Vitality is a name given that force or principle possessed by
living things. In the case of human beings, controversy has long
raged between those who interpret vitality mechanistically as
the energy derived from food and oxygen intake and those who
support theories of vitalism, a doctrine that the origin and phenomena
of life derive from a vital principle as distinct from a
purely chemical or physical force.
Vitalists argue that the mechanistic view appears inadequate
as a matter of everyday experience, since there are limits to the
vitality obtainable from oxidation of food and air. At a certain
point of eating and breathing one becomes tired, and it is impossible
to regain vitality without rest and sleep. Exactly what
happens in the sleep state to enhance vitality is still not entirely
clear. It does appear, however, that the human body is not simply
an internal combustion machine, but rather an energy
transforming machine. Contrary to the energy combustion view
is the fact that fasting may often enhance vitality rather than
deplete it.
The mind also has a profound effect on the vital condition
of the body, as, vitalists further suggest, is clear from one’s attitude
to life, as well as the special phenomena of hypnosis and
the profound effects which are possible through meditation
techniques. It would seem that subtle processes are involved in
energy transformation of food and air and the relationship of
such transformation to the psychic life of human beings and
their mental activities, states of consciousness, and sociological
and spiritual aspirations.
Various great religions posit the existence of an individual
soul as an essential principle of a human being, influenced by
the physical and mental life as well as by environment and food
intake, but independent from the physical body and surviving
it after death. Spiritualists and psychical researchers have offered
evidence for such survival, while materialists have argued
that the phenomena presented as evidence of such apparent
survival may be nothing more than mental artifacts. However,
even this latter view also predicates mental life as capable of existing
in a form almost as subtle as that of the claimed soul.
From a subjective point of view, the experience of out-ofthe-body
travel or astral projection has usually carried an
overwhelming awareness of individuality as distinct from the
body, which it apparently leaves, and for many individuals the
experience has been one of deep religious conviction. J. Sylvan
Muldoon, a pioneer writer on the subject, has argued in the
light of his out-of-the-body experiences that the sleep state is
a condition of vitality transfer between a ‘‘soul body’’ and the
physical body, drawing upon some subtle life force outside the
Such a view is similar to the Polynesian concept of mana and
the Hindu concept of prana, a subtle principle in the air and
in food that is transformed into kundalini, energy in the body.
A proportion of kundalini remains static in the body, but may
become dynamic in sexual activity. It may also be diverted to
subtle centers in the body through the spinal column by the
practice of meditation in conjunction with the psycho-physical
effects of purification of the mind and emotions, traditionally
through self-purification and ethical living. Ancient Hindu
treatises on prana have described at length the atomic structure
of matter and its connection with the subtle currents of prana
operating in the universe generally, as well as modified in the
individual human being.
Carrington, Hereward. Vitality, Fasting and Nutrition. New
York Rebman, 1908.
Crookall, Robert. During Sleep The Possibility of ‘‘CoOperation’’
Between the Living and the Dead. New Hyde Park,
N.Y. University Books, 1974.
Gopi, Krishna. The Biological Basis of Religion and Genius.
New York Harper & Row, 1972.
Hollander, Bernard. In Search of the Soul and the Mechanism
of Thought, Emotion, and Conduct. 2 vols. London Kegan Paul;
New York E. P. Dutton, 1920.
LeShan, Lawrence L. The Medium, The Mystic and The Physicist.
New York Viking; London Turnstone Books, 1974.
Muldoon, Sylvan J., and Hereward Carrington. The Projection
of the Astral Body. London Rider, 1920.
Rama Prasad. The Science of Breath and the Philosophy of Tattvas
. . . Nature’s Finer Forces. 3rd rev. ed., Adhyr, Madras, India
Theosophical Publishing Society, 1897.
Wheeler, L. Richmond. Vitalism Its History and Validity. London
Witherby, 1939.

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