Welcome to the third instalment in the Peaceful Warrior Series, a collection of articles inspired on a weekend seminar by Dan Millman. If you’re new to this series, you may want to start by reading the previous articles.
Last time I explained the Law of Balance and how to apply it in your daily life. As we closed that article, it became obvious that following some of the recommendations would take a lot of energy, so I promised to share with you the secrets of energising your body. By reading this article, you will learn how to stop leaking energy, and how to put more energy back into your life.
Are you lucky enough to have developed the habit of regular exercise? If not, this article will also introduce you to an exercise routine that will develop your strength, suppleness (flexibility), stamina and sensitivity, all with a daily investment of as little as 5 minutes. Does it sound too good to be true? It is good, and it is also true, so don’t stop reading; we’re just about to get started!
You may recall the story of the man who stood on a mountain-top and cried up to God:
“Fill me full of light”
A voice thundered down from the heavens,
“I’m always filling you – but you keep leaking!”
- excerpt from Everyday Enlightenment by Dan Millman
It is no secret that we need to put energy into our body to make it function, and that we spend energy whenever we do something. What we fail to realise is that we also spend energy when we are not doing anything. How can this be? It is a result of the Law of Gravity, which constantly pulls us down; this means we are always using some energy to stop our bodies from falling on a heap into the floor.
Luckily our body’s design is very efficient, and minimises the amount of energy required to achieve this. Unfortunately, most of us have chronic bad posture, which means we don’t make the most of our body’s design.As a result, we end up spending far more energy than what we require to simply stand still!
If you think this doesn’t sound right, I challenge you to lie down on the floor, bring your trunk (as when you do abdominal exercises) to a 45 degree angle from the floor, and hold that pose for as long as you can. How long did you last? Probably no more than a few seconds, a minute at most. Sitting or standing in a hunched back position is a mor subtle way of experiencing the same effect – you are holding your body at an angle to what it’s natural standing position is. The worst part is that once you get used to bad posture it feels normal, so acquiring proper posture will need conscious effort and more energy than simply continue having bad posture.
If you want to stop leaking energy every second of every minute of every hour of every day of your life, pick up your local classifieds and look for martial arts classes, Alexander technique consultants, Feldenkrais institutes or Mitzvah technique practitioners. Do yourself a favour, and enrol in a class starting today. Like all good investments, the energy you spend reconditioning your body to sit, stand and lie down with appropriate posture will be paid back with compound interest as you reap the rewards of a more energised life.
“Clean living,” he grinned. Then the bell clanged and he went out to make someone laugh, under the pretext of servicing a car. Socrates dispensed more than gasoline. Maybe it was that aura, that energy or emotion. Anyway, people nearly always left happier than when they had arrived.
It wasn’t the glowing, however, that impressed me most about him; it was his simplicity, his economy of motion and of action. I hadn’t truly appreciated any of this before
- excerpt from Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman
The excerpt above from Dan’s best-seller Way of the Peaceful Warrior describes Dan’s wonder at Socrates’ aura of energy, and its association to what he describes as economy of motion and action. Truth is, we all waste a lot of energy in totally unnecessary movements and actions. We often don’t think about what we are about to do, and so we end up doing, undoing, and redoing many of our daily activities. How many times did you walk back and forth between the bedroom and the bathroom this morning as you kept remembering something else you had to do or get?
To improve economy of movement, all you need to do is be more present in the ‘Now’. By increasing your awareness of the present moment, you lower your chances of forgetting something or doing it wrong , which means you will spend less time and energy coming back to do whatever it is you were doing all over again. Living in the present is therefore a habit that will allow you to use your precious life energy in a Spartan way, and use it optimally in your daily life. Just like becoming wealthy can be achieved either by raising your income or lowering your expenses, becoming energised can be achieved by increasing your energy levels or by lowering your energy requirements; Economy of movement helps you by doing the latter.
Put more energy into your body
The second way to increase your energy levels is by putting more energy into your body to start with. There are 3 techniques that can help you achieve this: Eat well, have a good rest, and exercise regularly. Hardly earth shattering ideas, right? We all have heard them countless times before. Yet it can be challenging to develop these habits as part of our lives. If you want more practical ideas on how to achieve all of these goals, read on.
Getting enough rest
According to a 2006 survey by the US Centre for Disease Control (link), an increasing proportion of adults in the USA get 6 hours or less of sleep on a regular basis. My intuition tells me we would have observed the same results regardless of the survey’s location. Sleeping less than 6 hours of sleep will count for most of us as sleep deprivation,and have a significant impact to our physiology and energy levels. The cells of our bodies quite literally heal and replenish themselves during sleep; disrupting our sleep patterns creates a barrier for this critical function.
There’s a few things you could try if you are having difficulties getting a good sleep every night:
|1.||Go to bed at the same time every day
Have you’ve ever travelled across time zones and experienced jet-lag? Our bodies operate in cycles, and when you change time-zones, it disrupts your natural biorhythm. Once that happens, your body will need some time to adapt to the new cycle.
