The purpose of bodily regulation is not physical deprivation but spiritual connection
Some religious seekers subject the body to deprivation through extreme fasting or even self-flagellation. They think that such deprivation will lead to detachment and eventually spiritual advancement.
However, physical deprivation doesn’t remove the foundation of illusion – self-centeredness. Just as self-gratification is self-centered, so frequently is self-deprivation: “I am enjoying so much” or “I am renouncing so much.” Both keep our consciousness caught in the self or, more precisely, in our mistaken equalization of the self with the body.
Gita wisdom disapproves such extremes of obsession with the body, be it pandering to its every demand or denying its every need. The Gita (06.16) declares that such extremists can’t become yogis. The word yoga refers to connection, essentially connection of the soul with the Supersoul. Those who are self-centered, either due to excessive indulgence or extreme abstinence, can’t fix their consciousness on Krishna steadily.
The next verse (06.17) endorses bodily regulation as the facilitator for successful practice of yoga. Regulation ensures that the body is duly nourished, but not unduly pampered. Such regulation frees the mind from the frenzy that overwhelms those who cater to the body’s every whim and also the worry that haunts those who fear bodily malnourishment.
The healthiest way to arrive at such regulation is by focusing the consciousness on Krishna. This devotional focus provides higher spiritual satisfaction, thereby enabling us to view the body without a vision-distorting hunger for pleasure. This clear vision helps us see the spiritual potential of the physical body as a valuable tool for serving Krishna – a tool that is nearly indispensable as long as we are embodied.
Thus by giving due priority to the purpose of spiritual connection, we can avoid the twin pitfalls of self-gratification and self-deprivation, and march steadily towards self-actualization.