Sensory Sparks

As we start 2019, we’re looking at ways that we can all live life better.

We’re doing this by thinking about the ways that we interact with the world through our senses – how what we see, hear, smell, taste and how we feel can help us to live a better life. Each week we’ll be sharing things that you can do to have better sensory experiences – from eating certain foods to spending more time with nature.

Read on to find out how you can improve your life using your senses…

Spark one: Sign up to Action for Happiness’ 10 Keys to Happier Living

Different things will lead to feeling happy for different people but Action for Happiness has identified 10 keys that will help everyone to find happiness – giving, relating, exercising, awareness, trying out, direction, resilience, emotions, acceptance, and meaning.

They have come up with 51 practical things that you can do that will help you on the path to happiness. The actions don’t have to be big or time consuming – small things can cause big positive changes. Head to the Action for Happiness website to find out more and learn how you could feel happier.

Spark two: Expand your horizons by planning a trip overseas

How better to see, hear, smell, taste and feel new things than visiting somewhere new?

Not sure where to start? Virgin Holidays has collated recommendations from millions of social media posts to give you all the holiday inspiration you need in one place.

Take a look at the sights you could see and the food you could taste in some of Virgin Holidays’ most popular destinations on the Virgin Holidays website now.

Spark three: Eat with your eyes

Take a new approach to your food and eat foods of only one colour for one whole day. Think of it as an opportunitity to use ingredients in a new way and consider your food differently.

If you’re in need of some inspiration, head over to The Splendid Table and have a listen to Amanda Thieroff’s audio story about her week on the ROY G BIV diet, where she spent a week eating foods the colour of the rainbow – one colour a day.

Spark four: Rave your way into the day

You might not think of raving as a daytime activity and certainly not a morning activity – unless you’re still going from the night before! But Morning Gloryville has been running conscious clubbing events since 2013, kick-starting the day with inspirational, energising music and mesmerising visual entertainment.

You can expect massages, organic coffee and smoothie bars, yoga, and some personal motivation to get you going for the day. Head over to the Morning Gloryville website to find out more.

Spark five: Give your eyes a work out

Stereograms were all the rage in the 90s but did you know that training your eyes to see the 3D illusions could be good for your vision?

If you fancy getting nostalgic – and also giving your eyes a work out – you can create your own stereogram online. Or take a look at one that we’ve commissioned for our Live Life Better series below…

Sight stereogram by Heather Buchanan for Virgin.com

Spark six: Listen and learn from an elderly person

There’s a lot to be said for spending time with someone from an older generation, or even just having a chat on the phone. Take some time to speak to one of your older relatives or a neighbour and listen to their experiences of life.

If you don’t have any elderly people in your life, you can volunteer as a befriender through Age UK.

Spark seven: Try something new with Virgin Experience Days

Interested in wine tasting, beer tasting, or maybe even chilli tasting? Perhaps you want to see London from a new angle or capture your experiences in photographs? Fancy making your own perfume or learning a new dance style? Or do you just want to feel the thrill of doing something you’ve never done before?

Virgin Experience Days have got your back. With experiences covering all the senses, you’re sure to come away with a new outlook and a great story to tell. Plus they’re offering Virgin.com readers an exclusive 15 per cent off all purchases before the end of February with the code LiveBetter15.

(Code not valid against special offers or excluded products which are already at the best price possible.)

Virgin Experience Days image

Spark eight: Eat to fuel your body and mind with gut enhancing foods

Your initial instinct when you’re told to eat foods that enhance bacteria might be to assume it would make you ill. In fact many have an essential role to play in keeping you healthy.

Trillions of microbes live in your body, with your gut hosting the most dense microbe population. The microbes in your gut help with digestion, immune function and weight regulation. It makes sense then that your diet affects the bacteria in your gut – but how can you make sure you’re having the right combination of foods to give the good bacteria a boost?

Advice from the BBC says that we should eat a wide range of plant-based foods, more fibre and avoid highly processed foods. But what about foods like yoghurt, cheese, fermented foods and raw milk that are supposedly good for a healthy gut? Head to the BBC website to find out.

