The Source and Cause of Illness

Western medical science holds that illness has several potential causes. Failing to digest food properly is one such cause. Stress on the body and its organ systems is another. A third is failure to obtain proper nutrition or fluids. Aging is considered a contributing factor in the breakdown of the bodily systems and reduction of the ability to withstand stress and external attack. But the primary cause that Western medicine recognises nowadays is due to the influence of germs — bacteria and viruses — that are separate life-forms that attack the body and, when they gain a foothold, begin to break down or take over its functioning to the detriment of the individual.

For an individual, if the basic needs of the body are being met and there is not excess stress, the primary function to defeat the impact of germs is assigned to what is called the immune system which marshals defenses to destroy the invading life-forms. A powerful force, such as a pandemic overwhelms the immune system easily and thus, causes large numbers of people to fall ill.

If we now look at the view from the side of Ayurveda we see that a being who stays in balance, eats nourishing food and keeps everything attuned, operating from a sattwic level, tends to stay healthy for the most part. An excess of rajas causes overstrain and an eventual falling back into tamas, and it is tamas, the weakness, ignorance and darkness in the body that manifests illness. Food plays a large role in this, so that tamasic foods, that have lost their virtue of nourishment, will tend to weaken and lead the individual toward illness.

Sri Aurobindo points out that illness comes from outside, creates a vibration or suggestion for the being, and if accepted, this suggestion can turn into illness. There is no essential conflict here with the idea that the vibration is carried by some physical form, whether bacteria or virus, and that it is the acceptance of the vibration, through a weakness or failing of the inner resistance (immune system) that can lead to the manifestation of the illness. Sri Aurobindo goes on to point out that the body tends to respond to these suggestions and particularly if a fear or panic arises, the opening in the vital sheath creates more opportunity for illness to arise.

It is possible, with this understanding, for an individual to withstand even virulent disease, and there are instances where people have gone into an epidemic, treated numerous people dying from the illness, and walked away without themselves becoming ill. This points to a mechanism outside of a purely mechanical action of a virulent germ attacking a physical body.

It is also possible to recognise that various mantras, various practices of Hatha Yoga, various breathing techniques and a strong action of will can help the practitioner create a virtually impenetrable wall of force to protect the body from the attack. Even without specific techniques, some individuals who are sensitive can ‘feel’ the pressure or onset of an illness and push it away. In some cases, they may use an herb or medicine to aid in the process as that helps convince the physical consciousness that something is being done. As a side note, research shows the powerful positive effect of what is called the ‘placebo effect’ which is the use of a non-active physical support, such as a pill, to convince the mind and the body that they will withstand or throw off the illness. A considerable portion of the benefit attributed to a pharmaceutical drug has been shown to actually produced through the placebo effect, and people have been healed through such mechanisms.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Attacks of illness are attacks of the lower nature or of adverse forces taking advantage of some weakness, opening or response in the nature, — like all other things that come and have got to be thrown away, they come from outside. If one can feel them so coming and get the strength and the habit to throw them away before they can enter the body, then one can remain free from illness. Even when the attack seems to rise from within, that means only that it has not been detected before it entered the subconscient; once in the subconscient, the force that brought it rouses it from there sooner or later and it invades the system. When you feel it just after it has entered, it is because though it came direct and not through the subconscient, yet you could not detect it while it was still outside. Very often it arrives like that frontally or more often tangentially from the side direct, forcing its way through the subtle vital envelope which is our main armour of defence, but it can be stopped there in the envelope itself before it penetrates the material body. Then one may feel some effect, e.g., feverishness or a tendency to cold, but there is not the full invasion of the malady. If it can be stopped earlier or if the vital envelope of itself resists and remains strong, vigorous and intact, then there is no illness; the attack produces no physical effect and leaves no traces.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Illness, pp 318-322

The Qualities of Food and Spiritual Practice

When people take up spiritual practices, they are exposed to many different ideas about the proper diet. With the idea that ‘you are what you eat’, there is a long list of foods that are considered suitable for spiritual practitioners to eat, what are called in the ancient traditions of India, ‘sattwic’ foods. Foods that are considered rajasic, or tamasic are to be avoided. This has led to some very strict dietary regiments which pick out certain foods as helpful and others as detrimental to spiritual growth.

