General Fitness and the Natural Powers of the Body

When we observe the Olympic Games, we see the top tier of physical training available to humanity in the world today. It is interesting to note that some of the results being obtained regularly today, such as sub-4-minute mile, or a 100 metre dash below 10 seconds, were not very long ago considered “impossible”. Similarly, thousands of people now regularly run in marathon races, which in the time of the ancient Greeks was actually an emergency action by a dedicated soldier in time of war, and considered an exceptional and noteworthy feat. Some of the feats of gymnastics and records in swimming clearly indicate a level of capacity and training in the human body that goes far beyond what we formerly considered to be possible. Climbing Mount Everest and other similar challenges of mountaineering used to be considered extraordinary, but nowadays hundreds, if not thousands of people attempt this feat. While the peak levels of performance are clearly not something that everyone aspires to, or is willing to commit to, they show us that the human body is adaptable and can do much more than ever deemed possible. We also see that performance that used to be considered individual and exceptional can be more generally developed than we formerly thought possible.

Even in daily life we recognise that regular aerobic and strength training can bring the body into a peak conditioning that provides a basis for intellectual effort, emotional richness and physical well-being. There is also evidence that various disease conditions can be greatly ameliorated or even reversed through a regular programme of exercise designed to support the body.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Among the natural qualities and powers of the body which can be thus awakened, stimulated and trained to a normal activity we must reckon dexterity and stability in all kinds of physical action, such as swiftness in the race, dexterity in combat, skill and endurance of the mountaineer, the constant and often extraordinary response to all that can be demanded from the body of the soldier, sailor, traveler or explorer to which I have already made reference, or in adventure of all kinds and all the wide range of physical attainment to which man has accustomed himself or to which he is exceptionally pushed by his own will or by the compulsion of circumstance. It is a general fitness of the body for all that can be asked from it which is the common formula of all this action, a fitness attained by a few or by many, that could be generalised by an extended and many-sided physical education and discipline. Some of these activities can be included under the name of sports; there are others for which sports and physical exercises can be an effective preparation. In some of them a training for common action, combined movement, discipline are needed and for that our physical exercises can make one ready; in others a developed individual will, skill of mind and quick perception, forcefulness of life-energy and subtle physical impulsion are more prominently needed and may even be the one sufficient trainer. All must be included in our conception of the natural powers of the body and its capacity and instrumental fitness in the service of the human mind and will, and therefore in our concept of the total perfection of the body.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, The Perfection of the Body, pp.. 35-36

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