Spark nine: Hit the floor and give us 20 reps to improve your smell

It’ll come as no surprise to most that humans’ sense of smell is a million times less sensitive than a dog’s. But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve it. In fact, even exercise can heighten our sense of smell, according to Professor Tim Jacob from the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University.

Vigorous exercise increases adrenalin, which constricts blood vessels in the nose, which in turn increases nasal airflow. “Increased airflow will improve smell,” Professor Jacob explains. “However, the nasal volume returns to normal after exercise.”

If you want to get exercising to experience enhanced smell, check out Virgin Active.

Virgin Active image

Spark 10: Learn to play an instrument

Piano, guitar, or even the recorder – the benefits of learning to play an instrument are numerous. Not only will it help you to become a better listener and reduce your stress, learning a new instrument can also improve your posture, help you manage your time and exercise your mind.

Find out more about the benefits of playing an instrument and try the free sample lessons on ArtistWorks.

Spark 11: Get out of the city and into the countryside. Now inhale.

Living in a big city? It’s time to get out. Get into nature, into the countryside and get some feel fresh air in those lungs.

Take some deep breaths, smell the smells and see the sights of the countryside.

Need some countryside inspiration? Head to Virgin Trains to take a look at their destinations in the Lake District and North Wales.

Spark 12: Fast track into relaxation with a gong sound bath

Never heard of a sound bath? Stop running the taps and listen.

“Sound Therapy has been used for thousands of years in many different cultures all with the same intention; to move us from a place of imbalance to balance,” Puranshant Kaur, a yoga teacher and sound bath practitioner in Ireland explains

Now you know the potential healing properties of sound, look up your nearest sound bath – if you’re in Manchester take a look at this Meet Up group.

Spark 13: Hug a pet to bliss out on 'cuddle chemicals'

If you already have a cuddly pet, you probably know that hugging it makes you feel better. But did you know that science has proven that having a pet is good for your health?

According to researchers at the Claremonth Graduate University in California, cuddling a pet causes the ‘cuddle chemical’ oxytocin to be released, giving a calming and soothing effect for both you and your pet. In turn this leads to the development of a strong bond between pet and owner and can have similar health benefits to human relationships. So what are you waiting for? Go and hug that pet of yours!

Spark 14: Find your enough to feel good with Virgin Active

Exercising isn’t about going crazy and doing so much that you can’t walk for a week. Virgin Active is encouraging you to do enough to live the life you want to live.

Sign up to Virgin Active in the UK during January and you won’t pay a joining fee – plus you’ll get January and February for free. Terms and conditions apply.

Spark 15: Properly chew your food to release the flavour

Want to have the best tasting meal? The secret could be in the chewing.

American health food expert Horace Fletcher was famous for his views on chewing, advocating for food to be chewed at least 100 times per minute. He claimed that by excessively chewing food it would mix properly with saliva and he would be able to draw more strength from less food.

He put his theory to the test aged 58 by going up against athletes from Yale University in tests of strength and endurance – and outperforming them in every test. Find out more about the benefits of chewing your food thoroughly.

Two people smile while eating chips and burgers

Spark 16: Add some colour to your workout

There are all sorts of benefits of looking at different colours – especially when it comes to lights.

As Nina Ryner, founder of ChromaYoga – a new approach to yoga combining light and colour therapy techniques, explains about home lighting in the Live Life Better podcast: “You want to avoid looking at your phone or your laptop because they are really strong emitters of blue light and swapping any cold white light bulbs for amber ones or ones that more of a warmer, orange hue.”

But this extends to the colours you experience when you exercise too; listen to the podcast to find out more.

Spark 17: Try eye yoga for sharper vision

Did you know that the eye muscles are the fastest muscles in the human body? Thanks to our 21st century habits, it’s easy for those muscles to become lazy so it’s important to give them a workout. Karl Ryberg, architect, psychologist and author of Light Your Life, explains in the Live Life Better podcast: “Looking at a mobile phone, sitting at an office desk, our eye muscles get very passive. We stare, we ogle, we just look at small objects that are close up, whereas the healthy human eye moves three to five times per second, looking at this and that and what’s going on in the corner of your eye.

