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Exercises to Refresh During Your Workday

You may know this one: It’s 3pm, and the energy that’s kept you humming all morning is long gone…and so is the lunch you ate (probably at your desk) a couple of hours ago. You feel a lag in brain power, and head to the vending machine or corner café for a pick-me-up. Does this sound familiar? Thankfully, there are healthier ways to power up and reset.

By Daisy Swan

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We are a busy bunch of workaholics. We work hard, juggle a lot, and find ourselves handicapped by omnipresent technology. It’s not surprising that we’re tired; working with low energy reserves is a surefire way to burn out.

Research shows that taking the time to do restorative practices increases our happiness and longevity. Every year, I attend a week-long silent meditation retreat. For me, it a necessary pause in life as it refreshes my energy, resets my heart, and hones my listening skills, which are so important in my daily work.

Although I don’t expect a silent retreat to take care of the fatigue that creeps up on many afternoons — though I do advocate taking a restorative vacation — it does arm me with day-to-day coping skills. Based on what I have learned, I recommend the following energizers. Consider them in lieu of that calorific treat.

FOUR MID-AFTERNOON EXERCISES THAT RESET

1)    1. A Short Breathing Break.

Stand with your feet firmly planted on the ground and close your eyes, inhaling to a count of four and exhaling to a count of four. Open your eyes and shrug your shoulders up, hold them there for three seconds, then let them drop.  Do this about three times. Now sit down, either in your chair or cross-legged on the floor, and softly focus your gaze a short distance in front of you. Close your eyes. Turn your attention to your breath and observe any sensations. If you notice thoughts bubbling up, notice them, don’t judge them. Granted, a busy day means an active brain; acknowledge the activity and guide your awareness back to the breath. It’s amazing that just 10 minutes of this simple (but not always easy) practice can decrease stress, while increasing productivity and creativity.

2)    2. A Gentle Inversion.

If you have space in your office or cubicle, get up and practice some stretches. Forward folds are restorative, energizing, and easy to do. Stand with your feet hip width apart. Begin by reaching your arms toward the ceiling, and then sweep them down towards the floor as you fold at the waist. Allow the weight of your skull to naturally pull you down as you elongate the spine. You can sway side to side to stretch each leg. Stay here for a few breaths, then place your hands on your hips, and slowly uncurl to standing, allowing your head to roll up last. Do this as many times as feels good for you. 

3)    3. Break Time – Put Your Feet Up.

If you have the privacy, go for legs up the wall — how radical, and what a relief! Lying on the floor, maneuver your legs straight up a wall so they make a 90 degree angle with your torso. This allows the blood to flow down from your feet, which is so rejuvenating. After just 5 to 10 minutes in this posture, you’ll feel like you’re starting the day over.

4)    4. Mid-Afternoon Body Scan Meditation.

Settle in your office chair, or lie on the floor if you have the privacy. Focus your attention on your left foot, and breathing easily, specifically notice the sensation of each toe. You may not actually feel anything, which is okay. Just placing your awareness on the toes is what matters. Continue by turning your attention to the rest of your foot — from your heel, up your leg, to your knee, and then to the left hip. Breathe as if you’re breathing through the entire leg. Repeat this sequence with your right side.

With legs now relaxed, bring awareness to your shoulders, to your fingertips, up your arms, back to your shoulders, to your neck, and across the face – relax the jaw, forehead, and scalp. If you nod off, that’s ok. When you complete this scan, refocus your eyes, and take a few deep breaths before standing up. Reset by swinging the arms back and forth. You might like to interlock the fingers and stretch them overhead. Breathe deeply and feel yourself come back into your work day.

Daisy Swan, founder of Daisy Swan & Associates and author of Making Work Work: Secrets from a Career Coach’s Office works with clients of all ages who are motivated to find the lifestyle that authentically works for them: daisyswan.com.

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