Wake Up—And Don’t Smell The Coffee: Caffeine-Free Energy Boosters

Three non-chemical ways to get revved up in the morning.

By Beth Levine
clock happy wake up morning picture
Photograph: Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

If you’ve seen someone perform Tai Chi, you have a good idea of what Qigong (aka Chi Kung) looks like. However, Qigong is less exacting, notes Ken Dolan, a practitioner who workswith patients in the Bennett Cancer Center at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut. “It has sets of movement, but they aren’t as choreographed into a particular sequence you have to follow precisely, as Tai Chi is,” he says. The basic idea: You slowly move your arms across and over your body, all the while breathing deeply, often twisting the hips slightly and stepping in various directions.

Research shows that Qigong and Tai Chi can improve practitioners’ bone health, fitness and balance, though no one has yet studied their possible invigorating effects. Still, experts who’ve worked with clients have found evidence of these benefits. “Qigong can take you out of the fogginess of the sleep cycle into the awake cycle. It’s like jump-starting your body in the morning,” says Roger Jahnke, director and chief instructor at the Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi in Santa Barbara, California. “Qigong and Tai Chi were developed specifically to maximize energy.” 

The Program
Total Time
: Ideally, you should set aside 30 to 60 minutes. But if you can’t manage that first thing in the morning, Jahnke says, you’ll still reap energizing benefits from a 10-minute session (if you have time, repeat five more sessions throughout the day).
Effectiveness Tip: To keep your mind quiet, practice in a pleasant, neutral place; outdoors, in nature, is best. If your thoughts stray into “I can’t believe we have to spend our vacation money on a new furnace” territory, tell yourself, “Not now,” and pull your mind back to the present.

The illustrations here show a few movements that are part of a sequence called Awakening the Chi (Chi means “energy”). You can easily locate videos of simple sequences on the Internet, or you can find local teachers on the Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi website (instituteofintegral​qi​​​​​gong​andtaichi.org).

My Rating: 4 cups of coffee
I found the Qigong practice surprisingly energizing. It may feel as if you aren’t doing much, but the flow of continuous movement gets your blood going and shakes out the creaks; the breathing increases the oxygen level in your body; and the mindfulness draws you into a state of alertness. By the time I’m finished, thoughts of bed are long forgotten, and I’m ready to roll.

For me, all three of these techniques were effective. I’m still using them, and whichever I choose, I get more done in the morning because I am alert and ready to take on the day rather than half-awake and schlumping around, waiting for inspiration to strike. But let’s not get crazy here: I’ve been doing exercises, not having a lobotomy. I’m still no Little Mary Sunshine in the morning—more like Mary Partly Sunny with a 10 Percent Chance of Rain. “We’ll take it!” my husband and son exclaimed after I finished my experiment. The dog didn’t say much, but I’m pretty sure he agreed.

Originally published in the November 2011 issue of More.

Next: Is Your Body Keeping You Awake?

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First Published November 9, 2011

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