We see around us three kinds of attitudes related to the body. The first one can be termed body centric, the second mind centric and the third emphasises a harmonious relationship between the body and mind. The body centric approach is a preoccupation with the body, focusing on pleasing and indulging it. It is encouraged by the present consumerist trend where the media, along with multinationals, are promoting a lifestyle of more and more sensual enjoyment and excitement. In schools we have been noticing a plethora of costly sports equipment, kits and instruments giving an illusion of good physical culture. With this we also see a corresponding increase in aggressiveness, division and selfishness. It promotes an attitude to win at any cost, which shows itself in scandals of drug use and abuse in the sports fraternity.
The second approach is mind centric, where we see a strong mindset or a preconceived idea that denies the body or flesh its due share of attention. In this set of patterns, body is treated as an obstacle on the path and either neglected or tortured to achieve the goal. In the name of quick success or development we justify a certain negligence towards the body. During examination time children spend less time giving rest and exercise to the body. In the pursuit of fulfilling one's ambition one ignores the needs of the body such as adequate nutrition and sleep, a tendency which can be noticed in the present life style. In the school context we see this imbalance in the tilting of the curriculum towards the development of the cognitive domain. Academics and securing a good percentage in the board examination take the major chunk of time. Perhaps doctors are right when they say that the common diseases that are major killers of human life are the life style diseases.
The ancient Upanishadic adage says, 'Shariram khalu dharma sadhanam', which means the body serves as the basis of fulfillment of all the excellence one can perceive in one's life. In between the two extremes we can enquire about the true relationship between body and mind. Perhaps while exploring we may come across a right understanding of the three words- 'physical', 'health' and 'education'. The word physical denotes the body and its role in the evolution of a human being. Health in its widest sense includes an overall growth and well being in an individual. It is crucial as it links the body with the learning process. When there is harmony between the body, the senses, feelings and the mind we can say that one is healthy. Perhaps to establish and sustain that harmony is the true pursuit of education. The right kind of education will enable the child to get truly oriented towards a qualitative life style and will help him/her to reestablish the harmony that is broken due to various inward and outward forces. This kind of education continues throughout life and is not confined to schooling alone.
In order to come upon a right understanding of the physical education programme we need to start our exploration from the observation of the body and an understanding of its patterns.
The body is a being of order and discipline:
If we observe all the systems in the body we find them functioning in an ordered and disciplined way. The digestive system signals for hunger in right time. Thirst and the evacuation of waste products come at the proper time. It appears that body has its own intelligence that takes right decision to carry out the necessary work.
The body has its own consciousness and its own memory:
Research and our daily experience tell us that the body can work without any command from the reasoning mind. It never forgets what it has learnt, for instance swimming and cycling. Somnambulism (sleep walking) also testifies to this. When we type, our fingers automatically sense the wrong key if pressed. The body instincts tell us what is to be eaten and how much rest is needed. When tampered with, this instinct is slowly pushed underground.
The body is a being of habits:
If we observe the body minutely, we see that it functions out of habit. Unconsciously, the body develops a style of working and follows it throughout life. If we want to change the habit, the body does not respond immediately because it clings to the known. It is slow to learn and once it learns, it is very slow to give up. It is as though the pattern is encoded in every cell of the body. So you see, for example, that different people have different habitual postures.
The body in time loses its plasticity and receptivity:
We have this experience that though the mind is able to figure out the skills involved in a game, it takes time for the body to master the skills. The mind seems to be more fluid, but the basis of this fluidity should be body. Until and unless the body is able to assimilate the processes perceived by the mind there is a gap. The body requires time and practice to assimilate and bridge that gap. As the body ages, rigidity creeps in. This is why we find young children learn more comfortably and quickly than adults. Yet, it is not impossible to overcome this rigidity in adulthood.
The emotions and mind influence the body:
The body reflects the emotions and mind. When we are going through intense emotional turbulence-mental agony or extreme joy-these states are reflected in the body. We have all experienced bodily lethargy and lightness as well.
