Juggling work, family and social commitments can often leave us feeling tired and drained. And during the post-Christmas slump, resorting to caffeinated drinks and sugary foods as a quick-fix to get us through the day is more tempting than ever. But unfortunately these sweet treats play havoc with our blood sugar levels, giving us an instant burst of energy, followed by another slump, leaving us back at square one – tired and drained. Next time you feel fatigue kicking in, why not try one of these natural pick-me-ups instead?
If, like many people, you experience an energy slump in the middle of the morning or the afternoon around 3pm or 4pm, it’s a sign that your blood glucose levels are unbalanced. Nutritional therapist Lisa Smith (www.nutriology.co.uk) explains: ‘The food we eat is turned into glucose, which is the body’s chosen source of fuel for creating energy. So in order to avoid these sugar cravings and energy dips it’s essential to maintain regulated blood glucose levels.’ Lisa recommends removing refined carbohydrates and potatoes from your diet – this includes white rice, flour, sugar and any food sources that contain them (excluding oats). In their place, she suggests using wholegrain varieties and sweet potatoes. ‘The exception is sugar,’ she adds, ‘which should be eliminated as much as possible.’ Other things to banish from your kitchen cupboard include caffeinated and soft drinks and replace them instead with organic herbal teas.
Another tip is to eat little and often, for example having three meals and two snacks. And every time you eat, include a source of quality protein. Lisa advises adding flaxseed to cereals at breakfast and for snacks trying edamame beans, or nuts and seeds with fruit. For lunch and dinner ensure you include a portion of fish or chicken, or lentils, quinoa and tofu if you are vegetarian.
Self-massage can be a great way to get your circulation moving and help you to feel fresh and revived in a matter of minutes. Firstly, you will need to get hold of a body brush, advises Rebecca Goodhand, spa manager of the Baglioni Spa by SPC in London. ‘The brushing action has an exfoliating effect on the outer layers of the skin, encouraging cell renewal at the same time as encouraging blood flow towards the heart,’ explains Rebecca. ‘A strong blood circulation will increase detoxification and a healthy supply of nutrients to the body.’ Rebecca advises using small, sweeping movements over the skin, towards the heart, working your way upwards from your toes to your hips and then from your fingers to your shoulders. Then, when you can feel your skin tingling, continue your massage with a moisturiser, ideally containing citrus fruit essential oils, which are good for cleansing, detoxifying and reviving.
Use strong massage movements towards the heart,” says Rebecca, followed by light, sweeping movements to soothe and encourage lymphatic drainage. Lymphatic waste is carried alongside the blood circulation and an overload of excessive waste leads to lethargy and poor skin. It is a “lazy” system that needs encouragement to work efficiently.
Essential oils can be a wonderfully natural way of boosting your energy and can be used in a variety of ways, for example as a massage oil, added to a bath or burned in a vaporiser or oil burner. Laura Sturdy, a clinical and holistic aromatherapist (www.zohtherapy.co.uk) suggests blending together the following essential oils in 15-20 ml of base oil such as sweet almond or peach kernel oil. She adds: ‘Most of these oils should be safe to use in a burner with most conditions, however extra caution should be taken if the person is pregnant or has a known medical condition. If either of the above apply, then do not use the oils in the bath or as a massage blend unless you are able to consult with a qualified aromatherapist.’ Here are two of Laura’s favourite energy boosting blends:
The brain stimulator
2 drops of black pepper
3 drops of coriander
3 drops of rosemary
2 drops of cedarwood
3 drops of peppermint
3 drops of pine
‘Herbs can influence a person's energy levels in a multitude of different ways,’ explains medical herbalist Dale Pinnock. ‘Two of my particular favourites are Siberian ginseng and Rhodiola.’ Siberian ginseng comes under the herbal category of an adaptogen. ‘This means that it helps the body to be able to adapt better to stress, be that mental, physical, or environmental stress,’ says Dale. ‘As such, it helps to lower stress hormones, which by their very nature can leave us feeling tired and washed out if they accumulate to high levels.’ So, in other words this helps prevent us from feeling tired in the first place. ‘Siberian ginseng has a second energy-boosting benefit in that it makes cells much more sensitive to insulin signalling,’ adds Dale. ‘This means it enables the cells to take up glucose more effectively, and turn it into ATP, (the energy currency of the cell), far more effectively. This can give a very rapid increase in energy.’
Dale also recommends the herb rhodiola for mental fatigue and exhaustion. ‘Like all adaptogens, it can help to break down excess stress hormones that have been released during the stress response,’ he explains. ‘Rhodiola also seems to increase energy production and stimulates the central nervous system in such a way as to enhance focus and concentration.’
Certain yoga asanas (postures) can help to raise energy levels due to their detoxifying effects on the body, explains yoga instructor Natasha Kerry of Manuka. She recommends practising a combination of Utkatasana with Anjali Mudra Twist (Chair Pose with Prayer Position Twist). ‘Like all twists, Prayer Twist is a powerful way of flushing out toxins from the internal organs and glands as well as stimulating the digestive system,’ says Natasha. ‘When the twist is released, fresh oxygenated blood surges into the compressed areas. This is the key to increasing energy levels and revitalising your entire system.’
How to do it:
Begin in Tadasana, (Mountain Pose), with your big toes touching and heels slightly apart to release the sacrum. Inhale as you bend your knees and raise the arms up coming into Utkatasana, (Chair Pose). Fold your palms together in front of your heart in Anjali Mudra, (Prayer Position), thumbs pressing into the sternum. As you exhale, stretch the crown of the head forward and twist to the right, placing your left elbow or tricep on the outside of your right knee, using your arm as a lever to facilitate the twist. Check your knees to make sure they remain in line with each other. Slowly rotate the head towards the ceiling and stay in this position for three breaths before resting in Uttanasana, (Forward Bend), before repeating on the left side.
Another energy-boosting yoga technique is pranayama, or breathing exercises. Sally Lovett, a yoga teacher and founder of Stretching the City suggests a breathing exercise called Surya Behi Pranayama (or right nostril breathing). ‘Right nostril breathing requires you to isolate and breathe exclusively from the right nostril,’ says Sally, ‘which will ignite the Pingala Nadi energy centres in the right side of the body.’ She continues: ‘Pingali Nadis are responsible for the more active, physical and hot energy, as opposed to the cooler, calmer and passive Ida Nadi (the left side of the body). So, breathing through the right nostril will increase the energy and heat in the system.’
How to do it:
Sit comfortably, with a straight spine. Use your left thumb to close off your left nostril, as you breathe long, slow breaths in and out of your right nostril. Observe the inhale and exhale through the right side. Practise for two to three minutes before returning to normal, even breathing.
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