Work in so you can workout

zen-still-life-1390074-1279x855Originally written for LawTalk magazine, published 16 July 2015

We all know that working out is good for you, from increasing energy, improving mood and controlling weight, there’s dozens of reasons to work out and many of us do it regularly.

But like anything else, it’s all about balance and sometimes you may find that you’re working out too much and to regain balance you need more working in.

Working out is all about expending energy – but to do this, you need to have the energy to expend. If you’re energy depleted, stressed out, overworked and tired, or your health is compromised with lowered immunity or infection, working out is simply a further stress on your body and can do more harm than good, further diminishing your already low energy stores.

Sure, you feel great straight after that hard out crossfit or circuit class, strength session or run but the reality is you’re simply using the last of the fuel from your energy tank and riding your endorphin wave. You can’t ride that wave forever and eventually it all comes crashing down around you – exhaustion, adrenal fatigue and illness are not far away.

The body reacts the same to all stressors – whether they are mental, emotional, financial, electro-magnetic or physical – and that includes exercise or working out. Stress hormones are released, the flight or fight or sympathetic nervous system is activated, and your body, focused on self-preservation, shunts weight loss and repair to the bottom of its priorities.

It’s important to remember that the working out part isn’t the part that’s going to make us faster, stronger, thinner, fitter – all that good stuff happens in our recovery phase, after the working out.

You can help this recovery process with good nutrition, rest and sleep, and working in.

So what is working in?

Working in exercises are slow exercises, movements and practices which work with your breath and focus.

Working in helps to build energy and encourage your rest and digest functions. You know you’re working in when you can do it on a full stomach and doesn’t elevate the heart or respiratory rate.

Examples of working in are taking a walk outside, slow restorative yoga (not hot yoga), tai chi, Qigong, stretching and mobilisations, meditation and CHEK zone exercises.

As working in boosts the parasympathetic nervous system (your rest and digest functions), it helps to support organ and glandular function, and moves nutrition and waste through the body. The more efficient your body is working, the more energised you’ll feel and the more benefit you’ll get when you workout once again.

Working in also helps to reset your bio-rhythms.

If you’re finding it hard to get to sleep, often wake up in the middle of the night or have an over-reliance on caffeine, working in techniques can help rebalance your body.

If you’re constantly in a fight or flight response from stressful work or life situations, it is obvious your mind and body will not let you rest with danger so close to hand, and no wonder you can’t sleep. Try some working in to tone down the fight or flight response.

Working in can be done anywhere, any time and it doesn’t have to be a 90 minute yoga class – even a few minutes can help to restore your energy and get your parasympathetic nervous system going.

Try these CHEK zone techniques:

Breathing squats

Take a comfortable stance, wide enough to squat down between your legs, with your arms at your sides or in front. Breathe in, then lower down and breathe out. Go as low as you comfortably can, pause and breathe in as you return to standing. Repeat at your natural breathing pace and breathe through your nose.

Alternate nostril breathing

This is a common yoga breath to bring calm and balance and co-ordinate the left and right sides of the brain. Sitting comfortably, hold your right thumb over the right nostril, with your index and second finger between your eyebrows. Breathe in deeply through the left nostril. At the top of your inhalation, close off the left nostril with the ring finger, then breathe out through the right nostril. Continue the pattern, breathing in through the right nostril, closing it off with the right thumb, and breathing out through the left nostril.

Piston breathing

Stand in a relaxed posture, and breathe in deeply, let your belly expand. Breathe out forcefully through your nose and let your belly flatten. Use a pulsing exhalation – taking short quick exhalations until you’ve emptied your lungs.

Energy Push

Stand with your hands straight out in front. Breathe in and bring your hands in towards your body. Breathe out and push your arms straight out with the intent of proj
ecting energy from your core out to your arms and hands. Repeat pushing to the front middle, front left and right and back left and right.

Take your time with these and slow your breathing and movement down as much as you comfortably can.