What would be a healthy lifestyle, how many hours of exercise and what type, how much sleep should be taken, how much work and rest?
There are two things to be considered here – the quality and the quantity. The quality itself has two sides to it – the visible and more external and the occult and more intrinsic. For instance, we may say that certain types of exercises are better than some others for certain specific conditions. That is a matter of external visible quality. But then we can further say that the same exercise can be done in many different inner states and very different attitudes. That makes a further difference. Thus, there would be a difference between a man who does a particular form of exercise or rather who exercises his body simply to earn a living—a coolie or a blacksmith, for instance—and one who does it with a deliberate will to develop his body. A further difference would be added if the person were to do his exercises with a conscious aspiration to open his body to the higher forces and energies. This was the original principle behind yoga-exercises. They were meant to stabilise the body and the breath in a way so that the practitioner can enter into a state of deeper consciousness much more easily without obstructions and disturbances from his physical, emotional and vital being. It is this aspiration that guided the whole process that was crucial for the desired effect and not what is now being guided by fear of diseases and ways and means to ward it off, though still, even here the benefits arrive.
There is no doubt that exercise helps but it is best, however, to use a combination of static exercises such as asanas and dynamic ones such as aerobics. Or perhaps play a game appropriate to one’s age, or simply walk about 3 or 4 kilometres for about 45 minutes daily. If one is not trying to lose weight then this will usually suffice. The main thing is that we must enjoy whatever mode of physical exercise we do and then do it with a certain regularity and consciousness. That is to say, a maidservant working all day and doing things as drudgery does not get a great deal of help, even though she may be doing much exercise. A conscious will and purpose makes a lot more difference than people imagine. And at that point, one must be ‘in the body’ and not weaving thoughts in the mind’s restless factory or sinking and wallowing in a quagmire of emotions. If we can link this physical being and its activities through conscious aspiration, an inner prayer and offering to its supreme source and truth of all things, then we stand a good chance of obtaining the best possible results from our efforts. It is good to use widening imagery or simply gaze at fish in an aquarium or identify with something vast like the ocean or sky for instance, and let go, at least a few times during a long working schedule. For those who are so attuned, it is wonderful to snatch a few moments of solitude and practice inner quietude in between work.
As for sleep, again, both too little and too much harms, but the first more so. It makes the nerves excitable and prevents the body’s natural repairing processes that are activated during sleep. An average sleep requirement per day varies from 6-9 hours and it is best taken in one snatch or maybe two. The best hours that coincide with the body’s hormonal rhythms for sleep are from about 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Here again, a regularity of rhythm helps but more important is ‘sleep hygiene’. That is to say, not to fall asleep under a heavy tamasic state as with extreme fatigue, use of alcohol and drugs, or watching some show that heavily excites the nerves, or after a heated and animated discussion. Most people find it relaxing to take a bath or lie down and stretch themselves before switching off. A cup of milk (preferably cold or lukewarm but not hot) with honey is also a useful sedative. A short meditation is of course the best.
Can one become immune to illness by practicing a better lifestyle?
Even the best lifestyle cannot give perfect immunity for various reasons.
Our contribution to illness is only one factor out of many. Illnesses do not arise only through internal causes. There are outer causes too—causes that are not only physical and psychological, but also subtle and occult. Much illness comes from these occult entities that exist on their own plane, those dark and fallen worlds which feed upon our disintegrated vital substance that we throw into the atmosphere through wrong vital movements such as passion, excitement, lust, anger, fear, etc. These entities also feed upon man’s ill-will and carry it to those who are susceptible and targeted. Apart from that, these adverse vital forms and forces also feed upon the disintegrating elements of human life that is found after death, especially sudden traumatic ones such as in accidents, warfare, terrorist attacks, etc. that generate a lot of fright and horror or excitement and panic. Sometimes, these things can mount in a cascade that leads to an epidemic. In fact, from an occult point of view, a virus or bacillus is really the materialisation of some of these vital forms and forces. Modern science also recognises that fear and panic make matters worse in any illness.
Besides, it is very difficult—because of the complex nature of man—for man’s consciousness to adopt a healthy lifestyle with the regularity and discipline that can truly help. And even if one were to do all the right things as far as our lifestyle is concerned, even master all the outer and occult causes, we would still not be assured of permanent immunity. There might arise, for instance, poisoning and accidents, exposure to chemicals and radiation, toxins generated within the body that would gradually lead to ‘cellular errors’ and ‘internal accidents’ at the micro-level. The body is still made up of ignorance and governed by it. It is still under the influence of the mental and vital sheaths and their energies and forces, which only perpetuate this ignorance and act falsely and are prone to error. A more detailed description of these sheaths can be found in certain books on Yoga. Thus to imagine that changing your diet, following a strict regime of exercise and leading a life of moderation will act as a foolproof preventive would be like believing the moon to be in one’s grasp while holding only its reflection in a plateful of water. Human perfection has its natural limits and while we can improve a lot within those limits, we cannot radically change things so long as those limits are not pushed further and beyond.