This approach varies markedly from those that leave everything to ‘whatever comes’ into the begging bowl!

There are also stories about whether food should be taken from or in the presence of certain individuals who are considered low caste, or outside caste. One such story had a sage being offered the nectar of immortality by the god Indra, who had taken the form of an ‘untouchable’. The sage turned down the offer because he could not see through the illusion and was bound by the customs of the society as to what could be taken and from whom.

Another instance had Lord Rama accepting food from a low caste woman who was his devotee, despite objections from his brother Lakshmana, because he saw the pure love and devotion, without concern about the specific embodiment of the individual in this lifetime.

The question of vegetarian or vegan diet adds another dimension to the question. The animals which embody a higher vibration of consciousness than the plant kingdom, are able to suffer pain and the vibrations at the time of their death can impact the person eating that food. Many spiritual paths forego eating meat therefore, and avoid the entire question of imbibing the energy of the animal that has been slaughtered for food. In today’s world, with the intense suffering attendant upon the vast cattle raising and slaughtering industry around the world, the question raises even greater concerns than in the past.

Food today has further issues with the chemical and pharmaceutical contaminants, and pollution, and the intense breeding that changes the essential qualities of various foods and makes them in many cases devoid of much life energy or nutrition. Taking nourishing food that is grown in a more traditional and focused manner certainly provides values that highly processed foods cannot possibly duplicate.

Sri Aurobindo points out that without getting into all the minutiae of individual food substances and their various micro impacts on the being, the underlying consideration was more about the virtue of the food as to its energetic qualities. Tamasic foods were devoid of energy due to being spoiled or stale. Rajasic foods were over-heating. Sattwic foods were nourishing and uplifting. People have made a science out of this, but in reality following these simple guidelines is probably as much attention as needs to be paid by the spiritual practitioner who needs to shift the focus away from the physical body toward the spiritual endeavour.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “I think the importance of sattwic food from the spiritual point of view has been exaggerated. Food is rather a question of hygiene, and many of the sanctions and prohibitions laid down in ancient religions had more a hygienic than a spiritual motive. The Gita’s definitions seem to point in the same direction — tamasic food, it seems to say, is what is tale or rotten with the virtue gone out of it, rajasic food is that which is too acrid, pungent, etc., heats the blood and spoils the health, sattwic food is what is pleasing, healthy, etc. It may well be that different kinds of food nourish the action of the different gunas and so indirectly are helpful or harmful apart from their physical action. But that is as far as one can go confidently. What particular eatables are or are not sattwic is another question and more difficult to determine. Spiritually, I should say that the effect of food depends more on the occult atmosphere and influences that come with it than on anything in the food itself. Vegetarianism is another question altogether; it stands, as you say, on a will not to do harm to the more conscious forms of life for the satisfaction of the belly.”

“As for the question of practicing to take all kinds of food with equal rasa, it is not necessary to practice nor does it really come by practice. One has to acquire equality within in the consciousness and as this equality grows, one can extend it or apply it to the various fields of the activity of the consciousness.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Food, pp 314-317

Fasting and the Practice of the Integral Yoga

At some point in their spiritual quest, seekers are generally confronted with the question of ‘fasting’. Some paths recommend fasting as a method to lighten the heaviness of the ‘earth consciousness’ and make the being more receptive to higher vibrational energies. Some point out that fasting aids in achieving a ‘vision quest’. Some practice fasting to habituate the body to become less reliant on the material energy and switch its source of energy to higher vital and eventually spiritual realms. In the daily ordinary life, people undertake various forms of ‘fasting’ as a means of gaining control over their weight, although they call it in that context ‘dieting’.

There is no doubt that fasting changes the energetic flow of the being, that one feels lighter and more in tune with the vital and mental energies and less subject to the downward pull of the physical body. There is also no doubt that in certain contexts, the achievement of a ‘vision’ is aided by the practice of fasting.