“It’s a survival instinct so modern people have lazy eyes and lazy bodies and lazy everything. To retrain these muscles is the essence of eye yoga, it was invented back in the 1920s by a Dr Bates in the US who was working with schoolchildren and found that training the eyes you could often discard the glasses and regain the natural vision.”

Listen to the podcast to find out more and discover exercises that you can do to train your eyes.

Spark 18: Sleep outside in nature

There are all kinds of benefits of becoming one with nature – you’ll get to engage all your senses while you’re in the great outdoors. Guest editor Dr Kate Stone is a particular advocate for sleeping outside in nature – and she’s not wrong.

According to research, sleeping outside is one of the best ways to improve the quality of your sleep. Sleeping outside exposes you to natural light, which helps reset your body clock to be in line with natural circadian rhythms.

It also helps you to get away from indoor fluorescent lighting, which has a negative effect on sleep quality as it suppresses the production of melatonin, the sleepy hormone. Sleeping outside can also help improve your immunity levels, body and brain functions, and reduce stress.

Find out more about what the research says about sleeping outside.

Spark 19: Look after your financial health

Finances can be one of the biggest sources of stress so take some time to learn what you can change to improve your financial health.

Virgin Money has some great tips for building better financial habits, including: set a budget, spend less money, mange debts, and set a savings goal. Head over to Virgin Money to find out more.

Dancers show off their freestyle moves at Virgin Active

Spark 20: Learn to move like Beyonce in a dance class

Feeling the beats pump through your body and shaking that stress away to some of the coolest dance tracks out there is a sure fire way to living life better in 2019.

Dance has been proven to reduce anxiety as we focus on learning how to move our bodies and feel the benefits of the feel-good hormone dopamine flooding our senses as soon as “Lemonade” hits the stereo. Virgin Active runs a number of different dance classes, find out where you can get your street beat on here, or dance freestyle to different music styles here.

Spark 21: Close your eyes and look out of the window

Taking time out of our routine to just stare out of the window might not sound like the most productive use of your day, but actually, the art of just letting our mind work through problems without direction is undervalued.

Staring out of the window gives us the opportunity to the quieter parts of our minds and imaginations, that may sometimes be dominated by louder stress and anxiety thoughts. Periods of unstructured calm are the perfect way to either take some time out from the craziness of daily life, or give is the chance to work out solutions in a more creative way. Listen to Dr Kate Stone talk more here.

Spark 22: Spice up your plate with some jerk or chilli

If you’re a hot sauce fiend and find yourself adding spice to pretty much everything you eat, you might be on the road to a more chilled life. Studies show that chili peppers contain stress-beating vitamins including riboflavin and thiamin which can stimulate endorphins in your brain, making you feel perkier.

These endorphins can block pain but can also give you a happy rush – perfect for reducing stress levels!

Spark 23: Sign up for a life drawing class

Having hobbies are a great stress reliever, and can help you to take your mind off busy periods at work. While it might seem counterintuitive to sign up for a hobby when you’ve already got a lot on your plate, doing something like life drawing is a great way to tune out and focus on something fun.

Life drawing is a group activity, something you can do with a friend, and can give you a sense of achievement while also letting you chill out on an evening. Pick up your sketching pencils and find out more here.

Touch stereogram by Heather Buchanan for Virgin.com

Spark 24: Listen to the dawn chorus

If you’re someone who sleeps in, you could be missing out on some of nature’s greatest hits. Get up early this week and listen for the dawn chorus.

“It exists in urban and rural places. England is one of the most amazing places to listen to the dawn chorus – even in London,” Nick Ryan said on episode three of the Live Life Better podcast. “The dawn chorus is triggered, it is thought, by light levels so birds at the top of the tree who receive more sunlight than birds at the bottom will start it and as the sun brightens and falls through the branches birds further down will join them in what is this magnificent song between all sorts of species. And it’s about an hour before the sun rises.”

Spark 25: Belt out your favourite song at karaoke

What’s your go-to karaoke hit? Get out tonight and belt it for everyone to hear.

Singing stimulates the brain, it’s a stress reliever and it helps you to show your feelings and emotions. Getting up on the stage can also help you to build your confidence and make you feel better about yourself. Find out more about the benefits of singing karaoke and hit the stage now.