After we have properly understood the tendencies and limitations of the physical body, we can be progressive as well as realistic and strive to achieve the right kind of physical health education. We need to work continuously to find solutions to overcome limitations. Therefore in setting the aims for the physical education programme, we have to take into account the larger picture toward which we are striving. Though our focus is on the body, we cannot forget the totality of which it is a part. The larger question is, can the body be a part of the enquiry towards a higher living? Can the body be a true instrument for expressing beauty and harmony of a higher order?
I would like to suggest, keeping in mind the larger intent, that we consider the following points for a physical health education programme.
- To make the body a ready and willing instrument for sane living.
Here we mean the body's ability to be able to meet appropriately and effectively the challenges posed by life. The body by its nature is full of 'tamas', or inertia, which works as a gravitational force against the progress one intends to make. Overcoming this resistance effortlessly is the challenge. The joy of learning prepares the body to respond appropriately.
- To awaken the body consciousness.
Here we refer to an awareness that sometimes manifests in the form of instinct, sometimes as a natural, apparently causeless repulsion for certain kinds of food or environment. This must guide the programme for each individual. This consciousness of the body is usually sidelined by the conscious mind, which always tries to rationalize and find a cause for everything.
- To control and discipline the body functions.
It is said our body has nine systems that operate harmoniously. But due to various inner and outer influences the harmony among these systems gets affected, resulting in disease and malfunctioning of certain organs. If we develop an understanding about these systems and their relationship with mind and emotion, we can ensure a smooth and relaxed functioning of all organs and limbs.
- To develop holistically.
All aspects of body and its training need to be scientifically examined, implemented and evaluated. For example, if we observe children we notice that in the process of growing up they lose their suppleness and flexibility. The challenge then before us is how to allow the body to grow, yet retain the necessary flexibility. We therefore select activities to help us in our endeavour.
- To correct defects and deformities.
We should work on corrective measures to overcome lopsided growth and deficiency due to malnutrition and bad habits. When we observe the body we see that it has two kinds of needs: a 'growing up' need, and a 'deficiency' need. Sports programmes in general do address the former, but children with deficiencies do not get the right input. Corrective measures can be taken up in consultation with physiotherapists, doctors and yoga teachers.
- To strive for beauty and harmony.
This has to be the guiding principle for all the points mentioned above. It is the physical domain that provides the right kind of ground for the expression of beauty. The organization of materials in one's own home or in the work place reflects one's aesthetic sense. When a child learns to organize his things in an orderly way, he becomes open to appreciate beauty in his surroundings and in nature.
Thus the programme should envisage a body beautiful in its form, harmonious in its coordination, nimble and supple in its movement and resistant in its health. I go on to suggest four directives that will integrate all the possibilities in an individual.
Awareness in daily living of the functions and skills of the body. It includes an awareness of the body in rhythm and movement, in rest, relaxation and rest in action. There needs to be an understanding of cleanliness, sleep and bodily instincts.
The capacity to see the demand of a situation on the mind, emotion and body, to understand the necessary skills and inhibiting patterns involved, adapt and respond to the situation appropriately.
Discipline in the functioning of the senses. The senses are windows through which all information enters the brain. Thus there is a need to sharpen the senses through training. There is also the need for correcting malfunctions or deformations in the system, heeding expert advice and therapeutic guidance.
Designing activities to promote stamina, agility, speed, suppleness, neuromuscular coordination, balance, reflex, endurance, flexibility, and strength in consultation with the child. There must be scope for activities to face one's fears and limitations, and to explore one's relationship with teammates and with performance.
Finally, at the core of any physical education programme is play. Playing is a natural act. Through play, animals master many important skills and abilities for their survival. When we engage in any action playfully, we learn faster. Perhaps, and importantly, on this authentic 'playground' we can begin to learn about ourselves.
Alok Mohanty has been in the field of education for the last seventeen years. He has taught social sciences, history, theatre and physical education at Rajghat Besant School for the last six years. He had earlier worked in Mirambika, the integral schools in Orissa, and at Hyderabad. He has been passionate about physical education, specifically the the body-mind relationship. He is presently engaged in designing a curriculum for the junior school and exploring the role of the body in learning.