That feeling of grogginess you feel when jet-lagged is not that dissimilar to the feeling of drowsiness after a late night out. You might think that that hangover feeling is all due to alcohol. Truth is you’d still feel groggy and with no energy even after staying up till 3 AM without drinking a drop of alcohol; even if you slept it in to 11 AM (Trust me, I talk from experience!) Breaking our body’s circadian cycle will impose additional energy requirements on you, and will make you feel more tired than usual. If you want to energise your body, stick to the same routine as much as it is practical: go to bed every night at the same time.
|2.||Avoid caffeine after 4 PM
If you’re a hard-core coffee drinker you’re probably thinking ‘I’ll skip this one, coffee does not affect me that way at night’.But as my wife experienced once she got pregnant with our first son, caffeine has a significant impact in our ability to have a good night of sleep even when we have gotten used to the addiction of caffeine.After only a few weeks of changing her coffee habits due to pregnancy, my wife finally accepted that not having coffee in the afternoon allowed her to sleep much better. If you think this was all due to the changes her body was going through due to pregnancy, think again; she reported the same results months after having our first baby. To this day, she has sworn off coffee in the evening, and sleeps better than ever before (except when my snoring keeps her awake, but that’s a different story!).
If you don’t believe this will effect you, just give it a try ! Cut down on caffeine* after 4 PM for a week, and maintain a log to monitor how well-rested you feel when you wake up in the morning. You will be surprised by the results.* Please remember that caffeine is present in coffee, tea, and most soft drinks, so avoid any and all of these after 4 PM. If you enjoy the soothing properties of a cup of tea every night, try herbal teas such as camomile tea or lemon verbena. These drinks will give you the relaxing benefits of tea, without having an adverse impact on your ability to get a good night of sleep
|3.||Establish a routine to ‘wind down’ before you hit the sack
You will have noticed that when you’re playing a hard game of tennis (or any other sport), your heart will continue pumping furiously even after you stop running around. Our bodies have built-in mechanisms to ensure transitions in our activity and energy levels happen in a smooth and gentle manner. The same principle applies to the transition that happens when you go from being awake to falling asleep. You can not expect to be really active just before going to bed, and then lie down to immediately fall asleep .A good routine to get used to for finishing your day is to turn the TV off; turn on some soothing music; have a glass of milk or a hot cup of herbal tea; brush your teeth, and get into your pyjamas. If you’re in a relationship, you can then spend 5 or 10 minutes sharing your life with your partner; just make sure you stay away from rant & raves about that incident with your boss that made your blood boil! If you’re single or living alone, simply take a few minutes to reflect on the day; do some visualisations; meditate; or simply spend some quality time with yourself. After this you will be ready to hit the bed for a long, comfortable night of good sleep.
You are what you eat
If you want to energise your body, you also need to be mindful of what you eat. We said earlier that to increase your energy levels, you can either increase the energy you put in, or reduce your energy requirements. You quite literally put energy into your body through your mouth (that’s what food is for!), so make sure you follow some of these guidelines:
|1.||Make your meals more colourful
To increase the range of nutrients and vitamins you take in every day, make sure you include all sorts of different food groups in your diet. In other words, eat a healthy, balanced diet. Yawn….. I can hear you moving on to the next point as I repeat obvious, old & tired advise. But stay with me; there’s a bit more to it.
In an age where convenience outlets make it increasingly easy for us to throw our diet out of balance in one single stop, you must become more vigilant of whether your food choices are balanced or not. This does not mean you have to eat carrots for lunch, nor am I advocating that you diet (which, after all, has been medically proven not to work – link ) I am not suggesting either that you don’t indulge in some yummy food. What I am recommending is that you take a balanced approach to it.This could be achieved in many ways. For example, you could follow the Food Pyramid principles recommended by the US Department of Health & Service (link):
Or you could try having a protein-heavy day followed by a carbohydrate-oriented one. As long as your daily choices are not too extreme (caution: do not try a diet of only chocolate on any given day!), I encourage you to experiment, and find your own balance.
I really want to make sure you understand I am not advocating to take the pleasure out of eating and turn it into a controlled, robotic exercise! In the words of Okami*, author of the blog Cinnamon Sunrise:
And remember: we’re all different, so what works for others will probably not work for you. So start your own experimentation, and find your own way of making your meals more colourful & healthy.
|2.||Choose your vices carefully
My name is Diego, and I am a Chocoholic. Over the first 30 years of my life I developed an addiction to chocolate, and ate it compulsively with an obvious impact to my waist line! Over many years I tried to stop ‘cold turkey’ and have no chocolate at all, ever again. A few years ago, however, I realised that I love chocolate and there is no point in trying to ‘fix’ my so-called addiction; Given the health impacts of my denial/binging cycles, I have finally understood that I am a lot better off to manage my addiction, and ensure I eat my chocolate on small amounts (dare I say balanced?).
