People may throw around the word “burnout” like it’s a fleeting feeling, but the truth is, it’s a legitimate medical condition that affects up to 44 percent of full-time workers in the U.S. Some signs you may be suffering from burnout: inability to focus, bouts of depression or anxiety, and feeling completely exhausted.
According to wellness coach Samantha Acton—whose book Fuel Your Fire: 200 Ways to Instantly Beat Burnout and Reignite Your Passion ($11) is out now—one reason why burnout leads to exhaustion is because it traps energy inside the body. This is why, she says, maintaining proper energy flow is important and one way to do this is by opening up your ki passages. “Ki is the life-force or living energy that connects to all there is and sustains your life breath,” she says. “The Chinese refer to it as ‘chi’ and Hindus call it ‘prana.'”
Acton says that excessive stress depletes energy—physically, mentally, and emotionally—which can make someone more vulnerable to illness. “To maintain long-term mental, physical, and emotional wellness you need the vital life-force energy to flow through you in a balanced way,” she says. Here, Acton, along with board-certified acupuncturist and oriental medicine expert Walda Laurenceau, L.Ac, explain more about what ki passages are and how they play a role in beating burnout.
What are ki passages?
Whether they’re referred to as ki passages, chi, or prana, Laurenceau explains that it refers to energy flow in the body. Maintaining proper energy flow, she says, is the cornerstone of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is an extensive part of acupuncture training. “Energy flows in many different ways throughout the body, acting kind of like internal highways,” she says. “These ‘highways’ are called meridian channels.”
Laurenceau explains that anything that causes stress can block an energy channel. “This can include physical stressors like not getting enough sleep or drinking too much alcohol, as well as mental stressors,” she says. Often, she says, many people don’t realize how much their emotions affect their bodies. “It’s important to be able to express your emotions in a free-flowing way because if you hold them in, it will induce stress in the body,” she says. Has a fight with your partner ever given you a stomach ache? Or has a stressful work project made your shoulders and back tense? These are all examples of stress leading to blocked energy in the body, according to Laurenceau.
According to Acton, proper energy flow supports the body’s endocrine system (your hormones) and sympathetic nervous system, aka the system that activates the body’s fight-or-flight response. “When those two systems are supported and not working overtime, then at appropriate times you can rest and your parasympathetic nervous system—the system that creates the relaxation response in your body—will become engaged,” she says. But if you are in a constant state of stress, your sympathetic nervous system gets overworked, which makes it harder to trigger the necessary relaxation response your body needs to recover. Thus, she says keeping your ki passages open can help ensure a natural balance between your body’s stress and relaxation responses and combat against the effects of burnout.
How to open your ki passages
The best way, of course, is acupuncture. Because they have extensive training on the body’s meridian channels, acupuncturists know what parts of the body to focus on to maintain proper energy flow. “Acupuncture helps release stagnation,” Laurenceau says. “Imagine there’s a beautiful stream of water flowing. Now imagine a rock gets in the way of that water flow, creating a blockage. Acupuncture needles are like little tools that remove that metaphorical rock, restoring the flow.”
However, Laurenceau and Acton say there are other ways to activate and open your ki passages without the help of an acupuncturist. Laurenceau recommends first tuning inward and noticing where your body feels tense. “Get a sense of where you’re holding your pain by doing a mental body scan and then use your breath to breathe into that space,” she says. “Inhale into that space, and then exhale into that space, allowing the body on the exhale to release and loosen up a little bit.”
Laurenceau says it’s also important to check in with yourself daily to acknowledge your feelings so they don’t subconsciously fester. “Learning how to create healthy boundaries is such an important skill,” she says. “We live in a go, go, go world and sometimes we become too exhausted to do anything good for ourselves; you really have to prioritize it.” Regularly checking in on your energy levels and emotions and acting accordingly is key to preventing burnout and holding unnecessary stress in the body, she says.
Create a healthy energy flow with this ki-activating exercise excerpted from Acton’s new book:
1. Sit upright, with your spine straight.
2. Open your mouth, relax your jaw, and pant like a dog.
3. Continue this for several minutes. These in-and-out breaths will open up your belly and clear ki passageways from the base of your spine to your throat’s vocal chords.
“So many people don’t realize how much tension they hold in their mouth or jaw,” Laurenceau says. Overall, this simple technique serves as a body scan to help tune inward and release tension. Afterwards, you’ll hopefully feel more energized and at peace. And that’s a much better way to go through the day than allowing tension to zap your mental and physical stamina away.
What you eat matters, too. Here’s how diet is related to energy:
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