preoccupation with the individual forms and their differences, we find that all life is essentially one. So, as evolution proceeds, clash and strife are replaced more and more by assimilation, accommodation and transmutation. Growth, at a lesser level, assumes the appearance of eliminative competition. Growth, at a higher level, assumes the appearance of acceptance and assimilation. At present, our body has developed capacities to fight and reject whatever is to it ‘not self’. In future, the body will develop the capacity to absorb and change the disparate elements into a harmonious element. But for this, we have to discover a new station of consciousness. Out of the strong separative sense, we have to grow into wholeness and oneness. Out of division, and knowledge based upon division, we have to grow into oneness and knowledge based upon unity. Obviously, there will be a period of transition and its attendant difficulties but once the body has discovered the new mode of functioning based upon oneness, there will be the power of spontaneous immunity rather than simply a power to cure.
A Newer Reality
Thus seen, we understand many happenings in this world in a new way. The human body is being forced to bear the onslaught of a large number of toxins and poison as never before. Bacteria and viruses have taken a backseat. There are enough self-generated poisons: the industrial wastes, nuclear fallouts, drugs, insecticides, cosmetics — to name just a few — that threaten to eliminate the entire race. Or challenge it to evolve!
At another level there are scientific studies to work on the oneness of physical matter. Organ transplants, cloning, breaking of biological boundaries through cross-mating are all obscure ways through which a subconscious foundation for oneness is being laid. All this should not be taken to mean that this crisis is a good thing for there are simpler, safer, direct and better ways to evolve towards oneness. But Nature has taken this risky, bumpy course only because man refuses to admit a straight, smooth road to evolution. Everything in us resists the evolutionary pressure and most of this resistance comes from our notion of distinct separateness that makes us blind to everything else in the universe.
Yet, man can collaborate in this great transition and evolutionary transformation of the body. How?
Sri Aurobindo writes,
“The essential purpose and sign of the growing evolution here is the emergence of consciousness in an apparently inconscient universe; ….. As we rise we have to open to them our lower members and fill these with those superior and supreme dynamisms of light and power; the body we have to make a more and more and even entirely conscious frame and instrument, a conscious sign and seal and power of the spirit. As it grows in this perfection, the force and extent of its dynamic action and its response and service to the spirit must increase, the control of the spirit over it also must grow and the plasticity of its functioning both in its developed and acquired parts of power and in its automatic responses down to those that are now purely organic and seem to be the movements of a mechanic inconscience.” 
 Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 13, Essays in Philosophy and Yoga, ‘Perfection of the Body’, p. 531