Stop what you are doing right now and tune in to your body. Check your breathing and muscle tension. Now scan your energy levels. Are you flagging or filled with vigour and vitality?
If you are alert but operating from a centre of calm, it’s likely that many systems in your body are in a healthy state, providing you with the emotional and physical stamina you need to navigate every day. But if you feel depleted when you wake, suffer the 3pm daily dip or fight heavy eyelids the second you sit down after dinner, you are clearly running on a low body battery. You crave a break or detox to bring your body and mind back into balance. However, if you’re low on energy, chances are you’re also low on time. You can’t hold out for a holiday. You need an energy upgrade today.
Adopt the following calming, nourishing and rejuvenating exercises and activities and help your exhaustion and stress melt away.
1. Stimulate & soothe your senses
Savour a minty scent
Peppermint has long been used to soothe the digestive system and settle respiratory ailments, including asthma. However, peppermint is also a potent pick-me-up. Tiredness decreases by up to 25 per cent or more when people inhale peppermint, according to research at the Wheeling Jesuit University in the US. Even during a simple typing study, participants exposed to a peppermint scent showed a significant increase in their typing speed and accuracy.
The mint appears to stimulate nerves in the brain associated with wakefulness. So, if you’re out of pep, gently heat some oil of peppermint in a burner, dab a little minty oil on your temples or down some peppermint tea and inhale the fresh scent deeply as you sip.
Indulge in a massage
Convince your partner to give you a foot or back massage, or treat yourself to a massage by a trained therapist. Massage greatly improves circulation. It relieves tension and pain in the connective tissue and the muscles, stretching and lengthening them, which then helps to deliver more oxygen more rapidly and effectively around your body.
You may opt for a therapeutic massage, which relies on a series of strokes designed to ease tension and tightness along the major postural muscle groups of the body. Or you may choose a deep-tissue massage, which targets the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue as well as ligaments all over the body or in areas where there is specific pain.
Other types of massage such as Thai and shiatsu work on clearing energy meridians. They increase muscle-tissue flexibility, release tension, improve circulation and oxygenate tissues, correcting energy flow so that energy is stimulated and restored.
Sip something spicy
Herbal stimulants such as ginger, cayenne, garlic, black pepper and cloves increase your metabolism, boost circulation and warm your body, helping you feel revitalised. Add them to herbal teas or to a little warm water when you need a boost.
Rest your eyes
Stress, poor sleep and too much time on screens can make eyes feel dry, scratchy and sore. If your eyes feel heavy with exhaustion, don’t keep them in a fixed position for too long. Try this exercise to flex all six sets of muscles that control eye position: keeping your head still, follow the lines of a cross-style star shape with your eyes, going from the side to the bottom and finishing with the diagonals.
When you can barely keep your eyes open, a short vision break can be very restorative. Lie for 10 minutes with a cool/warm compress, slices of cucumber or cooled, used teabags on closed eyes. Or, if you are at your desk, take a tissue or silk scarf, hold it with both hands and cover your eyes with your palms to block out light. Close your eyes for several minutes.
Splash your face
This is not just a showy trick in Hollywood movies and should be reserved for occasions when you really need to fast-track to full-speed alertness. Splash or pat cold water on your cheeks, the front of your neck and your décolletage/chest. Finish off your bracing “head bath” with a quick cold-water gargle. The big splash works because this part of your body is close to your brain; it’s very sensitive to temperature changes, particularly if they are sudden. It then activates certain nerves and responses, leaving you more wakeful and ready to take on the world.
2. Fire up your circulation
Different kinds of exercise boost your circulation, fitness and energy via different body systems. So try to mix it up and get a variety of workouts in each week and even within each day. Stimulate your cardiovascular system and get your blood moving in the morning with a brisk walk or short session of high-interval training: over four minutes, do short intervals of exercise that make you breathless. Within that time, do eight activities at maximum effort continuously for 20 seconds, such as jumping jacks and burpies. Between each one take a 10-second rest.
Later in the day, follow this up with a more meditative form of exercise to improve lymphatic flow and counter stress hormones; yoga and tai chi are good. The powerful twists and inversions encourage a more vigorous flow of energy and circulation, stimulating your lymphatic system to work more effectively. In turn, your body filters toxins better and reduces puffiness in areas like the legs and ankles or arms by draining any fluid between cells.
Dry-brush your skin
The simple practice of dry brushing helps increase circulation and replenish your skin, your body’s largest detoxifying organ. Most importantly, dry brushing improves lymphatic drainage. Invest in a brush with natural bristles, then do the following:
- Starting from your feet, brush up your calves and thighs, moving towards the groin area.
- Brush over the buttocks and up to the mid-back, moving towards the armpits.
- Starting from your hands, brush up your arms to your armpits.
- Move across your shoulders and down the chest towards the heart and down the back of the neck.
- Finally, work on the abdominal area, using a circular movement in a clockwise direction to stimulate the colon.
3. Maximise breathing
Combine these different breathing exercises to combat tiredness and restore your body to a greater balance, which will also regenerate your energy levels:
- The Yogic Breath of Fire. Take a large inhalation through your nose, then exhale in 20 to 30 short bursts as you slowly force the breath out. Use your stomach muscles to help control your exhalation. Breathe normally for five minutes, then repeat.
- Alternating Nostril Breath. Sit on the floor with your knees crossed and back straight (use a folded blanket/rolled-up towel to elevate your bottom). Hold one nostril and breathe slowly through the other for 10 breaths. Swap and continue. Keep alternating for five to 10 minutes.
