Dreams don’t work unless you do.
John C. Maxwell (American author)
This area is important as our energy level not only affects our performance, but also our emotional state and cognitive functions. We will address first the factors that affect our energy (body – mind; rest – activity) and how it can be preserved. Exercises that can be used to enhance energy will be suggested at the end.
Body care: taking care of your body is crucial for retaining an optimal level of energy. This is what body care requires:
- Good conditions and maintenance (warmth, nutrition, hygiene).
- Being responsible with what may be harmful (drugs, alcohol, tobacco, processed sugar and fats, etc.).
- Poised posture and the balanced use of the body (e.g. if you carry something, try to distribute the weight evenly rather than carrying it on one side). These not only save energy but also prevent wear and tear of the spine, joints, ligaments and muscles as well as protect against injury.
- All the above is common sense, but probably the most important and often neglected element of body care is listening to your body. Try to remember to listen to your body as often as you can and you will see what difference it will make.
State of mind: it is well known that our state of mind can affect the level of our energy (compare, for example, the level of energy exhibited by winners and losers after a sport competition). Emotions can have a debilitating effect (as in the case of depression), but they can also increase energy extraordinarily. Emotional blocks and inner conflicts consume energy and make you weaker. On the other hand, good moods, enthusiasm and laughter can release energy trapped by tension or worries and provide an energy boost.
Rest: full and effective rest requires changing continuity or routine. So rest can vary, depending on what you are resting from (e.g. after manual work sitting down may be good, but after mental activity getting up and moving may be better). Sleep is probably the most important in this respect. Here are a few tips for having a good rest at night. Even if you don’t go into a deep sleep, you are likely to achieve a hypnagogic state (in between sleep and being awake) which can be pleasant and restful too:
- Rather than worrying if you will fall asleep, look forward and enjoy the time when you can lie down, close your eyes and relax. Think of it as your sanctuary, lying down meditation.
- If you have intrusive thoughts and worries, you can write them down and decide when you will attend to them during the day.
- Prepare in advance something nice to think about (e.g. make a story, plan a holiday, fantasise). If this doesn’t work, slow your thoughts down, relax, and imagine yourself going deeper with each breath. At some point, stop trying, and just let it happen.
- If you wake up too early try to do the above (actually, waking up during the night is normal, but those who don’t worry about it don’t remember because they quickly fall asleep again).
- If it doesn’t work, get up, potter around or do something for awhile and go to bed when you start feeling sleepy again.
- Get up at the same time no matter when you went to bed or how much sleep you had (if necessary, catch up with a short nap, not more than 20 minutes, later on).
Being active: physical exercises and sports can make you temporarily tired, but in the long run they increase energy flow, strength and stamina. To maximise the benefits and avoid injury or harm from pushing too far, any physical activity should be performed mindfully (with the awareness of your body). For this reason it is better to avoid watching or listening to something while exercising. Competitive sports are also tricky, as our attention is more on the opponent or a ball than on our own body; mindfulness is easier to maintain with activities such as climbing, jogging, yoga, or tai-chi.
Of course, the amount of energy is finite and may differ from person to person (this may be affected by your age, health conditions, gender, genetic predispositions, nutrition etc.). However, even those who may not have a lot of energy can go a long way if they are using it strategically. In the end, whatever energy you have at your disposal, it is up to you when and how you will spend it. Here are some tips that may be useful:
- Your level of energy fluctuates even within a day, so being aware of and adjusting to these fluctuations can increase productivity. In practice, this means being mindful to do hard tasks when you feel strong and easy ones when you don’t.
- Negative consequences of either blocking or forcing the natural flow of energy are often greater than the possible gains (e.g. forcing yourself to work when tired may result in mistakes that would take longer to correct than having a brief rest).
- It is important to alternate building up and spending energy. There is no point in doing something without enough energy. On the other hand, if accumulated energy is not invested or released it may become destructive, cause restlessness, stress and even aggression (which is why prisons, for example, often have gyms). Excessive energy can also keep accumulating in an unusable form (as in the case of ‘couch-potatoes’), which can also be destructive in the long term.
Even if we take care of our body and mind and use energy strategically, we might still occasionally feel that we don’t have enough energy. If this is the case, try first to find out why you lack energy and what you can do about it. If you can’t determine the reason or nothing can be done, energy can be saved by reducing the waste. You can temporarily withdraw, minimise exposure, and act, think and feel on a smaller scale. This may involve lowering expectations of yourself, avoiding challenging tasks, focusing on only necessary activities and performing them in the simplest way. Intense emotions can also consume a lot of energy, so try to avoid much excitement till you get stronger.
These exercises can help increase your energy level:
Transforming energy: energy can be transformed from one type to another. So, when you need energy, you can think about something that excites you (e.g. your team’s victory); when you get energised from your thoughts and emotions, you can focus again on what you need to do and use that energy. Make sure though that your thoughts and images do not distract you from your task.
Energy flow can moderately enhance your level of energy: relax, close your eyes and imagine, when you breathe in, that you are inhaling energy, which fills your head, chest, stomach, pelvic area and limbs. If you prefer, you can identify energy with oxygen flow. Do this about ten times. If you notice that its flow is interrupted anywhere, it may be a good idea to examine why (tension, blocks?)
Stretching: stretching can reduce tension, stiffness and even emotional pressure, which improves energy flow. Stand up and slowly stretch your body accompanied with a vocal release (e.g. a hum) when you breathe out. Do this as often as you can, especially if sitting for long.
Pruning activities: it is important to invest energy into activities that are likely to return or increase it (for you or others). So if in doubt, ask yourself if what you are doing or planning to do will increase or reduce your energy overall. Take into account the long term effects too (e.g. drinking alcohol can make you feel temporarily energetic, at the expense of your energy level next day; exercising may be tiring, but you will have more energy overall).