The human being can be viewed from different perspectives. The World Health Organization (WHO) has already included in its definition of health, the dimensions of social, mental and spiritual well-being, in addition to the purely physical state. It is also agreed that health is a positive condition and not merely an absence of disease. However, the concept of what constitutes a positive state is not clear. Today we know that the line between health and illness is indistinct as there is a range of more subtle pre-disease conditions. This is so because the human body is not static but in a continuous flux, a dynamic state of an ever-changing yet ever-precise and precarious balance.
The body has enormous reserves to adjust and accommodate in times of need. For example, the normal heartbeat is 60-100 per minute. But if the need arises, the heart can double its gallop, stretch its muscles and thereby increase its function without much difficulty. In times of emergency, most of the organs can adapt to the increased demand. And once the demand stops, the system reverts back to status quo. Not only that, the body can be methodically trained to exceed its limits. We know, for instance, that athletes have healthier hearts; their average pulse rate is slower and cardiac output higher than ordinary people. Similarly, those who do regular exercise can increase their lung capacity. Muscle bulk too can be increased through regular training. Even without training, the body, in times of severe stress, as in war, can perform nearly miraculous things. Also with proper training, the body can become conscious of its own deeper possibilities.
Yet we still fear that the body is all the time prone to this or that illness. A slight cough, a mild fever, a minor pain is enough to set our minds ruminating about all possible horrors. We contribute to our illness as well as its cure through our thoughts, emotions and attitudes. Our lifestyle has much to do with disease. So we do have a role to play in health and disease.
Body – A Physical Perspective
The body has a consciousness of its own — the body consciousness.
We have to awaken this latent body consciousness because, despite the body’s capacity, something limits and hinders and things go wrong. This is true even for those who have tried to lead a balanced life. Even if diseases are kept away, the process of aging still catches up. There is wear and tear, errors are made so that over a period of decades, the toxins accumulate and the system decays.
Here arises the need for preparing the body and opening it to higher energies. The body works best when a regular routine is fixed. There is a time when our juices flow, a time for sleep and a time for rest, one for repair and reconstitution. There is a time and cycle for everything. One can take advantage of these biological clocks. Whatever new is introduced can be done with a regularity so that it gradually integrates with the other cycles and rhythms of the body and translates into a habit. Let us take a look at some of these activities.
The cycle of sleep and wakefulness has a biological rhythm. A disruption of this natural rhythm upsets the body functions. The quality of sleep is disturbed by common things like a heavy supper; use of substances like tobacco, alcohol, tea, etc.; late-night television; worries, anxieties, self-preoccupying thoughts; and the use of sedatives and tranquillizers (which disturb the cycle of sleep and dream).
If anything, a cup of warm milk, soup or fruit juice are the best sedatives as they do not suppress the dream phase and hence help natural sleep. An additional way of slipping smoothly into good quality sleep is through the use of relaxation techniques or light, gentle classical music played at a low pitch in a well-ventilated room. It is preferable that the bed should be neither too hard nor too soft. A soft pillow should be used. All this is a matter of personal habit and conditioning.
But sleep has another function apart from rest. It is a time for dreams. During sleep, our consciousness withdraws from the surface mind and is left free to explore other states and domains. These states help the process of self-discovery, so one should consciously prepare oneself for a qualitatively better sleep by a regular practice of relaxation and focusing within.
“If before retiring to bed one has talked a lot or had a lively discussion, if one has read an exciting or intensely interesting book, one should rest a little without sleeping in order to quieten the mental activity, so that the brain does not engage in disorderly movements while the other parts of the body alone are asleep. Those who practise meditation will do well to concentrate for a few minutes on a lofty and restful idea, in an aspiration towards a higher and vaster consciousness. Their sleep will benefit greatly from this and they will largely be spared the risk of falling into unconsciousness while they sleep.”
– The Mother
The transition between sleep and wakefulness is an important period too. To wake up suddenly with a start or after an alarm call is not pleasant. Another habit that can be avoided is the tendency to stay lying in bed after waking. Even if one needs to relax, it is better to get out of bed and sit in a chair. This prevents ‘tamas’ or inertia.
Among all habits, the one of eating affects the body most. Yet, “In the effect of food on the body, 90% belongs to the power of thought.” 
We hardly ever enjoy the food we eat. Most of the time, while eating, either our thoughts are elsewhere or we are motivated by greed. Food should be approached in a spirit of detachment and offering. The Mother has more to say,
“Physically, we depend upon food to live — unfortunately. For with food, we daily and constantly take in a formidable amount of inconscience, of tamas, heaviness, stupidity. One can’t do otherwise — unless constantly, without a break, we remain completely aware and, as soon as an element is introduced into our body, we immediately work upon it to extract from it only the light and reject all that may darken our consciousness. This is the origin and rational explanation of the religious practice of consecrating one’s food to God before taking it. When eating one aspires that this food may not be taken for the little human ego but as an offering to the divine consciousness within oneself. In all yogas, all religions, this is encouraged. This is the origin of that practice, of contacting the consciousness behind, precisely to diminish as much as possible the absorption of an inconscience which increases daily, constantly, without one’s being aware of it.” 
