Integral Education is the philosophy of education based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, emphasizing the integral development of a child in all their parts and faculties, physical, vital, emotional & mental. Each child is seen as an evolving soul, or psychic being, which has come to Earth for a particular purpose or line of development and the ideal education is one which helps the child to develop all of its capacities, become conscious of itself and attain to mastery over all its parts, and at the same time cultivate an awareness of and intimacy with the soul and its deepest purpose and aspiration.
In this series of introductory articles on Integral Education, we will go one by one into each aspect comprising an integral education, highlighting its importance and unique features & modalities, starting with the aspect of Physical Education, and proceeding through Vital & Emotional, Mental, and Spiritual Education. As this introduction must be cursory, further reading for each aspect of Integral Education will be provided at the end of each article.
We must, by means of a rational and clear-seeing physical education, make our body strong and supple so that it may become in the material world a fit instrument for the truth-force which wills to manifest through us.The Mother
As our body is the seat and locus of our soul and mind upon Earth, developing an awareness and a growing mastery of the body is of primary importance in an Integral Education. Thus we start our exploration with Physical Education.
As the physical being is essentially a creature of habits, it is of vital importance that good habits in the matters of food, hygiene, sleep, posture and activity should be cultivated, even from the earliest age. Bad habits and posture formed in early childhood can be very difficult to rectify later in life, and thus can obstruct the free progress of the soul in its evolutionary journey on Earth. Good habits, however, form a support and foundation for the soul in pursuing its deeper aims and aspirations throughout a long and healthy life.
We can delineate the cultivation of good habits into the following main areas:
Diet – In the matter of food, children should be guided to enjoy simple and wholesome food consumed at regular intervals according to their real hunger, and the spoiling of the taste by excessive sweets and highly processed foods and drinks should be avoided. Coercing children with sweets and desirable foods or withholding them as punishment for bad behavior does not create the right attitude in children regarding food and should also be avoided.
Hygiene – Good hygiene should be taught and become a regular daily habit such as showering, brushing the teeth, washing the hands, etc. While a scrupulous respect for hygiene should be encouraged, faith and confidence in one’s natural health and resilience should also be cultivated and there should be no morbid fear of microbes or pathogens or other illness.
Exercise – Physical activity like sports and playing outdoors is of the highest importance in physical education and has the greatest effect in helping the child’s limbs to grow and develop naturally and ensure excellent health. As the child matures and grows, a program of exercise and physical activity of a more methodical nature suited to the child’s individual temperament and interest should be encouraged. Time devoted to exercise and physical activity should become a daily, lifelong habit.
Sleep – With regard to sleep, children should be coaxed to sleep when they are tired, napping as necessary when young, and getting to sleep early. Staying up late is harmful to the quality of rest, and thus also harmful to the nerves of children. Therefore, a regular early bedtime should be encouraged and children should not be indulged in staying up late due to excessive excitement or artificial stimulation from television or video games.
Beauty – And lastly, the final element of physical education is the cultivation of a sense of physical beauty, harmony and proportion. And this not out of vanity or attracting attention, but out of the love and devotion for beauty itself, because true beauty is also an aspect of the divine nature.
It is therefore through an enlightened physical education that children can be guided to respect and attain to the physical qualities of good health, strength, suppleness, harmony and balance and to develop good habits to support them throughout life.
And yet, even if the early education of a child or person has been found wanting, according to the Mother, “It is never too soon to begin nor too late to continue”. Even though extra effort and discipline is needed to rectify wrong habits or physical weakness, stiffness or rigidity, this effort should not be neglected at any age as its benefits are numerous.
The growth into adulthood brings with it further challenges which demand attention and careful consideration with regard to the physical life, such as the question of sexual activity and reproduction, regular work and fruitful occupation, and the tempation of vices like drugs and other excesses. A sufficient early education will help a youth to meet these challenges with the right consciousness and a foundation of healthy habits, discipline and moderation will instinctively support them in keeping a balance as they pursue the lines of experience in life that further the soul’s growth. How to meet these questions and challenges depends largely on the soul and its aim, which will be expanded upon in later articles.
Further reading on Integral Education and Physical Education can be found in the following titles available with Auromère: