How to Get an Energy Boost Without Caffeine, According to Yoga Instructors
Yes, you can perk up your brain using only your breath and body. Before reaching for a second (or third!) cup of coffee, try these holistic ways to get an energy boost without relying on food or caffeine-containing drinks.
Ditch the caffeine and try one of these tips
If you feel like you are drinking too much coffee or other caffeinated beverages to get an energy boost, you might want to consider alternatives for when you hit that mid-afternoon slump. Read on for tips from yoga instructors for how to boost your energy without using any products, foods, or drinks.
Try "Yogic coffee"
Instead of a cup of java, try this breathing technique that's so energizing it earned the nickname "yogic coffee." A study in the International Journal of Yoga found that this particular breathing technique, also called Bhastrika or "bellow's breath" perks up your central nervous system, waking you up and simultaneously calming you. Ready to try it yourself? Jessica Matthews, MS, professor of yoga studies at MiraCosta College in San Diego, California, recommends that you start from a comfortable seated position, bend your elbows to 90 degrees, raise your arms to shoulder height, and create loose fists with your hands. Take two to three deep diaphragmatic breaths in and out through your nose, maintaining good posture. On the next inhalation, forcefully inhale through the nose while extending arms overhead, outstretching fingers. On the exhalation, forcefully breathe out through the nose while lowering arms back to starting position, once again creating loose fists. Complete a total of 10 even cycles of breaths, then rest, placing hands on thighs with palms facing up as you breathe comfortably in and out through your nose. If time permits, repeat for a total of two to three rounds. (Have 10 minutes? Try this quick yoga workout.)
Get up and walk around
Backbends and headstands can give you that afternoon jolt, but Jodi Epstein, yoga and meditation teacher, concedes they can be hard to pull off in an office setting. What's a cubicle jockey to do? "Get out of your chair and walk away from the screen," she advises. When you sit for hours on end, your energy drops, your breath becomes shallow, and the inner workings of your body become stagnant—all of which have an intimate effect on your mind. "Instead of walking to refill your coffee cup, walk outside or around the office for about five to ten minutes," she suggests. If possible, try to walk around for five minutes every hour or two. And if you still need that coffee? "At the very least, while walking around with your third cup, you might find you don't need a fourth."
Give yourself a face and scalp massage
A mini-massage is a perfect solution to get rid of the mental stresses of the day and wake up your mind, says Jaya Jaya Myra, yoga instructor and founder of nonprofit Gita for the Masses. By taking two to three minutes to rub down your brow ridge, scalp, cheeks, and temple area, you dissipate tension and stress that has built up throughout the day.
Energize with "breath of fire"
With such a powerful name, it's no surprise that this type of breathing leaves you feeling refreshed, energized, and ready to focus, says Chelsea Xeron, a Kundalini yoga and meditation teacher based in Washington, D.C. Start by sitting up straight in your chair and begin by inhaling and exhaling deeply through your nose. Inhale deeply again, then exhale quickly through the nose. Continue this pace and start to pump your navel in on the exhale for three minutes. Here's a video on breath of fire that may be helpful. (Here are easy yoga moves to add to your daily routine.)
Salute the sun
This simple stretch can imitate the effect of caffeine and is easily doable at your desk says Kristina Dau, a certified yoga instructor. To practice sun salutations while seated in your desk chair, raise your arms straight overhead, inhaling while your arms are extended and look up. Next, exhale while you reach your arms to the ground, folding forward, touching your shins, toes, or the floor. Slowly bring yourself back up to a seated position and repeat three to five times. These movements, linked to your breath will get your heart pumping and oxygenate your blood, making you feel more alert and awake.
Rev up with alternate nostril breathing
When you find you lack focus, try this mindful breathing technique, suggests Ann Green, founder and director of BLiSS Ann Green Yoga Studio and owner of SHiNE OM Yoga. With your right hand, bring your pointer finger and middle finger to rest between your eyebrows, and get ready to use your thumb and ring finger. With your hands in the hang ten or call me position, close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose and close your right nostril with your right thumb. Then, inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily, then close off your left nostril (so both are closed) and hold the breath in for a second or two. Then, open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side. Repeat this for a total of one minute or about six rounds of inhalation and exhalation.
Wring out your spine
A seated spinal twist helps oxygenate your internal organs and gets the blood pumping after hours of sitting hunched over at your desk, says Karen Nourizadeh, a yogi and meditation guru at Pure Yoga. Sit in your chair with your feet planted on the floor, then turn your torso to the right, using your right hand behind you to push down into the chair and elongate your spine. Take your left hand to your outer right knee, using it to help you twist your torso to the right. (Keep your hips centered, so that they don't twist with your body.) Inhale as you lengthen your spine, exhale, then twist your torso and head along your spinal axis to the right. Repeat on the left side. "Make sure you are twisting to a comfortable degree, without straining the body or the breath," she says. "Twisting poses wring out venous blood from internal organs and allow oxygenated blood to flow in when the twist is released." Twists are also good for fighting constipation.
Mentally narrate your breathing
Nourizadeh says that while it may sound counterintuitive, spending some time watching your breath for five to ten minutes will help to improve your concentration, while giving your brain time to rest and restore itself. "Close your eyes and notice your breath moving in and out of your nostrils. As you inhale, mentally repeat to yourself, 'I am breathing in'. As you exhale, mentally repeat, 'I am breathing out,'" she suggests. "While performing the technique, you may feel tired, but if you keep your mind focused for long enough, your energy will start to shift as the brain begins to restore itself. One study found that mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques are associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processing."
Try shoulder rolls
"When we are stressed out, we naturally hunch forward which reduces lung capacity and oxygen levels making us feel more tired and stressed," Xeron says. "By doing shoulder rolls, you are opening up your lungs and allowing more oxygen to flow through your system. Instantly calming you down and freeing up energy for you to be more productive." Proper form is to move your neck back until it's in alignment with the rest of your spine while sitting up straight, then rolling shoulders up and back in a smooth motion. Try this for about two minutes.
Put some pep in your step with Kapalabhati breathing
Kapalabhati breathing, a cleansing form of pranayama is also known as the "shining skull" breath, because of it's energizing qualities. "A huge contributor to the afternoon hump is feeling tired, over-worked, or even stressed out, which takes its toll around 2 p.m. and leaves you wanting your bed, or to escape," says Calli De La Haye, a yoga instructor. "Being mindful allows a feeling of presence which can empower and energize by allowing the mind to feel free, so take the time to focus for two minutes on your breath alone, the natural breath, really feel it moving in and flowing out, if thoughts come along, allow them to come and go, don't push them away, instead, choose to focus on your breath." Simply sit with a straight back, breathe in through your nose, and shoot the breath out through the nose as you pull the belly in. Place one hand on the belly so you can feel the movement and repeat 20 times.
- International Journal of Yoga: "Sudarshan kriya yoga: Breathing for health"
- Jessica Matthews, MS, professor of yoga studies at MiraCosta College in San Diego, California
- Jodi Epstein, yoga and meditation teacher
- Jaya Jaya Myra, yoga instructor and founder of nonprofit Gita for the Masses
- Chelsea Xeron, a Kundalini yoga and meditation teacher based in Washington, D.C
- Kristina Dau, a certified yoga instructor
- Ann Green, founder and director of BLiSS Ann Green Yoga Studio and owner of SHiNE OM Yoga
- Karen Nourizadeh, a yogi and meditation guru at Pure Yoga
- Psychiatry Research: "Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density"
- Calli De La Haye, a yoga instructor