Spark 26: Eat your meals with others

Not only is spending time with other people good for your general wellbeing, according to research it could actually make your food taste better.

Researchers at the University of Udine in Italy looked at the impact of eating with other people on the food experience. They found that people who are in a state of joy (such as spending time with your favourite people) had a positive food experience.

Spark 27: Get away from your desk

If you have a desk-based job, it’s really important to get away from it for a little time each day. Virgin Pulse encourages its members to get outside and breathe some fresh air at least once a day.

According to research from the University of Essex, just five minutes a day in nature is enough to improve mood and self-esteem. Dr Valier Gladwell, senior lecturer in sport and exercise science said: “We think that walking outside releases endorphins and hormones that promote better mood such as oxytocin, the feel good hormone.”

Spark 28: Sink your hands into soil

It’s time to give your green fingers some exercise this week. As our recent podcast guest Alice Vincent explained, there are many benefits of gardening. And not having a garden is no excuse.

She said: “Regardless of what space you’ve got, whether that’s a windowsill, a balcony or a garden, there are some things that you can sow now. And that’s chillis and tomatoes. Everything else you can wait but there are lots of people sowing things. And the one thing I would sow right now that I would say anybody can probably get something out of is peashoots.

“Peashoots are great because they fulfil a lot of things I think are good reasons to grow: they’re difficult or slightly tasteless when you get them in the supermarket, growing them is so much better, and they’re the kind of garnish you can put on anything.”

Spark 29: Take your shoes and socks off. Walk around

Tony Riddle explained the benefits of going barefoot in our Live Life Better podcast episode on touch. He said: “There are like 200,000 exo-receptors in your feet – the same level as you have in your hands.

“I think with being barefoot, anything you put between you and the earth it stops you being grounded. But it also alters the mechanics of your foot and the way that your foot will behave. There’s 33 joints, 26 bones, and a hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments in your feet. If you wear any footwear that’s pointed or compromises that toe shape that means that every one of those tendons, bones and ligaments is off and that then affects how the ankle behaves, the knee behaves, the hip behaves, so that’s a very ancient biomechanical system.”

Spark 30: Immerse yourself in a movie

Whether you’re at home or heading out to the cinema, watching a movie can be an all-encompassing sensory experience. With the Oscar nominations having been announced there’s plenty to choose form at the cinema.

Or if you’re based in Ireland you could check out the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival. Running from February 20th to March 3rd, the festival promises exclusive screenings and some big names from the film industry will be in town. Head over to the website to find out more and book your tickets now.

Image from Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival

Spark 31: Seek out some silence

In the modern world it’s hard to find silence. There seems to be a continuous buzz of noise wherever you go. But, according to a 2011 World Health Organisation report, “there is overwhelming evidence that exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of the population”.

Take action against that and find time to seek out some silence, which, according to a Huffington Post piece, will help you to relieve stress and tension, replenish your mental resources, and regenerate brain cells.

Spark 32: Get lost in music with Sofar Sounds

Discovering new artists is a great way to keep our brains ticking over, absorbing new sounds and cultures. Take a listen to the Sofar Sounds playlist designed especially for Virgin to broaden your musical mind

Spark 33: Cook from scratch

It’s often said we’ve lost our connection to the world around us. We’re too busy picking up ready-meals or buying frozen that we lose sight of our connection to nature, and our source of food. This is why it’s important to learn how to cook from raw ingredients so you can discover new flavours and develop a skill at the same time.

Check out Rachel Ama’s recipe for a vegan jerk feast, right here.

Spark 34: Wake up and smell the aromatherapy oils

The right smell can put us in the right frame of mind, so choose scents like lemon to get your day off in the best way. Pro-tip: try sprinkling oils on the floor of your shower to get a spa-boost from the spray. Listen to the Exploring Smell episode of the Live Life Better podcast for more tips about the best scents to sniff to boost your mood

Spark 35: Listen to the sound of the waves

Whether you're sitting on the shore, or travelling off somewhere on a boat or a ship, listening to the sound of the waves can help to relax you. Virgin Voyages is now open for bookings and a cruise can take you onto a voyage of discovery. Sit on deck and listen to the waves gently lapping on the hull of the boat and enjoy the meditative qualities of the sea.

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