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Physical Culture

by Swami Sivananda

Physical culture or development of the body is as much important as the development of the mind, will, or memory. If the body is not kept strong and healthy, vigorous and active, no culture is possible. All cultures depend upon a sound body. "Mens sana in corpore sano" is a wise saying, which means 'a sound mind in a sound body'. The body is the temple of God. It should always to be kept scrupulously clean by daily bath, good scrubbing with a clean towel, to open the pores of the skin which might have been clogged by sweat and sebum or fatty exudation.

There are different kinds of physical culture. You will, of course, have to select one according to your needs, taste, temperament and capacity. A man of delicate and poor health should take to long brisk walks, both morning and evening. You should always make it a point to walk alone. Then you can feel the presence of the Almighty everywhere, and can be in perfect tune or harmony with nature. Morning walks are very pleasant. The cool breeze is very refreshing and vitalising. The fragrance of flowers in gardens is, indeed, invigorating. Finish the walk before sunrise. The walk should not be like that of a matrimonial procession. Slow walking cannot give you any substantial benefit. It should, therefore, be brisk. You should have good perspiration. Then only it is an exercise. You should always walk at least three or four miles per day. You can do Pranayama, too, while walking. Inhale for six steps. Retain for six steps. Then exhale for six steps. This is a good practice.

Now I come to another kind of exercise, viz., running. This is the best form of exercise. The lungs are developed well by running. The blood is purified. Run in the open air. I like this very much. I always run in the open air even now. You can have exercise of a truly vigorous type in a short space of time. The famous surgeon, the late Dr. Rangachari of Madras, used to run in the open air daily. Running on the seashore is immensely beneficial. You can charge the lungs with ozone, double volume of pure oxygen. Repeat OM mentally when you run. This will spiritualise the physical exercise. Wipe off the perspiration with your hands. Rub it in the body itself. Do not use a towel.

Swimming is also one of the best kind of exercises. It stretches all the muscles of the back. Lumbago is relieved. You can practise Pranayama also, while floating. This can be practised in a big tank or a big well.

Tennis is also a good exercise. There is running as well. It is a gentle game that never tires a man much. It is pleasant and exhilarating. It develops the ankles and the fingers as well. Though Badminton is styled "ladies' game", yet there is plenty of exercise in it. One has to run from one corner of the court to another.

Those who have got strength and who want to develop their chest and arms, shoulders and other muscles, should invariably take to gymnastics. The biceps, the deltoid, and the triceps are well developed. A gymnast has a very beautiful, expanded chest. Pumping, bend-arm march, press-up in the parallel bars, are also very good exercises.

The Indian system of exercises, such as Dand-Baithaks, is also very good. There is a symmetrical development of all the members of the body. The effects are lasting. It is also not costly. You need hardly spend a single pie. The Baithaks develop the calf muscles very beautifully. Kasrats develop the chest and arms. You can practise these exercises in any place.

You can practise Suryanamaskar also daily. It is highly beneficial for one and all, irrespective of age and sex. It is a happy combination of some Asanas, Pranayamas, and prostrations to God Surya or Sun. Those who suffer from eye-diseases will find a good remedy here. Diseases of the liver, stomach, intestines and kidneys, are infallibly cured. The votaries of Suryanamaskar are daily increasing and the system is becoming more and more popular. The Raja of Oundh (Satara) has written a good book on this system, both in English and Hindi.

Asana is a perfect form of physical exercise founded by the Rishis of yore. It is a unique and unparalleled system. It is not merely physical exercise. There is something spiritual, something divine, for the Asanas awaken the Kundalini-Sakti (Serpent-Power). Asana is more than physical exercise. It gives massage to the internal organs. This benefit cannot be derived from any other system. It cures diseases. That is one great advantage in this system. Some Asanas like Sirshasana, Sarvangasana and Siddhasana are very, very useful in the up-keep of Brahmacharya. Bhujangasana, Salabhasana and Dhanurasana remove constipation. The Nauli Kriya, which rotates the muscles of the abdomen, is a unique Kriya, that removes the diseases of the abdomen and increases the digestive fire. No exercise in any system can stand before this Kriya in its potency and efficacy. It is God-sent. There are splendid and admirable exercises for keeping the spine elastic. They are Paschimottanasana and Yoga Mudra, Chakrasana, Ardhasupti Asana and Matsyendrasana. If you do not keep the spine elastic, the spinal column will ossify and degenerate quickly. You will appear old, though you are young. A man who practises these spinal exercises will be as nimble as a squirrel. He will never look old.

Whatever the system may be, there should be some exercises to develop the upper extremities, such as the arm and the forearm. There must be some exercises for developing the thighs and legs. There should be some exercises for bending the spine forward, backward and laterally. There must be some exercises for developing the chest and neck and the abdomen. That system which does not contain a happy combination of these exercises is surely defective.

Those who are doing exercises of any kind should observe the following rules carefully. They should be strictly regular in the performance of exercises. Regularity is the prerequisite if you want to progress rapidly and succeed in physical culture. Those who do vigorous exercises should take substantial nutritious food, as otherwise, their muscles will waste. You will not find much improvement. Plenty of ghee, milk, butter, nuts, etc., should be regularly taken. Those who practise Sirshasana should take some light tiffin ten minutes after all Asanas are over. You should take some light food after you have finished the exercises. Weigh your body once a month and keep a record. Exercises can be practised both in the morning and evening. You should rest for half an hour before you take your bath. You should try to observe Brahmacharya as much as you can. If you remain a strict celibate, you will achieve astonishing results. What is there in a woman? What is there in repeating the same old act again and again which is so very disgraceful? Are you not ashamed of all that? Do you not realise that it is all the play of Avidya and false Moha? Strengthen the body and then do spiritual Sadhana. You will enjoy real bliss. I beseech you, learn to be wise at least from now onwards.

Asanas can be done in the morning. Physical exercises can be done in the evening. If you want to do physical exercises also in the morning, take a little rest, say for fifteen minutes, after finishing all Asanas, and then do physical exercises. Do Pranayama after you have finished the Asanas. Practise the Asana in an open, airy place. You should not go to extreme in exercises. There must be the feeling of exhilaration during the practice of Asana or any kind of exercise, and also after you have finished them. There should be absolutely no feeling of fatigue or depression. Remember this point well. If there is depression or fatigue, you have gone to the extremity; you have gone beyond your capacity. (For a full and detailed description of 'Yoga Asanas,' please refer to my book 'YOGA ASANAS)

Soak some Chana or Bengal-gram or almonds or Papaver seeds (Kas Kas) in water overnight and take this in the morning after having finished your exercises. These stuffs are cooling and strengthening. You can take gram for a week and Papaver for another week.

Do not have any Moha for this perishable body. Treat this body as your servant and instrument. You are entirely distinct from this physical body, which is made up of five elements subject to decay and destruction. You are in essence the Reality, the all-pervading imperishable Atman. Just as the house in which you live is separate from you, so also, this body in which you are temporarily encased, on account of ignorance, is entirely different from you. Identification with this body is the root cause for bondage and human miseries and sufferings. Do not become a slave to this body. It must obey your orders at all times and under all conditions, and not you its orders. You must be prepared to give this body up or dedicate it to a just and noble cause. Practise self-denial, self-abnegation and self-sacrifice.

In conclusion, O Nectar's sons! Children of Light and Immortality! Keep this body strong, healthy and active by regular physical culture. Lead a happy, contended life. Say: "I have now good blooming health. I can make the pomp of emperors ridiculous." Use this body-horse to reach the destination-Brahma-Nirvana. Use this body as a boat for crossing the river of life to the other shore of immortality and fearlessness.

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