I remember clearly from my days as a midtown Manhattan corporate lawyer those afternoons (nearly every one of them) on which I literally could not keep my eyes open come 3 or 4 pm.
Some days I would feel so heavy that I would drop my head and literally nap on my desk. Other days I would try to fight it by imbibing more and more caffeine, but it never worked because I would still feel run down and on top of it I would have coffee jitters.
Now that I work from home, I still get that slump in the late afternoon but after years of practice and exploration I have found some creative (and more intelligent) ways to combat those drowsy hours. Here are three of my favorites:
1. Kapalabhati. A breathing exercise from ancient India, Kapalabhati is the yoga equivalent to a shot of espresso. The Sanskrit meaning for Kapalabhati is to light (bhati) up one’s skull (kapala), and by practicing it in the late afternoon you will certainly light up your skull as if you were just waking up in the morning. There is no better way to get refreshed.
Kapalabhati consists of short and sharp exhalations alternating with soft (and slightly longer) inhalations. The short, sharp exhalation has a feeling similar to that of blowing one’s nose into a tissue and is created by a forced contraction of the lower belly muscles in and up. The exhalation pushes air out of the lungs in quick repetitions. But don’t forget to inhale as well. Although Kapalabhati practice puts more energy into the exhale, you need to inhale (softly) so that you don’t run out of air to exhale.
If you are new to the practice, try it slowly, with approximately one inhale and sharp exhale each 5 seconds. It gets easier the more you practice and eventually you can increase the speed of your inhale/exhale to as much as two inhale/exhales each second. (If you need more instruction on how to do it, leave a comment/question below).
On a physical level, through the Kapalabhati practice stale air is forced out, thus purifying the lungs and nasal passage. Even short practice stimulates every tissue in the body, improves the circulatory and respiratory systems, and creates a corresponding alertness in the mind. It will bring more energy to your body and mind than the strongest cup of coffee!
2. Hydrate. Many times your low energy level is a result of dehydration. This is true at any time of day, but particularly so in the late afternoon after you have been working diligently (yes, your brain requires food and water to function properly) and you have possibly forgotten to have anything to drink since your morning coffee or lunchtime soda. Most likely you are not drinking enough water to sustain your mind and body’s important work.
Although each person will vary, the Institute of Medicine recommends drinking 3L (for men) or 2.2L (for women) of water daily–and that should be in addition to whatever other beverages, such as coffee, tea, juice, you are drinking. My teacher in India advised me to triple my intake of water, and when I followed her advice I ended up right at the 3L per day mark.
The results have been fantastic. When I drink enough water I avoid most of my old afternoon slumps. Try it and see. If you are busy running around and unable to drink enough water over the course of the day, you can try a quick fix and drink some coconut water, which contains electrolytes and minerals that will super-hydrate you. I tried this myself the other day and went from falling asleep in the library to feeling reenergized and ready to complete my work.
3. Switch to Tea. Just like many of you, I am a coffee lover. There are few joys more pleasurable than my morning cup of steaming hot brew. That said, coffee has a big downside, or should I say, a big downward spiral into the late afternoon crash that is nearly unbearable. I’m sure you have all noticed the connection between your morning coffee ritual and your afternoon involuntary napping ritual, and you have probably tried fighting it by drinking yet another coffee. But this leads to even more fatigue and that uncomfortable caffeine shakiness.
A better method is to try avoiding the crash altogether by drinking green or black tea, which have less caffeine. Your body will adjust to the change and start to function on its natural energy reserves (provided you are keeping properly hydrated!) and you won’t experience the sluggish feeling of caffeine emptiness. If you just can’t give up that morning cafe, then try switching to tea for your afternoon caffeinated beverage.
These are just a few of the ingredients for my recipe to stay awake through those slump filled afternoons, and I know you have some of your own. What methods do you use to stay energized and awake through the end of the day? Join the discussion by leaving your comments below!
And as usual, if you are interested in learning more about how breathing techniques, mindful movement/asana, meditation and work-life balance can make your urban life better email me at zara@yoginizara(dot)com.
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