Energy: Where it has gone and how to get it back (Part II)

We all know what it feels like to be full of energy and often times we think it is only available to the young. Each year we struggle to find the same level of energy we had the previous year. Where does our energy go? Is it really our age, or can we get it back?

Although age is a factor, I have found it to be a small factor. After just turning 49 I am running as fast as I was when I was 45 despite undergoing major knee surgery in March of 2011, and 13 previous surgeries after I was hit by a semi-truck while cycling at age 20.

I have found four factors that affect energy levels the most: diet, training, rest, and stress. This article focuses on two more areas where we tend to lose energy: rest and stress. Click here to read about the first two areas, diet and training, where we lose energy in Part I.

Rest & Sleep

Rest and sleep is the time when the body repairs and restores itself. I recommend 7-11 hours of sleep a night. If you do not get enough rest, your body doesn’t have enough time to restore and repair itself and is forced to use extra energy to push through the demands of your life. Lack of rest, like overtraining, is not a healthy way to treat your body or live your life. Sooner or later you will burn out and you may even damage your body.

A few signs that you are lacking rest, recovery, or time for your body to repair itself include the feeling of heaviness in your legs, arms, or throughout your body, feeling fatigued all of the time, feeling irritable, and feeling jittery throughout your body. If you notice any of these signs, it is critical to assess your rest habits and bring more sleep, rest, and recovery time back into your life.

Stress & Tension: Parasitic Effort

Stress and tension result from many things in our lives such as work, relationships, children, diet, lack of exercise, finances, etcetera. This list is ongoing and everyone has experienced some form of stress or tension. Oftentimes we are so caught up in our response to the stressors that we are not even aware of what is happening in our bodies.

Some of the most common places to hold stress and tension in our bodies are in our jaws, neck, shoulders, chest, fists, wrists, and in our breath. In the Feldenkrais Method, this is called parasitic effort. Parasitic effort is the unnecessary holding of tension or clenching of muscle groups. Runners for example, often clench their fists and jaws or grind their teeth while running. This clenching doesn’t help them run better; in fact it takes requires energy and effort to maintain, depleting the body of the energy it needs to run.

Here is an exercise to help you understand parasitic effort:

Make a fist with one of your hands. Continue to squeeze the fist as you read on. Notice the effects of squeezing and holding the fist. Is the clenching creating tightness in your arm or chest? What about your throat or neck area? Is this clenching necessary for you to read on, or does it make reading more difficult? All of us are exerting parasitic effort in some way or another all of the time because it is a very deep habit built into the nervous system.

(Keep clenching your fist…)

Why?  As we are developing throughout our childhood, we hope to overcome this habit of tension through learning how to function in our world.   However, many of us experience situations that stimulate this parasitic effort to kick in.  If such situations continuously occur; the system continues to rely on the parasitic effort as a form of protection, hence a habit develops.  The system believes the parasitic effort is actually helping the situation so it repeats the behavior.

Once parasitic effort develops into a habit that is continuously held, it is called a holding pattern. For some, holding patterns can become so habitual that they continue while one sleeps. Holding patterns consume a tremendous amount of energy to maintain and strip your body of freedom to move and of energy. About a decade ago, this form of parasitic effort became known as Fibromyalgia. Many people have suffered from this disease to the point of being unable to function on a daily basis due to pain, lack of sleep, and complete loss of energy.

(Are you still clenching your fist?)

Parasitic effort is, in most cases, the biggest leak in energy for people. The first step to combat it is to become aware of the stress and tension in your life. Let go and stop clenching your fist. What happened? Notice the sense of ease that begins to return to you. Which feels better? Clenching your fist or not clenching your fist?  Notice where in your body you are holding or storing tension. Don’t worry about why, just notice it and begin to let go.

Here is an exercise to help you identify where you are holding tension in your body and maybe clenching, and most importantly where and how you can begin to let go: Lie down on your back, preferably on the floor. Close your eyes and notice how you are making contact with the floor, I call this a body scan. Start at the top of your head and then bring your awareness to your spine. Travel down your spine to the base of your skull to your tailbone and then pelvis. What kind of sense of your spine do you have? Which parts are touching the floor and which are not?

Now broaden your awareness to notice your shoulders. How does each shoulder rest on the floor? Continue to travel down your pelvis, moving your awareness at your own pace so you continue to develop a deep sense of yourself. What do you notice about yourself? What parts are making contact with the floor and which are held or suspended without touching? Notice how your arms are lying along your sides and how your legs are lying. Now, as you continue to maintain awareness, notice where you are holding tension. You may be holding somewhere if it feels like it is being suspended or if there is a sense of tension. Could you let go there? If you can let go, how does it feel now? Notice that just by becoming aware and wanting to let go, you let go. How do you feel? How is your breathing? How are you different? Notice that you are different and all it takes is awareness.