It is, however, also true that the physical body requires adequate nutrition and that fasting, if practiced over the longer term rather than as a very short-term exercise, can undermine the physical substance and stability, and can create a nervous condition of the being that is not healthy for the spiritual practitioner who is not simply trying to abandon the outer life of the body.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “It is a fact that by fasting, if the mind and the nerves are solid or the will-force dynamic, one can get for a time into a state of inner energy and receptivity which is alluring to the mind and the usual reactions of hunger, weakness, intestinal disturbance, etc., can be wholly avoided. But the body suffers by diminution and there can easily develop in the vital a morbid overstrained condition due to the inrush of more vital energy than the nervous system can assimilate or co-ordinate. Nervous people should avoid the temptation to fast, it is often accompanied or followed by delusions and a loss of balance. Especially if there is a motive of hunger-strike or that element comes in, fasting becomes perilous, for it is then an indulgence of a vital movement which may easily become a habit injurious and pernicious to the sadhana. Even if all these reactions are avoided, still there is no sufficient utility in fasting, since the higher energy and receptivity ought to come not by artificial or physical means but by intensity of the consciousness and strong will for the sadhana.”

“The first thing I tell people when they want not to eat or sleep is that no yoga can be done without sufficient food and sleep (see the Gita on this point). Fasting or sleeplessness make the nerves morbid and excited and weaken the brain and lead to delusions and fantasies. The Gita says, yoga is not for one who eats too much or sleeps too much, neither is it for one who does not eat or does not sleep, but if one eats and sleeps suitably — yuktahari yuktanidrah — then one can do it best. It is the same with everything else. How often have I said that excessive retirement was suspect to me and that to do nothing but meditate was a lop-sided and therefore unsound sadhana?”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Food, pp 314-317

Understanding and Attaining the Right Attitude Toward Food for the Yogic Practitioner

Shifting the awareness away from the ego-consciousness to the divine standpoint takes place as a ‘tuning’ process which Sri Aurobindo designates as ‘aspiration’. This represents a focus of the attention of the being on the higher consciousness and away from the normal fixation on the outer life of the normal human consciousness. Food is one area that occupies an enormous role and significance in the human sphere, whether it is obtaining food, preparing food, enjoying food or talking or thinking about food. We have a fixation that involves, on the one hand, a ‘greed’ for food, and on the other, a desire to control our weight and appearance, which leads to a constant stream of diets that claim to have the solution to weight control. For many people in the world, who live in a status of starvation or near starvation, the seeking for food is one of primal survival. For those who live the lifestyle of the West, there is generally an over-abundance of food, and an ongoing campaign of marketing by food companies to generate desire and support for their specific forms of food. There is also a lot of research done by various companies to enhance the “addictive” effect of the foods they sell, which adds a biochemical component to the normal drive or craving. This shifts food from its ordinary status of being a basic need of the body to one that reflects all types of vital desires and artificially created demands that we try to satisfy through food.

For the practitioner of yoga, then, it is essential to disassociate oneself from the artificial constructs that cause greed for food, or which turn food into a substitute for cravings of the desire-soul.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “It is the attachment to food, the greed and eagerness for it, making it an unduly important thing in the life, that is contrary to the spirit of yoga. To be aware that something is pleasant to the palate is not wrong; only one must have no desire nor hankering for it, no exultation in getting it, no displeasure or regret at not getting it. One must be calm and equal, not getting upset or dissatisfied when the food is not tasty or not in abundance — eating the fixed amount that is necessary, not less or more. There should be neither eagerness nor repugnance. To be always thinking about food and troubling the mind is quite the wrong way of getting rid of the food-desire. Put the food element in the right place in the life, in a small corner, and don’t concentrate on it but on other things.”

“Greed for food has to be overcome, but it has not to be given too much thought. The proper attitude to food is a certain equality. Food is for the maintenance of the body and one should take enough for that — what the body needs; if one gives less the body feels the need and hankers; if you give more, then that is indulging the vital. As for particular foods the palate likes, the attitude of the mind and vital should be, ‘If I get, I take; if I don’t get, I shall not mind.’ One should not think too much of food either to indulge or unduly to repress — that is the best.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Food, pp 314-317

The Attitude Towards Food and the Practice of Yoga

There is considerable confusion, and a resultant variety of ways that spiritual seekers respond, to the question of food. Ordinarily food should not lead to any sense of bewilderment, as it is simply a necessity for the maintenance of the physical body in general. The issue arises when food becomes something else, a sublimated vital response to life, or a means of enjoyment, etc. In particular, spiritual seekers who carry out a discipline of avoidance of other forms of vital enjoyment may channel the latent desires into their relationship with food.

