We humans are built to move. The best way to start the day is to do just that. Get moving.
If you wake up feeling sluggish and lethargic, instead of reaching for coffee and sugar to hotwire your tired adrenal glands, get outside, breathe the fresh air and start moving. I guarantee it will wake you up, energise you and make you feel good.
For the next week, try getting up 15-30 minutes earlier than normal and create a simple early morning movement routine for yourself. Do it first thing, before you do anything else and see what affect it has on your energy levels and mood.
A simple way to track progress (of how you feel) is what I call the “crapometer”. This is just a simple 1-10 scale, with a smiley face by the 10 and a frowney face by the 1. When you wake up, ask yourself how you feel on a 1-10 scale (1 is crap and 10 is amazing) and then write down the score in a diary or journal. Although its low-tech, this kind of simple tracking can really help you make dramatic changes in your life. You can adapt and use this for pretty much anything you want to improve.
As for the specific exercises, anything goes really, but low intensity is the order of the day, first thing in the morning. Instead of a full on, gut wrenching workout, focus on gentle, rhythmical movements, mobilisation and deep breathing. The idea is to warm up your body and bring all systems online for the day ahead. Start gently and warm and moblilise the major joints, get the cerebro-spinal fluid pumping and the digestion working.
Think about bringing energy into your body, not draining energy out. If you do it right, after 10 minutes, you should feel like you’re firing on all cylinders and ready to tackle anything life throws your way.
My typical routine
I have a couple of 10 minute routines I alternate, depending on what sort of mood I’m in. Sometimes I’ll do just some basic tai chi or qi gong, or even sun salutations (not sure which type of yoga they’re from). If I’m short of time, I’ll just do a couple of sets of 10 deep squats and hang out in the “paleo chair” for a minute or two. It doesn’t really matter as long as you move, breathe and feel like you’re boosting your energy levels. The more playful the better.
The routine I show you in the video is largely based on Paul Chek’s Zone Exercises. The idea is to not get out of breath, or raise your heart rate. If you feel you’re working too hard, stop, rest for a moment and then pick up where you left off. All movements should be rhythmical and flowing and don’t worry too much about strict form. It’s kind of like a dynamic meditation.
Here are the 5 exercises from the video to get you started but feel free to create your own routine.
1. Breathing Squats
These are just deep squats done with a slow tempo and a focus on deep breathing. They’re one of my favourite Zone exercises and the perfect start to any day. Go as low as you comfortably can, exhaling on the way down and inhaling on the way up. Take 4-6 seconds going down and 4-6 seconds coming up. This slow tempo is harder than it looks. Aim for 10-20 reps.
2. Tai Chi Rotations
This is a very popular tai chi warm up. The idea is to swing your arms, generating the movement from your core, not the arms. Keep your arms totally relaxed and loose by your sides, bend the knees a little and then rotate to one side as you straighten your legs. Imagine your arms are soft like spaghetti and let them slap against your body (gently). The leading hand (left hand if you’re rotating left) should wrap around your back and slap against your opposite kidney (right kidney), giving it a gentle massage. Breathe deeply and gradually increase the speed and range of movement as you warm up. Do 20 rotations in each direction.
3. Piston Breathing
This is fun and will probably make you laugh the first couple of times you try it. You’ll also want to make sure you have a tissue to hand if, like most people, you haven’t cut out the foods you’re sensitive to and have excess mucous. Standing with good but relaxed posture, take a deep belly breath (from the diaphragm) and then forcefully exhale in short sharp pulses through your nose until you’ve fully exhaled all of the air in your lungs. Push the air out from the diaphragm, like a piston. Aim for 10 pulses to every 1 inhale. Do 10 reps (10 inhales, 100 pulses out).
4. Shoulder Shrugs
These are pretty straight forward. Standing with good but relaxed posture and slightly bent knees, do slow, exaggerated shoulder shrugs, working through a full range of motion. Feel any tight spots and try and breathe through them. Inhale as you shrug upwards, straightening your knees and exhale as you shrug downwards, bending your knees. Work at a natural breathing pace or around 5 sec inhaling and 5 sec exhaling. Do 10 reps.
5. Neck Rotations
Standing with good, relaxed posture, gently drop your head forwards, chin down to your chest. Move your head out to the side and back in a wide circle, inhaling as you move through the back half of the circle and exhaling as you move through the front half of the circle. Move at a steady breathing pace and take it easy, don’t force anything. Don’t grind your vertebrae as you move through the centre of the back of the circle and be careful. Breathe deeply through any tight spots until they release. Do 5 circles in each direction (5 clockwise then 5 anti-clockwise). If you feel any pain or dizziness, stop!
6. Cross Crawl
Standing with your feet about hip width apart and your arms raised above your head, with your thumbs sticking out as if you’re thumbing a lift, take a deep belly breath. As you exhale, bring your right elbow down to meet your left knee and your left knee up to meet your right elbow. They should meet around waist height. Allow the elbow and knee to both cross over the centre line of the body. Inhale as you return to the start position and then repeat with the opposite arm, opposite leg. Do 10-20 reps each side and work at a steady breathing pace. Keep your head and neck in line with your spine and don’t jut your chin forwards. You may find it difficult to balance at first, but it will soon become easy after a few practice sessions.
It doesn’t just have to be first thing in the morning. You can do a gentle “wake up” routine like this any time you’re feeling low on energy and lethargic. If you work in an office or are seated for long periods during the day, then try and do something like this to move your body and get the oxygenated blood flowing as often as you can.
Try the above routine every morning for the next week and let me know how it makes you feel by leaving me a comment below. Before you know it it will become an invaluable part of your morning routine.
When you’ve done your 10 minutes of movement first thing and given your body the kind of wake up it needs, then you can think about coffee, if you still need it. Just make sure its organic!