Boost your energy and beat burnout with these ancient wisdom self-care rituals from author and practitioner Sarah Kucera
For more than 5,000 years, Ayurveda has taught that people exist on a continuum with nature, and that we should honour this connection through the foods we eat, the way we conduct our day, and by fully taking in our changing environment through our senses. Nature is cyclical, and when our lives flow in sync with it, we feel well. When life – and the distractions of technology, work, stress and so on – causes us to veer off track, we experience imbalance, only to leave us searching for a way to get back in line.
We are lucky in that our earliest ancestors evolved immersed in nature, instead of in their devices. They observed the fluctuations of the 24-hour clock and seasonal cycles in both our internal and external environments, developing an understanding that illness arises when we go against nature or our own internal wisdom. When we feel tired but don’t sleep, we become more susceptible to common colds and flus because we’ve lowered our immunity; similarly, we are more likely to develop unhealthy digestive conditions when we eat food that has been engineered, lacks natural nourishment, or is grown out of season. As ayurvedic practitioners observed these propensities for sicknesses, the recommendations for daily, nightly, and seasonal routines were born – including the foundational eating and sleeping patterns that remained mainstays in generations as recent as our grandparents.
Burnout isn’t a diagnosed condition, but the symptoms are very real. The term was first used in 1974 by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, when he was assessing symptoms of people who were working in caregiver positions. He observed that the continued demands from others were leading to the declining physical and mental condition of the caregivers. They were suffering from chronic exhaustion, decreased interest in their work, less motivation to perform regular daily tasks, irritability, and depression.
Sound familiar? These days, burnout can happen to anyone who fills their time with more tasks than pauses and amusement. Imagine that ‘pastimes’ were once used to pass the time, rather than to boost our resumes. Now, there is no time to pass!
In Ayurveda, pitta doshas, or those with a more fiery disposition, are usually more at risk of burnout than their other doshic counterparts. People with this constitution are often reliable and responsible leaders, and thus are often the ones that others call upon when they need help. They also have the highest expectations for themselves with the strongest desire for accomplishments. With increased responsibilities or endless efforts to achieve goals comes an increase in heat, which is why it is no coincidence we call this condition ‘burnout.’
If your increased responsibilities lead to more self-sacrifice and a decline in your self-care, you’re at risk of physical and emotional fatigue. Ultimately, the answer is to decrease or delegate responsibilities, allow more time to decompress and rest, and work on rebuilding your energy. These rituals take into consideration that you already have not enough time and too many responsibilities. All new rituals and routines should start slow, but it is key for these burnout rituals so that a sudden drop in activity doesn’t cause more worry and anxiety.
The low levels of energy that result from having burnout, adrenal fatigue, or any kind of depleting condition are often confused with kapha imbalances. This is because kapha’s true nature is to be slow and steady, which is easy to misinterpret as having low energy. However, excess kapha becomes balanced with more rigor, rather than with the rest and restoration that is necessary to counteract depletion.
Meditation for self-conservation (5 Minutes)
The way that meditation allows us to centre ourselves makes it dually calming and re-energising. Having a morning meditation practice gives time for pause and self-reflection so that patterns which lead towards burnout can more easily be avoided throughout the day.
For this meditation, sit in an easy, upright position. Take three deep breaths by inhaling through your nose and audibly sighing through your mouth as you exhale. Repeat five more deep breaths, breathing only through your nose. If you feel the source of your burnout comes from your inclination to care for others first, repeat with each breath, “Through caring for myself, I am able to care for others.” If you feel your burnout is the result of too many goals or objectives, repeat, “Through caring for myself, I can achieve anything.” Then continue to breathe naturally, sitting for five minutes.
Come back to your breath each time you become aware of your mind trailing off into other thoughts.
