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Lunchtime Renewal

Body+Soul, April/May 2005

For many, lunch is little more than an imperceptible blip on the screen of an average workday. Although you may fear that taking a break means sacrificing your productivity, it's quite the opposite. Research shows that when you skip lunch, performance scores plunge. But you don't need to take a 90-minute yoga class or a leisurely lunch to reap the benefits of an active respite from work. Short breaks can help increase overall energy and boost productivity. With that in mind, we've put together a quick, simple plan you can easily incorporate into your lunch hour -- and still have time to eat. Making it a regular part of your day will help reduce stress and release tension and, most important, help you let go of your morning and embrace your afternoon.

Let Go of the Morning
When the first half of your day is over, let it go -- physically and mentally. Here are seven steps for making that happen.

1. Don't Wait Until You're Starving to Take a Break
Once your blood sugar goes off the deep end, it can take a while to get it level again. Pay attention to the signals your body is giving you (difficulty focusing, slowing down, feeling overwhelmed) and stop where you are.

2. Breathe
Relax the belly and let it expand on an inhale for three counts, then exhale for three. Repeat five times.

3. Relax with a Mini Head Massage
With your thumbs at your temples and fingers in a half fist, run your index and middle fingers along the eyebrows and then along the cheekbones and sinuses, feeling the muscles release. Using the tips of your fingers, start at your forehead and rub along your scalp, front to back. Repeat as many times as you like.

Release tension. Lunchtime is the perfect time to stretch, especially if you spend hours hunched over a computer. Try these.

4. Shoulder Lift
Close your eyes and gently bring your shoulders up to your ears on the inhale, then push them down on the exhale, as if drawing them down your back. Focus on how the muscles feel contracting and then releasing.

5. Mid-Back Stretch
Push back from your desk and stretch your arms forward, clasping your hands palms out. On the exhale, reach forward, forming a "C" with your mid-back, letting your head tip forward.

6. Side Stretch
Stand with your right side about two feet from a wall. Place your right palm against the wall for support with your arm extended but slightly bent. Then reach up and over with your left arm, stretching out the left side. Hold for a few seconds, breathing into the stretch. Repeat on the other side.

7. Shake it Out
This gets your blood flowing and loosens up cramped muscles. Start by shaking out your hands and wrists, then your legs and feet. Rotate your ankles a few times each.

Embrace the Afternoon
Once you've put the morning behind you, reclaim the afternoon with renewed vigor by eating, exercising, and meditating. Just follow these steps.

1. Eat a Light Lunch
Choose whole and organic foods when possible. Steer clear of fast food and preservative-filled processed foods. Your ideal lunch shouldn't leave you unsatisfied or in need of a nap. Chicken soup, or any soup that contains vegetables along with beans or meat, is a great choice, as it strikes a healthy balance between protein, carbs, vegetables, and water to keep you fully energized and hydrated.

2. Take a Walk
A brisk 10-minute walk after lunch benefits body and mind by raising your heart rate and improving circulation, helping your body use the calories you've just consumed. A walk can do more than just kick start your metabolism -- it can greatly improve your mood, thanks to the release of feel-good hormones, helping you return to work in a new frame of mind. Spend your walk focused on energizing thoughts rather than reliving the stresses of the day.

3. Yin-Yang Meditation
Even if you can't enjoy a change of scenery at lunch, the power of visualization can give you a much-needed mental vacation, even for just a few minutes. Skye Alexander, author of "The Care and Feeding of Your Chi," recommends this meditation for channeling energy and finding peace through balance.

Connect and center yourself. Sit with your back straight and envision your spine extending down, like a taproot into the ground.

Draw feminine energy up from the earth. To create a sense of calm and serenity, visualize healing blue-green energy traveling like a fountain or spring from deep in the ground, up through the back of your spine, spouting out from the top of your head, flowing down on all sides, washing your aura clean. Inhale as the energy comes into your body; exhale as it spouts out.

Draw masculine energy down from the sky. To inspire courage and revitalize your energy, imagine clouds parting to reveal a bright sun, and feel the warm, golden light beaming down through the crown chakra at the top of your head, all the way to your root chakra, located at the base of your spine.

Join the two energy forces. Finally, sense those two opposing forces, feminine and masculine, yin and yang, joining at the third chakra in your solar plexus, about halfway between your heart and navel. Feel yourself calm, focused, renewed, and ready to face the rest of your day.

All-Day Energy Tips
Energy boosters don't need to be confined to lunchtime, says author and energy coach Jon Gordon. Here are a few of his ideas for picking up the pace.

Do Chair Squats
With feet just a little wider than body-width apart and arms at your sides, start to sit down on your chair, but stop a few inches above the seat. Stand up and repeat. Be careful not to lean too far forward. Repeat 10 times. Once that feels easy, increase to 20 repetitions.

Take a Peppermint Break
Peppermint can boost mood and motivation. Try a cup of peppermint tea, spray an herbal mint spritzer in your office, or dab some diluted essential oil on your wrists or temples to cool and revive you.

Drink Cold Water
Sipping some cold water can be the internal equivalent of a cold shower, giving your body a wake-up call.

Five Minutes of Silence
Cut stress off at the pass by simply halting. Sit for five minutes and do nothing but listen to your breath. Create that separation once or twice a day so you don't get sucked into -- and worn out by -- your work.