- This article was first published just over two years ago, but in light of many of us having to go through lockdown and self-isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic, it felt very apt to repost.
Just recently, I've started doing three things that have had an immediate and profound impact on my physical and emotional health.
My energy levels have soared, I'm more productive and more creative. I'm calmer and less stressed and generally just feel like a happier person. This, at a time, when I'm usually struggling with the grey and dreary skies of a long UK winter.
Nothing in my external world has changed at all - still the same pressures and demands on my time. But everything in my internal world has - I'm able to cope with them better.
Together these three daily routines take about 30 minutes tops. And, because I know what a difference it makes, this half hour has now become an essential, non-negotiable part of the day, not a luxury to fit in if I have time.
As the title suggests, making time for these in the morning sets me up for the day. But even if I do them at lunchtime or later in the evening, I still reap the benefits.
In recommending these three simple practises, I'd say do what feels right for you. Do just one, do all three, group them together in a sequence or split them up into three separate practises. I strongly suggest, however, being consistent and performing these regularly for maximum benefit.
Tabata - the 4-Minute Workout
Tabata - or the Tabata method - is a short, high-intensity exercise routine comprising 20 seconds of all-out, maximum-effort exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times. Total time from start to finish is four minutes - and that's it, you're done for the day.
The Tabata Protocol was created by Dr Izumi Tabata¹ following his work with the Japanese Olympic speed skating team in the 1990s (though he himself credits the team's coach, Irisawa Koichi). Tabata found that just four minutes of exercise performed in these short bursts was equal to, if not better than, an hour's worth of exercise in terms of cardiovascular fitness and health.
While you may already have an exercise programme you love, for those of us who don't (because we simply can't find the time, or we can't justify the cost of a gym or a babysitter), it's perfect. I challenge even the busiest person not to be able to find four spare minutes in a day.
According to fitness professionals, the key is to make those 20 second bursts count - if you're not pushing yourself to maximum effort then you're not doing it right.
For me, it's the way Tabata makes me feel for the rest of the day that has me hooked. I feel energised and raring to go, an effect that lasts well into the late afternoon. As a result I get more done, and if it helps me look better into the bargain, that's a bonus.
You can find specific Tabata apps which help you time your routine (trying to keep track of counting while you're doing jumping jacks is harder than you might think). At a pinch, you could use a stopwatch.
As with all exercise programmes, if you're in any doubt about starting a new fitness routine, consult a medical professional first.
After Tabata, I find a comfortable spot, which is usually sitting at my desk, for the next step - meditation.
Meditation has become something of a buzzword over recent years and months, aided by technology and a range of very cool free apps like Calm, Headspace, and, one of my favourites, Brainwave (which uses binaural beats to access deeper levels of relaxation).
No longer strictly a religious practise, or the preserve of the New Age movement or celebrity fads, meditation has become mainstream. Global CEOS and leaders incorporate meditation into their daily schedules, companies are starting to introduce meditation and mindfulness as part of their overall employee mental health strategy, and teachers are introducing meditation into the classroom.
And it's not hard to see why, with research showing the benefits of meditation ranging from better sleep to improved mood, soaring levels of creativity and just simply being happier.
For me, meditating is like turning the dial on a radio to tune in to a calmer, saner frequency. Answers to problems I've been wrestling with for days suddenly seem to pop up. The rollercoaster ups and downs of life level out to a more manageable state. There's less drama.
There's a wide range of online meditation recordings to choose from, including guided meditation routines to mantras on YouTube to audio recordings with embedded binaural beats, as mentioned above.
A meditation can be as simple as a body scan, focussing on relaxing all the parts of your body. Or it can encompass greater themes like compassion, gratitude and forgiveness (a personal favourite is MindValley Academy's 6 Phase Meditation).
I have also created two meditation audios: Inner Calm designed to help banish the stresses of the day and unlock inner calm and balance.; and Mood Boost, providing a quick boost to lift your spirits and lighten your mood.