The numerous ways of addressing food includes ascetic fasting on the one end of the spectrum, to abandonment of any attempt to control the drive for food on the other, and everything in between. Mendicant renunciates eat whatever is given them in their begging bowl from day to day. If nothing comes, they do not eat. Others practice careful control over the food they eat, seeking out sattwic foods, avoiding foods that are considered tamasic or rajasic, as part of the spiritual discipline. Still others try to optimize their enjoyment of food and make the preparation and presentation of food into an ‘art form’. Some treat food as the basic building block and fuel for the physical body and try to eat based on principles of what the body needs to function optimally and properly. Some look on food as an object of desire, and work to control the action of the desire as they would do with any other vital drive. Others may treat food as a reward for their efforts and thus gorge themselves on it. And some treat moderation, the ‘middle way’ as the path of success in yoga, and thus, try to find a balanced approach in their relation to the question of food.

Tibetan yogi Milarepa had his own unique experience in relation to food. He was so concentrated on achieving realisation in one lifetime that at one point he entered into a cave for strict meditation practices and did not try to obtain food on a daily basis. He subsisted on nettles which grew in the area, to the extent that it was said that his skin took on a green shade. Eventually he reached a crisis where he could not focus on his meditation and he took that as a reason to open a scroll his guru had provided him ‘to be opened in extreme emergency’. The scroll advised him that he would not progress further in his meditation without adequate nourishment to his body, so he went out and obtained food, after which he achieved the realisation he was seeking.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “What is necessary is to take enough food and think no more about it, taking it as a means for the maintenance of the physical instrument only. But just as one should not overeat, so one should not diminish unduly — it produces a reaction which defeats the object — for the object is not to allow either the greed for food or the heavy tamas of the physical which is the result of excessive eating to interfere with the concentration on the spiritual experience and progress. If the body is left insufficiently nourished, it will think of food more than otherwise.”

“Too much eating makes the body material and heavy, eating too little makes it weak and nervous — one has to find the true harmony and balance between the body’s need and the food taken.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Food, pp 314-317

How to Make Sleep Conscious

Much research has been done to monitor the various stages of sleep and to try to determine what is taking place during each stage. People have been experimenting with learning during sleep, and some people actively ‘program’ their minds before they go to sleep to solve certain problems they are facing, letting the subconscious work out the solutions. Aspirants frequently report dreams or experiences that occur during sleep that help to guide them or solve issues they are facing. Many find that teachers or gurus come to them and provide instruction or guidance. While for the most part sleep is an unconscious period for the waking mind, these breakthrough experiences make it clear that a lot is going on during sleep-time.

Sleep, however, is frequently a time when the waking consciousness not only departs temporarily, but it can be a time when the overall state of consciousness falls under the influence of tamas, and progress made during the day is lost during the night. This gives the seeker the feeling of having to always repeat and rebuild the experience each day upon waking. Several strategies have been developed including rising for meditation at 3 am, the ‘Brahma muhurta’ or attempting to overcome the power of sleep itself through various disciplines and austerities. Neither of these methods fully resolve the issue however.

Nowadays, a practice known as Yoga Nidra has gained substantial recognition as a mechanism for bringing deep rest to the body while holding a state of consciousness that is effortless and at the same time luminous. This is based on ancient teaches of the sage relating to the various stages of the development of consciousness and the various states of sleep. It has become clear that the physical mind can be programmed through an act of focus, will and aspiration prior to sleep, so that it does not lose the thread of awareness entirely and sleep can be an active continuation of the daily yogic practice.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “You have to start by concentrating before you sleep always with a specific will or aspiration. The will or aspiration may take time to reach the subconscient, but if it is sincere, strong and steady, it does reach after a time — so that an automatic consciousness and will are established in the sleep itself which will do what is necessary.”