Moon-piercing breath (3 Minutes)
Also known as chandra bhedana, this breathing practice is meant to invoke the energy of the moon. In both ayurvedic and yogic philosophy, it is believed that the right side of the body represents solar energy (pingala nadi), which gives you willpower and strength; but when we are stuck in an abundance of responsibilities, this energy becomes excessive, much like burning the candle at both ends. The left side of the body represents the softer, more compassionate and understanding lunar energy (ida nadi). This energy can become imbalanced, too, causing more insecurities or withdrawal. By breathing in through one side of the nose and out the other in a cyclical way, it is said that we can bring these energies to better balance.
When looking to simply neutralise energy, the breathing is alternated (see nadi shodhana). When trying to release anger and heat, you’ll breathe in through the left side of your nose and out through the right. This special type of breathing has been shown to immediately decrease blood pressure and heart rate.
Still with me? To practice chandra bhedana, sit comfortably with your spine lengthened and upright. Place your left hand in a receptive, palm-up position on your lap. Using your right hand, fold your first two fingers into your palm. Take a natural breath in and out. Then, place your thumb on the right side of your nose and breathe in through the left side. Place your ring finger on the left side of your nose, release your thumb, and slowly breathe out through the right.
Repeat this for at least seven cycles. Practicing this in the morning will allow you to start your day feeling calm and collected, which will result in less accumulated anger throughout the day.
Many who experience burnout are involved in roles where they give their time to other people. Eating your lunch solo, with an emphasis on receiving, can encourage recharging by turning energy inward. You can also focus more on the food that you are taking in, which in the case of burnout, should be grounding, easy to digest, nutrient-dense, and full of prana or energy. Avoid convenient foods that are processed and sugary, as they will only give you a temporary surge of energy. Have cooked veggies, such as root vegetables and steamed greens, as well as broths and white rice, and top your dishes with seeds such as flax, hemp, or chia to provide healthy fats. Add in protein with mung beans or lentils, and if you eat meat, white fish, turkey or chicken is best.
This breathing practice is not reserved for morning, however, so if you enjoy the effects, you may incorporate this into your evening routine, too.
Solo retreat (5 Minutes)
When you have nothing left to give, even being in the presence of other people, sounds, or things can feel like an energetic drain. Having a moment to recalibrate without any stimuli is important for your midday transition.
Create a personal retreat for yourself by drawing the shades in your room at home or at work. Turn off anything making sound: music or audio, but also fans or anything that might be creating air movement. If all else fails, you can retreat to a bathroom where you know your privacy will be respected.
Sit where you are comfortable, either in a chair or on the floor, in a relaxed but upright position. Close your eyes, letting the silence around you or the sound of your own breath recharge your prana. This pause will be like hitting the reset button, restoring your energy and stopping stress from accumulating through the day.
Gentle hip release (5 Minutes)
We can all afford to embrace more yin, or moon, energy in our lives, but this is especially important for those who are in yang roles of leadership or as caregivers. Seated hip stretches appropriately invoke yin energy, as they slow us down and anchor us to the earth. For this hip release, sit with your legs crossed, either directly on the floor or propped up on a cushion or folded blanket. Place your hands on your knees and begin to move your torso in a circle by leaning to one side, then forward and toward the middle, then to the other side. Exaggerate the movement so as to feel a gentle stretch around your outer hips, sides, and lower back. Make 10 to 15 circles, then without an abrupt stop, circle in the other direction. After going the same amount each way, reach both arms in front of you, moving toward a restful forward bend. Relax your neck and/or let your head rest on your hands, the floor, or another support like a yoga block. After several deep breaths, slowly return to upright, letting your head be the last thing to come up.
Creative time (15 Minutes)
Since burnout is most likely to manifest when we have too many responsibilities, too many goals, or too many people to look after, taking some creative time can settle the score. Not only does it help you turn inward instead of extending energy outward, but also creativity has a more free-flowing and feminine energy than our more rigid and masculine goals and responsibilities. You don’t have to consider yourself ‘creative’ to complete this exercise, but if you do, this will come easily. If not, start thinking along the lines of using your imagination, doing something artistic, or making something by hand – such as baking, knitting, drawing, playing or listening to music, dancing, painting, or pottery. Begin with 15 minutes of creative time, but feel free to continue with more if you find it to be soothing and a good way to disconnect from your day.
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