These days, I make sure I don’t have chocolates within my reach throughout the day, but I allow myself to eat a small piece of chocolate at home for desert every second day or so. This routine allows me to indulge on my vice, yet control it so that it does turn into a rabid animal that takes over my healthy eating habits.
My recommendation to you then is to be realistic, and allow yourself some small indulgences. Think through your vices carefully, and make sure you understand the impact to your health of still indulging in them, albeit in a controlled manner.
|3.||Be present while you eat
If you eat your food while in front of the TV, put a stop to it right now! When you don’t make eating a conscious activity for which you are fully present, bad eating habits will creep without you even noticing it. Be present whenever you’re having food, whether from main meals or in between. Develop the skill to understand your body signals; If you listen carefully to your body, it will tell you when it needs more food, and when you need to stop eating. If you make a habit of putting your fork and knife down between each mouthful, and you become more aware of your breathing as you masticate your food, you will increase your ability to listen to your body talk to you. Follow these simple yet powerful techniques, and you will find yourself making healthier choices while you eat, and enjoying a more energised life.
For a more comprehensive discussion of this topic, I encourage you to read my previous article Do you have trouble devoting regular time to exercise? If you want more ideas that will help you increase your chances of starting a regular exercise activity and sticking with it, here are a few more tips for you:
|1.||Find a workout that works for you
We’re all different, and so we all need a different workout. Are you single, time-rich, and interested in developing a muscular body? The best workout for you will be different than mine, a middle-aged time-poor guy who is interested in achieving adequate strength & flexibility. The amount of time you have; your goals for exercising; and the activities & sports you enjoy will all help you determine what is the most appropriate workout for you. Get the help of a personal trainer at your local gym and he will be able to design an exercise routine that suits your needs, goals & taste.
|2.||Create regular time for exercising
One of the single, most frustrating reasons why we don’t stick to exercise routines is lack of discipline. The law of inertia says that to change the course of action of a moving object, additional force must be applied to it. Our will power is no different. By creating (and protecting!) regular time for your exercise routine, you are applying some force that will help you overcome the inertia to keep doing what you’re currently doing (e.g. not exercising).
|3.||Develop an exercising habit
If you rely on your conscious decision making to stick with an exercise routine, you are setting yourself for a tough time . A chain is as strong as its weakest link, so if you have to rely on making the decision to exercise every day, there will be days when you will be feeling too sick/tired/demotivated to just do it.
To develop regular exercising into a habit, I recommend you commit to an exercise routine (any routine will don!) at the same time every day for the next 36 days. By the end of this period, your mind and body will have gotten used to the routine , in the same way that you are used to the idea of brushing your teeth every morning. For more tips on how to develop this important habit you may want to read Leo Babauta’s recent article 13 things to avoid when changing habits.
Exercise that works: The Peaceful Warrior routine
The Peaceful Warrior Workout is an exercise routine that uses a combination of movements from martial arts, calisthenics, yoga, gymnastics, dance, and fitness training. Developed by Dan Millman, this group of 14 exercises will take as little as 4 minutes of your day, and can be adjusted to suit your body and fitness level, so it can be done by nearly anyone regardless of level of fitness, age or size.
This exercise routine takes a balanced approach to energising your body by working all major muscle groups, starting at the top of your head, moving through the rest of your body all the way down to the bottom of your feet. Your chances of incorporating it as a part of every day of your life are higher than most other workouts. Why? Because the workout is simple, effective, accessible and fun. I know, because I have been doing it every day since I started it in November 2007 (with 3 exceptions when I was too sick to get out of bed).
If you want to learn this fantastic routine, you have 3 options (listed in order of effectiveness, from the least to the most effective):
- Buy Dan’s book Everyday Enlightenment, where he describes (with pictures) the what and the how of this routine on chapter 3.
- Get a copy of The Peaceful Warrior Workout DVD and practice along with Dan’s instructions for the first couple of days
- Book yourself into one of Dan’s seminars, where he will walk you through the workout and provide some coaching to achieve proper breathing (very important) and form (absolutely critical!)
If you want to see what the workout looks like, click here to go to Dan’s web site, where there is a link to a short video. A word of warning though: Do not attempt to learn the workout from that video! There is a lot of information that is important for the proper execution of the workout that you could not possibly learn from that short video clip; You could really hurt yourself if you decide to save the money required to buy the book or DVD and just try to do the exercises from the clip.
Practice a little, energise yourself a lot
So this is it. To energise your body, all you need to do is stop leaking by adopting economy of movement and good posture; and put more energy into your body by sleeping well, eating properly, and exercising regularly. Whilst hardly earth-shattering knowledge, if you put a little bit of this advice into practice every day, you will quickly experience a noticeable increase in your energy levels.
In the next article of the Peaceful Warrior Series, I will describe how to use your body wisdom (a.k.a. intuition), and introduce you to some tools that can help you tap into it. Stay tuned, and see you next time.