Simple lifestyle tweaks could stop you from burning out

Dr Ela Manga likens burnout to a sort of cancer that afflicts most adults. She's developed a three-pronged 'back to basics' approach to fight it

30 July 2017 - 00:00 By Shanthini Naidoo
Dr Ela Manga, author of 'The Energy Code'.
Dr Ela Manga, author of 'The Energy Code'.
Image: Supplied

Busy and exhausted is the modern narrative - we are all doing far too much, and you don't have to go far to find people to complain about it. Dr Ela Manga believes burnout has become a sort of cancer that most adults are afflicted by, to different degrees.

A medical doctor who found herself close to burnout from treating patients with the same condition, Manga decided to stop, and work out an alternative cure.

"Fatigue is a global crisis," she says. "About 12 years ago, I was a burnt-out GP with a waiting room full of patients seeking a fast solution to their health concerns. The paradigm of medicine that I was practising was falling short in what I believed the role of the doctor to be - a partner in the creation of sustainable health, self-awareness, and a lifestyle that supports this."


Medicine should be integrated and intuitive, she says. Her theory is that we need to improve our energy management and her recent book, The Energy Code, explains how to get it right, including stopping anything we might be doing wrong (see below).

Manga's approach, based on case studies (some of which are detailed in the book), basic energy laws, modern neuroscience and Eastern philosophy, is three-pronged.

"It requires support for the physical body, where we optimise the body to heal itself, which is what it's meant to do." 

This is achieved by:

  • Eating in a way that is going to give enough nourishment to optimise energy;
  • Exercising and moving so you feel strong, flexible and fit, where fitness is not an addiction; and
  • Using optimum breathing.

While many of us eat reasonably well, take supplements and medication, then head to the gym in what Manga says is a "hyper-adrenalised state", this might not be the way to feel healthy, or happy.

The idea is to get the basics correct in food, exercise and body through a series of "recovery loops"

The idea is to get the basics correct in food, exercise and body through a series of "recovery loops" which she divides into macro and micro loops. A micro loop could be a five-minute technology time-out, a yawn or a stretch. Macro loops might involve a long weekend away or a detox diet.

Manga advocates "taking responsibility" for the way we think and conduct relationships, and for the reactions that inform our behaviour. "That lifelong approach of taking the journey inwards, informs the quality of your life," she says.

"Everyone has a unique blueprint. What we want to work out is how to create a solid foundation for mind to work well, and to cope."


Chronic muscle tension, headaches, allergies, insomnia, anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, addictive behaviour patterns and exhaustion are all manifestations of a malfunctioning energy system.

"We need tools, that every single one of us has within us, to become aware of how to navigate the complexities of modern life. Simple ways, which don't cost anything, that are an awareness of optimising energy. If we don't, it shows up in devastating ways."

She says her medicine has moved to a place of simplicity.

Breathing, for example: "Because it is free and it's there, we don't notice it. I am astounded by how when we show people they can slow down the breath to feel relaxed, it is a foreign feeling. I don't think we know what relaxation is anymore.

"It is so empowering, accessible and simple to use to change your energy state. Instead of taking a pill for insomnia, breathe in a way to solve it, breathe for confidence before a presentation, or when you have an energy slump. I'm passionate about it because it costs nothing and can change lives.

"It starts with breath awareness. Focus on the breath without changing its pace, then alter the rate and depth. Conscious breathing is an energising way of breathing. Deep healing can happen, and that has been technically proven."



An example of tailoring a diet for yourself is to observe how the body feels after eating certain foods.

People often detox with a plant-based diet, but many of us need red meat protein too. The point is to be conscious of the digestive system and how you feel after you eat.

Do you wake up with energy, what is your bowel function like? Digestive issues like cramps and bloating and constipation are good indicators of overall health.

Headaches, muscle aches and pain must also be noted and addressed.


An example of correction in exercise is a cyclist who exercises without stretching and has aches and pains afterwards. The connective tissue system must be open and stretched or the energy won’t flow. Then you have back and shoulder pain.

What is the body asking for? I was overusing my muscles in yoga, and needed to bring strength into it. The point is to make sure you are able to warm up and cool down.

You can’t go to the gym hyped up and rush out into the world again. Slowly, build up and then wind down, exercise and focus what you are feeling, be present, instead of zoning out.


David O’Hare’s 3, 6, 5 breathing method consciously brings the breathing rate down.

To start, slowly breathe in for five seconds, then exhale for five seconds. Do this three times a day, six breaths a minute, for five minutes at a time.

It brings down cortisol levels, boosts the immune system, makes you calmer and stabilises your heart.

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