Energy practice as longevity intervention
Cultivating energy capacity can increase your subjective lifespan.
Longevity researchers talk about extending the human lifespan1. People immersed in the ‘productivity subculture’ talk about carefully managing time or attention to get more things done2. I claim they share an underlying desire; to bring forth more from life, to have more vividness, richness, satisfaction. One factor that hugely mediates how much you can make of life is energy. I have seen few people in these subcultures talk about the importance of energy, and even fewer notice that it is a capacity you can explicitly cultivate.
On different conceptions of energy
In the western culture, energy is usually referred to either as a fairly specific scientific entity that is measured in joules or watt-hours, or else a very vague description of how a body feels (“I feel energized”).
In contrast, eastern spiritual traditions have a number of very detailed frameworks around the practice and cultivation of energy, also referred to as prana (in the Indian yogic traditions), qi/chi/氣 (in Chinese/Japanese traditions), rLung (in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition3). You may have seen, for instance, the map of meridian lines in the human body, which correspond to channels that qi moves through.
Taking an empirical approach
There’s a part of me — you might call him the scientific materialist — that wants to dismiss all this as ‘woo’. These people talking about energy sound crazy. Where are the RCTs? I appreciate that part, but I also note that by not trying any of these practices myself, I’d be a bad empiricist. I’m now pretty convinced that a large chunk of energy traditions/ practices is the product of rigorous empirical testing, and that our western scientific conception of the human body is mostly compatible with these claims.
In hindsight I am incredibly glad that I didn’t let this part of me prevent me from trying different practices out. They’ve had a pretty large impact on my quality of life.
You can cultivate energy capacity
We know that exercising, eating well, and sleeping enough are important for energy levels. Getting these factors right are fantastic, and should probably be the first thing to attune to. There are also many practices in the various traditions that are explicitly for cultivating energy capacity.
I am very much a beginner when it comes to various energy practices. Still, there are three broad systems of techniques I’ve been shown and which I believe can actually expand energy capacity. They are Qigong (Daoist / Confucian), Pranayama (Yogic / Indian), and Tsa-lung (Tibetan Buddhist).
All of these practices would benefit greatly from finding a teacher who can instruct you. Tsa-lung, for instance, is typically only taught from teacher to student orally. It may seem strange that practices involving only breath and no fierce physical movements can be dangerous, but having been damaged by practices before, I want to urge newcomers to be careful in their practice4.
My personal experience has been that it’s possible to learn Qigong from a text. I’m much less sure about the other practices.
Some resources I like related to energy cultivation:
- The Way of Energy
- Book on Qigong. I’m not convinced of the reasoning behind the exercises but the exercises themselves and the overall advice is incredible
- A pragmatic user’s guide to, uh, chi
- Blog post on experience with different practices
- Naturalizing Energy Practice
- A short page describing a naturalistic model of what energy practice is
- Chi Explained Without Magic
- “Energizing Pranayama” can be a search term to look into the yogic breathwork tradition
- There are also a number of resources incorporating energetic practices within romance and sex.
I gently welcome you to do the same and discover the wonders of energy practice. You may not end up living many more years, but I would be willing to bet5 that it extends your life in a meaningful way.
Big thanks to Ari Nielsen for generously sharing his thoughts on energy practice.
Keystones within this subculture are Tim Ferriss, Cal Newport, David Allen (of GTD fame). ↩︎
In particular, it was Wim Hof’s breathing technique (which closely resembles certain Kundalini practices) that caused some lasting body tension / pain. Damage from energy techniques is so common in China techniques that they have a saying for it. ↩︎
I would be willing to bet you $20 dollars that after following the instructions in The Way of Energy for a good-faith 30-minute practice per day for 60 days that you would begin to feel notable changes in your energy capacity and sens ↩︎