“At night, you have to pass into sleep in the concentration — you must be able to concentrate with the eyes closed, lying down and the concentration must deepen into sleep — that is to say, sleep must become a concentrated going inside away from the outer waking state. If you find it necessary to sit for a time you may do so, but afterwards lie down keeping the concentration till this happens.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Sleep, pp 311-314

The Need to Overcome the Subconscious State of Sleep

Normally when we sleep, the body goes into a state of tamas and with it, the consciousness loses the thread of the progress of the preceding day. While the progress is not ‘lost’ in the long run, it does mean that we tend to have to re-establish what was done previously time and again. Something similar is said to happen in rebirth, that the being, no matter how advanced, has at least some remedial work to do to get back to the final stage prior to passing from one body to the next. The deepest consciousness uses the time of sleep to move off into other planes and experience things there while the body recuperates its energy and renews its sense of well-being. When we awake there is generally a feeling of starting over that encapsulates the sense that the mood, energy, aspiration, dynamism of the prior day has disappeared. This is one reason why those who undertake spiritual practices sometimes try to go to the extremes of pushing away sleep and trying to remain awake and focused, although, as noted previously, such a process tends to fail and actually can increase the tamasic feeling in the body over time.

It is possible to establish a yogic discipline of preparation for sleep and remaining fixed in the aspiration, to eventually find ways to overcome this slipping back and even turn sleep into a state of yogic progress.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The consciousness in the night almost always descends below the level of what one has gained by sadhana in the waking consciousness, unless there are special experiences of an uplifting character in the time of sleep or unless the yogic consciousness acquired is so strong in the physical itself as to counteract the pull of the subconscient inertia. In ordinary sleep the consciousness in the body is that of the subconscient physical, which is a diminished consciousness, not awake and alive like the rest of the being. The rest of the being stands back and part of its consciousness goes out into other planes and regions and has experiences which are recorded in dreams….”

“At night when one sinks into the subconscient after being in a good state of consciousness we find that state gone and we have to labour to get it back again. On the other hand, if the sleep is of the better kind one may wake up in a good condition. Of course, it is better to be conscious in sleep, if one can.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Sleep, pp 311-314

Sleep, Rest and Consciousness

Western scientists describe the various stages of sleep. Yet they are looking at sleep from outside and do not know how to correlate the stages with the movement of consciousness during sleep. They recite facts based on observation and brain wave activity and pronounce that one is experiencing waking, transition to sleep, REM sleep in the dream state, or deep sleep. We must ask, however, what is the status of consciousness during sleep. Where does the awraeness go? What is it that sleeps and what is the purpose of sleep?

The subjective experience of most individuals is one of unconsciousness. When they are asleep, their waking personality is absent. Even in dream, they may or may not actively identify themselves as ‘actors’ in the dream space. Assuming they identify their ego-personality as the ‘I’ in the dream-state, they do not always act according to the outer personality in the waking state, so we cannot say conclusively that the sleeper is expressing the personality of the waking individual.

Sri Aurobindo provides insight into the status of consciousness during sleep and he also correlates the stages of sleep with the action of consciousness in other realms or planes of awareness.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “In sleep one very commonly passes from consciousness to deeper consciousness in a long succession until one reaches the psychic and rests there or else from higher to higher consciousness until one reaches rest in some silence and peace. The few minutes one passes in this rest are the real sleep which restores, — if one does not get it, there is only a half rest. It is when you come near to either of these domains of rest that you begin to see these higher kinds of dreams.”

“A long unbroken sleep is necessary because there are just ten minutes of the whole into which one enters into a true rest — a sort of Sachchidananda immobility of consciousness — and that it is which really restores the system. The rest of the time is spent first in travelling through various states of consciousness towards that and then coming out of it back towards the waking state. This fact of the ten minutes true rest has been noted by medical men, but of course they know nothing about Sachchidananda!”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Sleep, pp 311-314

The Process of Sleep and its Transformation in the Practice of Yoga

If we examine the sleep state, we can identify different phases of ‘normal’ sleep patterns for human beings in general. Starting from the waking state where we are conscious of the sights, and sounds of the outside world, as well as the thoughts and emotions and nervous impulses, feelings and pains of the physical body, we ultimately drift off, either quickly or slowly, into a state where these external perceptions and sensations recede and we enter the true sleep state. Initially this may be a state of light sleep, and various events, sounds, disturbances can easily awaken one from this stage. Usually on a regular repetitive cycle, we then enter into what is known as REM sleep, where the dreams take place. We do not generally pay attention to all the dreams that occur in REM sleep, only those that occur as we approach the waking state. That is why we tend to only remember the last dream of the night before we awake, or, if several, those after which we immediately awoke. Then there is a state of deep sleep when we neither react to external stimuli consciously nor are actively dreaming. This state provides recuperative rest to the physical body.