Next we come to the schedule of exercise. There is much that has been written and spoken about it. The market is flooded with so many books on the subject. However, exercise is not just a specialised activity. Our daily walk, climbing the stairs, taking a bath, the postures we adopt, moving around, all kinds of physical activities, can become fruitful if done consciously. To bring the body under conscious control awakens it to a greater harmony. There is a whole world of literature on body language and the role of specific asanas and mudras in linking us to certain inner states. Then there are specialized forms of isometric and isotonic exercises which can be judiciously combined. Sports and games offer an additional advantage of instilling into us healthy attitudes and psychological qualities necessary for teamwork. Similarly, dance offers the advantage of creating in the body a sense of beauty, harmony and rhythm. Equally important is the inner attitude we have whilst doing a particular activity. The Mother observes:
“Any rational system of exercises suited to one’s need and capacity will help the participant to improve in health. Moreover it is the attitude that is more important. Any well-planned and scientifically arranged programme of exercises practised with a yogic attitude will become yogic exercises and the person practising them will draw full benefit from the point of view of physical health and moral and spiritual uplift.” 
Work itself has to alter its character by a change of motivation. Work can be made as creative as play.
“It is said that one only does well what one is interested in doing. This is true, but it is truer still that one can learn to find interest in everything one does, even in what appear to be the most insignificant chores. The secret of this attainment lies in the urge towards self-perfection.” 
From an inner standpoint, one can say that the energy that goes into procreation or furthering the race is the same that, if conserved, can provide the basis for the evolution of the race. This is the rationale for control or mastery over the sex impulse. In actual practice it implies a regulated sexuality, not an unbridled indulgence. Kept to its right time and place it is fine, but too much or wrong indulgence with this energy can lead to a blocking of the energy system that feeds the general body and mind. It stays at the lowermost level and is not available for a freer expansion of our being. On the contrary, conservation of sexual energy leads to a general increase in the vital energy that can then be used for other purposes such as mental and intellectual activities or even for spiritual pursuits.
The Energy Perspective
Apart from the purely material standpoint, the modern world has entered into the domains of energy and consciousness. So the body should also be viewed from these angles. From the standpoint of energy states, life-energy is a separate principle which shapes and holds the material form. In fact, according to this view, physical matter itself is only a condensation of energy. So a harmonious balance of energy is necessary for health.
From the energy point of view one could characterize different individuals as energy losers and energy absorbers, energy transmitters and energy receivers. The former are generally not healthy companions. Their company tends to make one feel exhausted and tires for no apparent reason. A close intimacy with one such type may make one vulnerable to disease through loss of vitality and vigour. The other type is a natural giver and helps others regain their lost vitality. In their presence people feel up buoyed and strong since they reinforce the protective envelope that we carry around our bodies. These make good physicians and their closeness is conducive to health.
It is also important to be aware of the channels through which we gain and lose energy. Externally, we receive an influx of energy through air, food, thoughts, sensory inputs and subtle vibrations. Nourishing food, positive thoughts, a clear observation of sensory inputs and, if possible, the subtle vibrations, would help us maintain a healthy body. We lose energy through action, speech, elimination and sex.
There is an intricate and complex working of energies in the human body. It is as if the whole functioning is governed by a remarkably precise dynamic force that is supremely intelligent. One approach to health management would thus be to awaken these energies. This is possible partly by a study of energy states and movements with a view to exceed limits. Another way would be to put the pressure of a higher consciousness on the body. This ‘pressure’ brought down by an opening of the body to higher forces through aspiration and surrender will awaken a response in the corresponding level of consciousness now concealed and active only indirectly from behind. As a first intermediary step, the subconscious working of the body has to be brought increasingly under a deliberate control of the mental consciousness. It is here that the role of biofeedback, imagery, etc., can be envisaged. But finally the body has to learn to open itself to higher spiritual forces and be governed by the psychic consciousness. This will create conditions for the physical transformation and the emergence of a new body that is naturally immune to illness, disease and decay.
Another way of balancing the energy states is by bringing peace, detachment from the ego sense and attuning to a higher urge in us through an inner widening.
A Consciousness Perspective
Consciousness expresses itself on the material level as the physical body. At a higher one, it is explicit in the dynamic workings of life-energy. At a still higher level, consciousness expresses itself through the mind and its functions; cognition, imagination, aesthesis, ethics, etc. We have attempted to develop our physical consciousness by a methodical pursuit of physical culture. This led to extending our physical abilities. We have harnessed our life-energy by balancing the energy inputs and outputs. This led to an increased repertoire of life-energy. Likewise, we have to control the functioning of the mind, which involves:
- (a) freeing the mind from the clutches of physical necessities and demands of life-energy;
- (b) refining the use of reason and the intelligent will; and
- (c) silencing the mind so that it is made ready for faculties, like intuition, inspiration and revelation, that surpass reason.
An evolutionary model of health consciousness does not stop at the level of the physical consciousness, but increases the repertoire of life-energy and controls the functioning of the mind so that it is made receptive to higher influences. Such a dynamic view is necessary because health does not denote a mere absence of disease. Rather it is a positive state of harmony that supports a growth in consciousness.
“[…] the development of the form and its functioning or its fitness to survive, although indispensable, is not the whole meaning or the central motive. The greater and greater awakening of consciousness and its climb to a higher and higher level and a wider extent of its vision and action is the condition of our progress towards that supreme and total perfection which is the aim of our existence. It is the condition also of the total perfection of the body. There are higher levels of the mind than any we now conceive and to these we must one day reach and rise beyond them to the heights of a greater, a spiritual existence. 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.” 
 The Mother, CMW 12, On Education, ‘The Four Austerities and the Four Liberations’, p. 52
 The Mother, CMW 15, Words of the Mother III, ‘Wrong Thinking and Illness’, p. 114
 The Mother, CMW 4, Questions and Answers 1950-1951, 19 April 1951, p. 333
 The Mother, CMW12, On Education, ‘General Messages and Letters’, p. 285
 The Mother, CMW12, On Education, ‘The Four Austerities and the Four Liberations’, p. 53
 Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 13, Essays in Philosophy and Yoga, ‘Perfection of the Body’, p. 531