At the end of each day I walk in my back door knowing I'll be greeted by two certainties: 1) My dog will slink by in welcome, toy in mouth, giving me the time to feed me side-eye; 2) Upon greeting my partner, he will say something along the lines of, "I'm so tired. There must be something wrong with me. Maybe something really wrong with me. It doesn't make sense."
But it does. It makes perfect sense.
Meet your lungs
Try this: Bring the fingers of one hand to your opposite collarbone, or clavicle. Let your fingers inch along the bone, finding the hollow just above it.
In these small caverns above your collarbones lie the upper tips of your lungs. You may have a visual image of your lungs sitting entirely within your ribcage, but anatomically our lungs are longer and so much more multi-dimensional than what we envision! Each lung has multiple lobes; each lobe has a top, bottom, front and back--all of this surface area is used when we breathe.
Back to my partner's daily fatigue: He spends most days now, as many of us do, working from home. Sitting in a big leather desk chair facing an assemblage of desk- and laptop computer monitors and mobile phones. He begins and ends each day like this: staring, typing, leaning forward slightly.
Sound familiar? This combination slouch and forward tilt--towards the screen, the keyboard, all the steering wheels of daily modern life--this position is the opposite of how our bodies were engineered to breathe.
Lengthen your lungs
Picture your local real estate teardown. The one in my neighborhood was built in the 1880s; remnants of its grand history were still visible two centuries later. As years of neglect took their toll—sagging roof, caving walls, rippling floorboards of a once-elegant wraparound porch—the structure gradually became unsound and eventually collapsed in on itself.
The metaphor holds true with bodies. The soundness of our structure determines the integrity with which all functions flow: breath, heartbeat, circulation, digestion. When the structure begins to sag our lungs have no option but to curl up inside, to take up less space.
By cutting off oxygen supply to our lungs, breath by breath, hour after hour, we're decreasing the oxygen flow to our brains. Symptoms of a brain that's running low on oxygen? Fatigue, listlessness, low energy.
If you often feel tired despite a decent night's sleep, consider how your lungs have been spending the day.
There are simple solutions; the only requirement is discipline. Try these steps—they can be modified to fit any age or range of mobility. First, set your phone timer to go off every 45-60 minutes. Every time it rings:
1. MOVE. Change positions. Have several options of positions you can work from comfortably--standing, sitting, maybe some in a kneeling position. Or ditch your chair for a physioball. Or sit on a meditation cushion on your chair seat. Just change it up.
2. STRETCH. Standing or sitting, try interlacing your fingers behind your back, elbows gently bent. Breathe in deeply without clenching your jaw, neck and shoulders. (Take my word for it: If you do this on Zoom, no one will notice.)
3. BREATHE. Close your eyes and breathe consciously. Take long breaths, imagining expanding with air to the very tops of the lungs—a place you now know, those hollows above the collarbones. When your lungs feel completely full, sip in even more air. Hold for a long pause; exhale slowly.
And repeat : )