If you find yourself falling asleep in every Savasana, or snoozing for short periods of time at your desk, you may be recovering from a stressful year and sleep debt, or the dilemma might run deeper, and you may be struggling to get enough iron and oxygenated blood moving through your body and brain.
Our energy levels are the result of a complex equation that includes how we sleep, how much we exercise, biochemistry imbalances, what we eat, and the bioavailability of certain nutrients and minerals. Iron is one of those minerals, helping us grow, breathe, and develop muscle. And the good news is that there are simple steps you can take now to keep this critical element optimized.
How Iron Works
We use iron for hormone production and to make myoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen to our muscles.
When your body doesn’t have enough iron, it can’t produce enough hemoglobin, a protein that helps red blood cells carry oxygen. Without enough oxygen in your blood, you may feel chronically tired, even short of breath. Other symptoms of low iron can include dizziness, feeling cold, a faster heartbeat, and headaches.
Adding iron-rich foods, the right supplementation, and targeted breathing and movement practices to your routine will help you maintain healthy iron levels and get iron circulating throughout your system for sustained energy. Women up to the age of 50 need about 18 mg of this mineral (up to 27 mg a day if you’re pregnant), and men need about 8 mg a day. But don’t overdo it; at high levels (more than 45 mg a day), iron can be toxic.
3 Strategies for Boosting Oxygen-Rich Blood and Energy Levels
1. B Vitamins and Blood Builders for Boosting Iron
Research shows that iron supplements, especially in combination with iron-rich foods, can help you reverse low energy levels and fight exhaustion. You can round off what you don’t get through foods like spinach, black beans, turkey, and tofu with supplements. When shopping for iron supplements, look for real, whole ingredients, and scientifically tested pills, capsules, or drops. You can also add vitamin C to your supplement routine for better iron absorption. For the most effective results, take iron supplements like vegan MegaFood® Blood Builder®, which includes beets, oranges, and broccoli, together with folic acid and B12 to help maintain healthy red blood cell production.
2. A Breathing Practice for Balancing Blood Flow
To help bring oxygenated blood to the whole body, you can also use simple breathing exercises. One yogic breath in particular, called alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana), has been practiced for centuries for improving lung capacity. And now science backs its benefits for better circulation and oxygenated blood flow. Added bonus: this breath helps balance energy and emotions, too!
To start, sit in a comfortable posture with a long spine. With your right hand, curl your middle and index fingers inward and extend your thumb, ring finger, and pinky. You’ll use your ring finger and thumb to alternate closing your nostrils, with light pressure.
First, inhale through both nostrils, lightly place your thumb on your right nostril, exhale slowly and deeply through your left nostril. Inhale through the left, change hand position so your ring finger lightly closes your left nostril, then exhale slowly through your right nostril. Inhale through your right. This is one round of breath.
Take as many rounds as is comfortable and relaxing for you.
3. Yoga Poses for Better Circulation
Yoga has been successfully studied for increased circulation. Plus, research on the impacts of yoga postures and iron levels show an increase in hemoglobin after a consistent practice of several standing poses, backbends, forward bends, and twists.
Try this gentle four-posture sequence from Janna Delgado, a yoga and mindfulness teacher at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, for getting oxygen-rich blood flowing.
Seated Side Bend
Begin by sitting tall with your arms by your sides. You can sit on a blanket, bolster, or chair for more support. Inhale and sweep your arms overhead. Exhale and lower your right hand beside your right hip while lengthening your left arm and torso to the right, extending through your left fingertips. Bring your torso back to vertical on the inhale as you sweep the right hand up to meet the left overhead. Exhale and repeat on the other side, flowing from side to side for several rounds.
Benefits: Side bending brings vital oxygen to your organs and muscles, optimizing respiration.
Seated Spinal Twist
Inhale and sweep your arms overhead. Exhale and lower your left hand to your right knee and your right hand to the ground behind your sacrum, rotating your torso to the right. Inhale back to center, arms overhead. Repeat on the left side. Continue rotating in each direction for several rounds, keeping your spine long the entire time.
Benefits: Twists stimulate your circulation, digestion, and help cultivate body awareness.
Seated Cow Pose
Inhale and sweep your arms overhead. Exhale and lower your arms down, planting your palms on your low back or clasping your hands. Draw your elbows toward one another while lifting your chest. If your hands are clasped, straighten your arms, pressing your knuckles and shoulder blades toward the floor.
Benefits: Cow Pose, a gentle heart-opener, strengthens your spine, opens your lungs, and revitalizes your entire being.
Seated Cat Pose
On an exhalation, release the hands and sweep your arms out to your sides and in front of your chest, interlacing your fingers and pressing your palms forward to straighten your arms while rounding your spine. Inhale to release the hands, sweeping your arms overhead. Flow through the forward bend and backbend for several rounds, keeping your breath smooth.
Benefits: This seated variation of Cat Pose stretches your arms, releases any tension in your neck and shoulders, and softly expands your back body.