“Boosting energy” may help enhance productivity and motivation short-term, but the shortsighted fix for this common symptom often leads individuals into a habit trap that involves over-consumption of caffeine, sugars, and anything else that gives that burst of energy and stimulation. Unfortunately, these behaviors fall short of resolving the issue and do not encourage long-term or sustainable well-being. Therefore, it is helpful to think of fatigue or low energy as a signal from your body that resources (physical, mental, emotional) are being depleted and stress recovery periods are not sufficient enough to rebuild these resources.
The individual must gain an awareness and understanding of what aspects found within their daily routine detract from their energy reserves (often called stress reactions) and what activities help to replenish the reserves. To simplify this idea, consider your energy reserves like a bank account, and the continuous withdrawal of funds from the account without depositing can lead to depletion of money and eventually an overdrawn account. In this case, the money equals energy and the overdrawn account is the symptom of low energy. Most people find that their lifestyle supports a continuous deficit of energy and insufficient deposit of recovery.
Therefore, the goal should be to promote efficient energy recovery and rebuilding resources while simultaneously reducing the depletion of resources. This is where effective stress management skills come into play. By building resilience to stress and adopting health-promoting coping responses to daily stressors, you can maintain energy levels, reduce the drain from your energy reserves, and shift your lifestyle to enhance energy naturally.
It is important to remember that breathing, for the most part, is unconsciously controlled. If you stop for a moment and bring awareness to the breath, you will get a glimpse into your own breathing pattern, a physiological “fingerprint” of the way you currently live your life. If you breathe fast and shallow, you are most likely in a constant “fight or flight” response, ready at any moment to respond. If you “sigh” frequently, you may be suffering from unresolved grief, sadness, or hopelessness (which quickly drains the energy). Holding the breath frequently can reveal a constant, underlying anxiety or fear, which again will sap the energy from your body. By taking a few minutes each day to sit and watch the breath, you will gain an abundance of information about your current life circumstances.
Next, you can simply practice a routine breathing exercise, a few times throughout the day. The easiest starting point is 5 seconds inhale, 5 seconds exhale, both slow and relaxed breathing. At this point, the deep belly breathing is not even necessary (since this can be difficult for many people at first, as well as lead to hyperventilation for those who are not experienced). A slow, even, steady rhythm of breathing at 5 in, 5 out, with no pauses, balances most individuals (with some exceptions). Practice this breathing rate for 10 minutes, three times daily, and employ it whenever you require a break from the daily stressors. Practice is key so don’t wait until you are stressed; instead prepare for those moments by developing your breath awareness and breathing skills.
At Chiva-Som, we offer the Biofeedback Re-balance therapy or Mindfulness Based Stress release. Both services measure a physiological marker called Heart Rate Variability (HRV). Simply put, HRV is an indirect measure of your nervous system. Since the heart rate rhythm is controlled by both sides of your automatic (autonomic in medical terms) nervous system, the “fight or flight / freeze” (Sympathetic) and “Rest and Relax and Digest” (Parasympathetic). These services evaluate the HRV and inform the individual about the balance or dominance of one side over the other, i.e. sympathetic dominance in those highly functioning individuals that are unable to “turn off”, even while on vacation. Through some simple breathing and visualization exercises, the individual is able to balance out their nervous system (which can be visualized by the heart rate rhythm on a computer screen in office), and achieve a state of “Coherence” or good physiological balance.
This balance or Coherence achieved in office will lead to rebuilding of energy reserves (depositing into the account). Additionally, the technique of breathing helps reduce the strain of stress on the individual, reducing the drain of energy reserves. Lastly, the act of breathing will enhance the body’s ability to utilize oxygen in the blood, thus promoting a “boost of energy” but without the stimulants. This is mindfulness practice without the meditation cushion and incense! The breath exercise mentioned above is a typical exercise performed in the appointment to promote a balanced HRV and nervous system. Therefore, even without the equipment and coaching, people will benefit from breath awareness and consistent breathing practice.
In those individuals suffering from major respiratory conditions, it is advisable to seek advice from your physician before beginning any breathing program.
- By Jason Culp, Naturopathic Doctor at Chiva-Som