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Easy Energy Boosters

Do you find yourself slogging through part of the afternoon wishing you had more energy? How do you handle it—do you reach for a sugary, caffeinated “energy drink”? Do you justify eating a candy bar so you get some sugar and whatever caffeine is in the chocolate? (Been there!)

An article I read recently outlined “The Best Energy Boosters You’ve Never Heard Of,” and I present them here, adding my humble two cents’ worth.

1. Start the day with a stretch. A personal trainer recommends stretching first thing each day because it releases endorphins. Her go-to moves include reaching arms overhead and stretching arms up and legs down as far as you can, and then pulling knees to chest to stretch out the low back. She says to repeat this three times, adding a positive mantra such as “I am grateful for my body,” or “Today is a good day.”

My take: I love stretching in the morning! I have no doubt that it helps keep me more limber, and I experience less back pain if I stretch on a regular basis. While it might release endorphins at the time, I don’t think those endorphins will still be accessible to help us if we reach a low point later in the day.

But still, stretching is a GREAT idea! In fact, we could do a few stretches when we hit that “wall,” because getting some blood flowing and getting our joints moving and releasing some endorphins at that time will help us reenergize.

Many experts also recommend taking a quick walk for the same reasons. It clears the head and boosts our mood!

2. Drink smaller amounts of coffee throughout the day. One study showed that if people drank just 2 ounces of coffee each hour, they were better able to stay alert than people who drank all their coffee in the morning, and also better than people who drank large amounts of coffee throughout the day.

My take: Some people—myself included—have real difficulty drinking caffeinated coffee in the afternoon. And many people get by just fine without drinking coffee at all.

An acupuncturist I know recommends drinking a cold glass of water when we feel droopy and swears it perks us up as well as a cup of coffee does. It’s worth a try—drinking water is good for us anyway!

3. Take a contrast shower. To help tired muscles, you could take a tip from athletes: take a 6-minute shower, alternating between 1 minute of hot water and 1 minute of cold water—IF YOU DON’T HAVE A HEART CONDITION!!! Supposedly this helps recover from exertion and provides “instant physical energy.”

My take: again, I’m not sure that using this technique in the morning would help provide energy when it’s needed in the afternoon. It might help soothe overworked muscles; I’d have to check with a trainer since I don’t have expertise in that area.

If you need instant energy later in the day, try this: splash some cold water on your face. Or if you don’t want to mess up make-up, apply a cold compress to just your forehead or to your neck. I do have experience with this, and I find it works well every time!

4. Snack on popcorn. According to the American Chemical Society, “popcorn has more of the cancer-fighting antioxidant polyphenol per serving than any fruit or vegetable, and polyphenols are known to be a powerful energy source.” It is possible to get healthier varieties of reduced fat microwave popcorn, or pop whole kernels in an air popper to get this snack without all the additives.

My take: I’m not a nutritionist. I do know that popcorn is high in carbohydrates, but it’s also high in fiber. Eating small portions is generally considered a pretty healthy snack as far as I know.

But I have learned that eating protein throughout the day is a better way to feed our cells, keep our blood sugar levels even (where carbs can make blood sugar spike and then drop), and generally keep our energy levels steady.

Everyone’s nutrition needs can differ, but I have found that when I reduce my carb intake and increase my protein, I don’t hit that afternoon wall. My energy level is nicely consistent throughout the day.

5. Make yourself yawn. Several studies show that stretching our jaw and inhaling deeply improves circulation to the brain and improves focus. This is especially good to try when we have to tackle a tough mental task.

My take: Yawning does force us to take a really deep breath, and that helps deliver fresh oxygen to the brain. I often yawn when I’m nervous, and I’m sure it’s my body’s way of enabling my brain to work at peak efficiency.

Deep breathing is always beneficial!

6. Wear red. One study showed that looking at the color red can have a physiological effect on our muscles, improving athletic performance and speed. People who wear a red shirt and see themselves in a mirror during their workouts tend to exercise harder!

My take: I have no experience with this. But I do seem to remember that Tiger Woods always wore a red shirt on the last day of every golf tournament—his “Sunday shirt.” I wonder if that’s why?

7. Meditate. We tend to think of meditation as a time for chilling out, and it is, but that break from thinking and mental clutter is so good for the brain that it helps give us more energy in the long run.

One yogi recommends inhaling to a count of 10 and exhaling to a count of 15. Set a timer for 5 minutes, focus on your breathing, and let your mind be free. If you have a distracting thought, acknowledge it and let it go. Come back to your breath and postpone concentrated thought and problem solving until after the 5 minutes is up.

My take: I think it’s been proven that sometimes we need a break. Even if it feels counterintuitive to being productive, a quick break to refresh ourselves will help us be MORE productive when we get back on task.

This is a good time for a stretch, a deep breath and/or a yawn, a drink of cold water and/or a splash of cold water to the face. I do believe this helps more that trying to power through an energy shortage without a break, definitely.

Some folks (myself included) even like to sneak in a quick power nap when possible.

