Ancient traditions and philosophies identify vitality as the energy or force underlying all life – a deep-seated enthusiasm and vigour, a zest for life, an all-round ‘aliveness’, which is closely associated with happiness and wellbeing. It is an infusion of positive energy experienced physically, mentally and emotionally – a vital person is joyful and beautiful and infectiously energises those around them. Vitality can be high even in a person who is sick, old or disabled.
One significant way to enhance our vitality and increase our positive energy is to use our bodies – physical exercise is distinctly linked to a sense of wellbeing and an all-round enjoyment of life. Exercise releases endorphins – the body’s ‘feel good’ chemicals – and the resulting increase in energy allow us to engage more fully with all areas of our lives. For this purpose, experts recommend we choose a form of exercise which we really enjoy and can maintain without stress, focusing mainly on improving physical flexibility.
Huh? Breathing counts as exercise? Well, not really of course, but it’s a great place to start. Proper breathing – slow, relaxed, smooth and even – increases energy and vitality, improving the flow of oxygen through the blood and jump-starting the metabolism while providing an overall sense of ‘energised calmness’. Deep rhythmic breathing restores our equilibrium and allows for positive harmony between body and mind. Spending just a few minutes on ‘conscious breathing’ every day – preferably in the morning – will enhance the benefits of any other kind of exercise.
How to: Sit in a comfortable position with your hands on your knees and your shoulders relaxed, breathing through your nose rather than your mouth. Begin with a full exhalation to empty your lungs completely, counting to five as you do so, tightening your abdominal muscles and drawing in your diaphragm to help your lungs deflate. At the bottom of the breath, pause for two counts then inhale slowly to the count of five, expanding your belly. Close your eyes, concentrating on the breath, and repeat, imagining your diaphragm as the pump and your breath as the power. Start with taking five deep breaths every day for a week, then increase it to ten.
Okay, this is also not exactly exercise – but it is a great way to improve the circulation of the blood through the body, leading to increased energy levels and greater flexibility. Stretching comes naturally and feels good and you can do it anywhere and at any time.
How to: Start gently, rotating areas like your wrists and shoulders to lubricate the joints. Then work your way up or down your body, holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds (up to 60 seconds if you become aware of a really tight muscle). Stretch both sides of your body equally. Don’t hold your breath, but relax and breathe normally through your nose. It’s important that the stretch does not become painful; the aim is to relax tense muscles and boost endorphins.
Suitable for all ages and fitness levels, walking is fun, safe and requires no special skills or equipment. Done on a regular basis, it increases fitness and flexibility and raises energy levels and general wellbeing.
How to: Try to walk for at least 30 minutes every day, in the early morning or the evening, and try to avoid busy roads so you can experience the added advantages of fresh air and calm surroundings. For maximum benefit, swing your arms as you walk and breathe naturally and deeply through your nose. Build up gradually to a consistent brisk pace, make walking part of your daily routine, and you’ll soon feel the difference.
Also great for all ages, and with no restrictions related to health or weight, swimming is in many ways the perfect low-risk workout. It strengthens the cardiovascular system and the muscles and improves circulation, joint mobility and flexibility. It has definite psychological benefits too – water massages and soothes the body, releasing those all-important endorphins and increasing vitality.
How to: Again, build up gradually, starting with 10 minutes a day. You don’t have to stick to swimming laps either – you can vary the routine by doing different strokes, walking as briskly as you can in the water from one side of the pool to the other, or swimming using either only legs or only arms.
Another great mind-body workout, dancing can be magical and transforming, brightening all aspects of life and releasing joy and vitality like no other form of exercise. Dancing improves strength, flexibility and co-ordination, builds endurance and stamina, and improves the flow of blood to the brain. Levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body are regulated, increasing positive energy and resulting in an enhanced sense of wellbeing.
How to: You can put on your favourite music and dance around your house, or you could join a class in belly dancing, tap dancing, ballroom, jazz, line dancing, flamenco – whatever takes your fancy. Start dancing, and you might not want to stop!
Even moderate regular activity results in an immediate raising of energy levels, allowing us to do more in all areas of our lives. This in turn increases joy, positivity, and zeal, enhancing that magical, luminous, beautiful quality of vitality.