When people try to conquer or transform the sleep state generally, they either try to find ways to stay awake, whether through natural powers of concentration, exercise of will-power or potentially through chemical means, such as use of caffeine or other drugs. These steps however tend to have a deleterious effect on the physical body and the conscious awareness, and despite temporary ability to stay awake, eventually lead to torpor and fatigue of the body and a rebound reaction into tamas.

What is involved in the transformation of sleep is not to artificially try to stay awake, but to infuse consciousness in ever greater degrees into the various stages of sleep. Some people use the power of affirmation prior to sleeping to guide the consciousness into a state of luminous awareness. Some people actually understand the power of the sleep state in problem-solving and set an issue before the awareness before sleep and wake up with the answers!

Some utilize a journaling process to systematically record the dreams they recall, and in some cases, they can actually gain additional recall beyond the final dream through this process.

All of these things are necessarily limited methods but they tend to increase the awareness throughout the sleep state, without thereby disrupting the positive things that sleep provides to the body, the nervous system and the mind. The real answer however is to allow the higher consciousness to act as the individual increases receptivity.

It has been shown that a state of deep meditation can restore the body every bit as much as deep sleep, but the yogin is not in an unconscious state of deep sleep, but in an advanced state of increased consciousness. This provides us a clue to the eventual way to transform sleep.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “It is not a right method to try to keep awake at night; the suppression of the needed sleep makes the body tamasic and unfit for the necessary concentration during the waking hours. The right way is to transform the sleep and not suppress it, and especially to learn how to become more and more conscious in sleep itself. If that is done, sleep changes into an inner mode of consciousness in which the sadhana can continue as much as in the waking state, and at the same time one is able to enter into other planes of consciousness than the physical and command an immense range of informative and utilisable experience.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Sleep, pp 311-314

Sleep and the Practice of Integral Yoga

Religious devotees and spiritual aspirants throughout the world have tried to experience a divine revelation through various extreme practices that put the body under severe stress. One of these practices has been extreme fasting, and another, the attempt to overcome the power of sleep and carry out long vigils and prayers overnight. There is no doubt that in extremis the consciousness can shift out of the normal frame and may open to experiences that are not part of the normal daily outward-facing consciousness. Yet at the same time, when carried out to such extremes, particularly if this is done repeatedly, the basic physical underpinning of the body can be compromised, and the result of this kind of rajasic action is a rebound into a tamasic status, which is not helpful for spiritual development.

A sattwic, clear understanding of the body and its functioning, and a method that does not do harm to the body, but supports it as a stable basis for spiritual practice, seems to be the most advantageous approach. It is interesting to note that for the practice of Raja Yoga, it is recommended to gain a ‘seat’ (asana) which is comfortable and not too relaxed nor too hard, in a place that is not extreme as to heat, cold or wind, etc. The significance of this is that spiritual growth has the best chances of developing if one treats the body as a partner not an opponent that needs to be forced into submission.

In the integral yoga, the idea is to shift the focus away from fixation on the body-life-mind complex toward the spiritual consciousness. The more one tries to dominate, control and then respond to the reactions that occur when this is tried, the more one remains fixated on this outer nature and thus, one is defeating the purpose.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “This is not a yoga in which physical austerities have to be done for their own sake. Sleep is necessary for the body just as food is. Sufficient sleep must be taken, but no excessive sleep. What sufficient sleep is depends on the need of the body.”

“The normal allowance of sleep is said to be 7 to 8 hours except in advanced age when it is said to be less. If one takes less (5 to 6 for instance) the body accommodates itself somehow, but if the control is taken off it immediately wants to make up for its lost arrears of the normal 8 hours. So often when one has tried to live on too little food, if one relaxes, the body becomes enormously rapacious for food until it has set right the credit and loss account. At least it often happens like that.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Sleep, pp 311-314