- Buteyko Control Pause. Hold your breath and pinch your nose closed with your fingers. Start counting as soon as you hold your breath and stop when the urge to breathe occurs, then resume breathing normally but more slowly. Repeat with the aim of slowly building up to a higher count between breaths and while you hold your breath. At the end of the control pause, take a small and quiet intake of the breath — do not gulp in a huge amount of air or you will negate the benefits of the exercise. Do the control pause while walking if you prefer. The exercise can help unblock a congested nose and is a great way to calm and reboot when you feel anxious.
- The Cleansing Breath. Exhale forcefully and inhale deeply through your nose. When your lungs are full of air, exhale through your nose really quickly, pushing out with your stomach muscles as you do. Now start again. Relax your stomach muscles as you breathe in, filling your lungs again with air and then push them out again as you breathe out.
- Reverse Breathing. This technique is used in martial arts and qi gong to boost energy and immunity. Reverse the natural in-and-out movement of the abdomen that usually occurs in breathing. As you breathe in, push out your abdominal muscles and, as you breathe out, relax your diaphragm muscles. Make sure you don’t tense the muscles in your face, neck and chest.
- The Complete Breath. This breathing exercise is often used in yoga. Lie on your bed or on a mat with your legs either straight or frog-legged flat in a diamond shape. Breathe in slowly and imagine the breath is travelling up, filling your middle lungs, expanding your lower ribs, then your middle ribs, then the upper ribs and the upper chest. Hold your breath for no more than five seconds, then exhale slowly through your nose. Breathe normally for two breaths, then repeat the expanding breath.
4. Enjoy nature & nurture
Dine al fresco
Being out in nature makes us feel more alive and vital, according to a series of studies by the University of Rochester in the US. This is hardly surprising — it’s something we all know and feel intuitively. Yet, regardless, we forget just how much a walk on the beach or in the forest can recharge our batteries. Don’t have time? Then use meals as your nature break.
Breakfast on your balcony and start hearing birdsong. Eat your lunch outdoors, preferably in a Garden or park, and enjoy another hit of sky and nature. Sit outside while you enjoy your evening wine, cup of peppermint tea or dinner during the gloaming — that beautiful time of day when the stars are peeping out but it’s not yet dark. As twilight arrives and the world seems more still and picturesque, savour the stillness of the moment and the closeness of the starry night sky.
Set up a serenity space
Turn a corner of one room or your balcony/verandah into your own calming temple complete with pot-pourri/incense, candles and pillows. Download a compilation of soothing music or songs to your music player and sit listening to them in your calming corner. Leaning back on your pillows, engage in progressive relaxation (systematically tense and relax all the muscles in your body). Imagine you are floating on a cloud.
Open your curtains
Increasing your morning exposure to sunlight can help reset your body clock so you feel sleepy at night and more awake in the morning.
Bathe before bed
Run a bath with a sprinkle of aromatherapy essential oils, such as sandalwood or geranium. Put on a talking book or classical music in the background or simply let your thoughts wander. Ensure the bath is tepid — the warmth causes a drop in your body temperature, which then helps faster sleep onset when your head hits the pillow.
Channel flower power
Studies show that flowers reduce depression and heighten happiness, according to research at the State University of New Jersey in the US. These emotions both deplete energy. So place some gerberas, roses, daffodils or a bunch of wildflowers on your desk or kitchen bench and take in the colour, fragrance and delicate Beauty.
Fuel up with food
Eat to energise with the following choices designed to:
1. Promote calm:
- Rye bread. As well as providing longer-lasting energy, complex carbohydrates like wholemeal bread and brown rice stimulate the release of the brain-calming chemical, serotonin.
- Guacamole. Avocados provide a boost in B vitamins, which are quickly depleted when we’re anxious or tense.
- Cashews. Loaded with magnesium, cashews can help reduce stress by reducing nervous system excitability.
- Cottage cheese. Contains tryptophan, which leads to chemical brain responses that promote calmness and sedation.
2. Promote concentration:
- Eggs. The high level of choline helps you produce chemicals called neurotransmitters that boost brain function and recall.
- Carrots. The vitamin A can help boost eyesight and high levels of luteolin help reduce inflammation in the brain, which can worsen memory.
- Popcorn. A wholegrain and high-fibre snack that is digested slowly, popcorn can help boost energy. Go easy on the salt and oil to keep it healthy or go for an air-popped variety.
- Tuna. Packed with omega-3 fatty acids and amino acids that boost brain function, tuna can help your grey matter fire on all cylinders.
3. Promote exercise:
- Raisins. Eating a handful of raisins about 45 minutes before your workout can help you feel more energised, according to research by San Diego University in the US.
- Natural yoghurt. This is high in potassium, which can become depleted from muscle contractions and perspiration during exercise.
- Edamame. Green soybeans are high in protein, which helps your body repair any micro-tears in muscle tissue that might occur through movements like lunges or lifting weights.
- Wholemeal pasta. This complex carbohydrate increases glycogen in the muscles, which becomes depleted during anaerobic exercise such as sprinting or skipping.
Stephanie Osfield is an award-winning freelance health journalist, published in Australia and overseas. She specialises in all aspects of health and women’s health issues. You can follow her blog Savvy by Stephanie Osfield, at savvysteph.com or touch base with Steph on Twitter: @stephosfield.