Harnessing more energy over Winter using the ‘Mars Bar’ Principle
No, this isn’t about eating one of the nation’s favourite chocolate bars for a quick fix but about adopting the principle of work, rest and play to keep your energy levels up over winter.
The heating’s on, winter coats have been donned and this is the time when energy levels can take a profound dip. Yesterday at my clinic the mood in my patient group was low and heavy. Outside it was cold, grey and rainy and this had undoubtedly infected the collective energy. This got me thinking about how we can keep our spirits and energy levels up in the winter months. In my previous newsletters I’ve talked about the importance of good sleep, breakfast, hydration, breathing and more. All of this is so important for your energy and health in general, but this week I’m going to share with you a different way of thinking about and nurturing your energy.
Chinese and Indian health practitioners have known for thousands of years that on a daily basis, our bodies undergo internal processes that react to light and dark, hot and cold, and other natural polarities. We also know from chronobiology, the more recent science of the body clock, that our physiology runs on a 24 hr cycle called the Circadian cycle. Integrating these two schools of thought we see that our energy doesn’t just run on a ‘macro’ cycle (we wake up, we go to bed) but it is far more subtle and runs roughly on a 60-90 min cycle, called the Ultradian cycle. Each ‘micro’ cycle is responsible for replenishing a different organ system in the body. Every one of us has our own unique rhythm and this is why some of us are morning people or ‘larks’ and others are ‘owls’, why we might experience an energy dip mid-morning (that has us queuing at the coffee machine), why we might get tired mid-afternoon, why we might suddenly (and inconveniently) wake up just as we’re getting ready for bed, or why we might wake at 2am with a creative insight or thinking about a problem.
So how do you use this knowledge practically to optimise your energy levels? Understanding your body’s own innate rhythms can help you achieve a better state of balance that honours its unique activity. Start by becoming attuned to the hum of your energy. Many of my clients and patients live their lives in a relentlessly linear fashion, never stopping or taking breaks during the day and when they do stop at the end of the day, they’re too exhausted to appreciate the time they do have in a meaningful way. For many of us, this time could be the best time of the day. When you kick back and relax with your family, take some time out for yourself. But for many, this is simply crash or survival time.
The more you listen to your body, the more you will feel its subtle fluctuations and wispy rhythms. Notice when you become cold, or need a cup of coffee/tea, when you suddenly crave something sweet, when your concentration lapses. All of these may be indications that you need to change channels mentally, physically or spiritually. In a typical day you may notice 5 or 6 peaks and troughs. The more you befriend your body’s rhythms and allow yourself to stop, rest, recover and renew, the more energy you will have as you go about your day. The more energy you will have to live your life doing the things you really want to do.
How to use this practically: People often ask me ‘So what can I do during these few minutes? What constitutes a ‘rest’?’ Here are a few things I recommend and try to do myself on regular basis:
Stop mindfully every 90mins or so even just for a few minutes and do something to nourish your energy – e at a healthy snack, drink some water, move, breathe deeply, pray, close your eyes, think of someone you love, smile, change channels mentally and get away from technology.
And these are my favourites:
- Seek silence – we spend our lives constantly bombarded by noise and incessant mental chatter. Consciously seek silence whenever you can. Even a few minutes of not talking and being still can really lift your energy.
- Get out into nature – hard in an urban city I know and the weather can be a deterrent but try to take every opportunity to get out into nature, get some sunlight, even stand barefoot on a patch of grass (go on – be brave!).
- Play – in my office I keep juggling balls, a hula hoop and a Swiss ball. A few minutes on any of these can really shift my energy if I’m in a slump.
- Power nap – close your eyes and rest for 5-20 mins (no more) at some point between 2 and 4pm. You can even do this sitting in a chair. Don’t think about sleeping, simply rest.
- Hug! – yes it might sound a bit wacky but a branch of science called ‘psychoneuroimmunology’ or PNI shows very conclusively that human connection is vital for our health and energy. Do it properly though (preferably with someone you like or love!) – a few seconds isn’t enough. You need a good 20 seconds of sustained hugging to trigger the full ‘oxytocin’ response (more about this wonderful hormone in my next newsletter).
- Inspiration – plug in to what inspires you for a few minutes – a picture of someone you love, a poem, a piece of music.
- 60 seconds of gratitude – list in 60 seconds all of the small things that have happened so far in your day that you are grateful for. Aim for 10 things if you can. Notice how your mood shifts after doing this small but powerful exercise. Notice how long 60 seconds is…and we tell ourselves ‘I have no time!’.
All of these techniques can boost your energy in the short term. For lasting benefit, do them regularly for the next 21 days until they become a natural and lasting part of your life.
Yours in amazing health and energy.