8. Listen to music. A researcher at the University of Cambridge put together a “scientifically proven energy-boosting playlist” that you can access at parade.com/energy. Or you can put together your own playlist. It needs to start off gently, gradually increase in intensity, contain positive lyrics, and feature lots of bass and drums.

My take: Music is a known mood booster! Singing along will help with deeper breathing. Dancing along will help with blood flow! Even just listening can be energizing and make us smile.

One last tip: While I’m not a certified aromatherapist (yet), I do believe aromatherapy is effective. Many people find that smelling a citrus essential oil such as sweet orange helps with focus in the afternoon. As a bonus, it can aid digestion, so it’s a good one to use after lunch.

You can get an inexpensive diffuser online (I like the website vitacost.com.) Or you can put a couple of drops on a tissue that you keep nearby, or put a drop on a lightbulb while it’s cold and then turn it on to warm it up. You can buy essential oils online as well, but do your research to make sure you’re getting really high-quality oils. You will actually be inhaling these molecules into your system, so the purer the better.

Source: “The Best Energy Boosters You’ve Never Hear Of,” by Lisa Mulcahy; “Spry Living” April 2017, parade.com

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Gratitude for the Four Elements

stone spiral

I make jewelry in my spare time, and recently I’ve been really drawn to natural gemstones, looking up what healing qualities each is believed to possess, and enjoying putting stones together both for their aesthetic and mystic qualities.

I’ve always liked and collected rocks. When I was a kid, I was drawn to those random quartzes you find outdoors, or a unique looking speckled rock, a fossil, an odd shape or an odd color. Once I found what I think was “fool’s gold” or pyrite, and you would’ve thought I’d won the lottery. (I still feel that way about finding sea glass or shark’s teeth!)

Later my stones of choice turned into beads, maybe because in addition to collecting them, you can actually wear them. I find it fascinating that you can pull a mineral out of the ground, cut it quite randomly, polish it, and be left with a beautiful piece of art in its own right. And to think that the vibrational energy that occurred naturally within the ground is available to us to carry around in the form of a stone bead (see my recent blog on “grounding” for more information).

I love digging in the dirt whenever I have a chance to work in the garden. I love playing in the sand at the beach. I used to love scooping handfuls of clay out of the ground up north and forming pots and shapes with it. I marveled the first time I saw how red the soil was in Georgia. But I never really reflected much on how much I love “earth” until recently when I visited the mountains of North Carolina (much cooler in July than Florida!) and appreciated a refreshing breeze that rustled the leaves on the trees and made some wind chimes start clanging.

A breeze is a simple thing, but so lovely. In my youth, my mom liked having the windows open on a nice day, and I liked seeing a breeze blow her long, flowy sheer curtains away from the window and into the living room like a graceful dance move.

In appreciating that breeze in North Carolina, reminiscent of the breezes of my childhood, it occurred to me how very grateful I am for all the elements: earth, air, water, and fire.

I’ve already covered my love for earth. And breezes. Air is easy to take for granted, but think how wonderful it is to take in a deep breath of clean, fresh air! As for water, I’m always grateful for rain for my garden and for the cleansing a good rain shower provides. Have you ever had a massage or a nap while it rained? Somehow it’s just extra soothing and restorative. Rainy days tend to be quieter and more contemplative, and as much as I love the Florida sunshine, I’m also thankful for a break from it. I drink a ton of water, and feel grateful for the clean water we have abundant access to (for drinking AND bathing and swimming), and I love how good I feel when I’m sufficiently hydrated.

Fire is well represented in Florida by the almost ever-present sun, most assuredly ready to burn us if we don’t protect ourselves. Still, I do love the sunshine and feel energized by longer days. I used to get seasonal depression up north when the winter skies turned gloomy and gray for days on end. And in the winter when it finally cools off, I absolutely love sitting by a fire outside. Is there anything more mesmerizing than staring into a fire?

We need all the elements for life, and they were well understood by ancient Greeks (from greekmedicine.net):

“The Four Elements formed the classical Greek conception of the universe, as follows:
“At the center of our world is the Earth, as the planet we live on, the ground and support beneath our feet. Because of Earth’s great heaviness and density, all things gravitate towards it.
“Running over and around the Earth is Water, in the form of lakes, rivers, and oceans. Water fertilizes and impregnates the Earth, giving it Life.
“Over the spheres of Earth and Water is that of Air, the atmosphere in which we live, move and have our being. Air’s essence is exchange, contact and movement. All living things need Air to breathe.
“And finally, Fire lights up the Sun, Moon, and stars in the celestial firmament. Fire has brilliance and spirit, and symbolizes the Life Force within us.
“The human body and each of its constituent parts is also composed of the Four Elements, in varying proportions. The … human body, or microcosm reflects that of the macrocosm of Nature.”

Earth in the body = solid, dense tissues: bones, connective tissue, teeth, nerves, gums, hair, nails
Air = lungs and open spaces and cavities in the chest and elsewhere.
Water = bodily fluids: blood, lymph, phlegm, mucous.
Fire = digestive enzymes and organs, the heart and the metabolism, active muscles that create heat, the sparkle in our eyes.

May we always have an appreciation for our earth, clean air, refreshing water, and energetic fire—in nature and in ourselves!

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