Cycling and writing

April 12, 2017 at 2:45 am | Posted in Cycling - health benefits, cycling - mental benefits, depression, Living creatively, writers' health | Leave a comment
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A people-centred society

Riding a bicycle regularly has measurable benefits for your body and immeasurable ones for your brain and creativity. In my last blog I hinted at these benefits and in this one I have the space to expand on some of the glorious results of swapping four wheels for two, and I don’t mean the kind with the internal combustion engine attached. I mean the kind that relies on human muscle power.

That muscle power is the key to the benefits. Cycling improves the strength, tone and flexibility of muscles and sluices synovial fluid through the hip, knee and ankle joints, which eases arthritis. Pumping oxygen through the bloodstream enhances your energy, expands brain capacity and improves your complexion.

Continue Reading Cycling and writing…

How to be a gazelle – on health, fitness and match-making two writers

April 2, 2017 at 7:10 am | Posted in Anti-ageing, Cycling - health benefits, cycling - mental benefits, sarah wilson, Tim Ferriss, writers' habits, writers' health | Leave a comment
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The human guinea pig

Ferriss

‘The 4-Hour Body’ – definitely an uncommon guide

It was already hot at 8.30 on a Saturday morning. My nightie was on the floor and the sheet kicked aside when I glanced over at my reflection in the large mirrored built-in wardrobe doors.

I groaned and said, ‘Oh, God – I’ve put on weight. I’m a beached whale!’

And my companion said, ‘No, you’re not. You’re a leaping porpoise.’

I took this as a compliment.

But I’d still rather be a gazelle. American writer and adventurer Tim Ferriss promises me that I can be. Not in those exact words but near enough. For all my complaints about Tim Ferriss and the gender imbalance of his books (see January 14 of www.penhanley.wordpress.com ) I’ve been won over by him. His enthusiasm is infectious, he’s insatiably curious, and he’s funny. I’m gripped by the boys’ adventure style of his prose. In the idiom of his native country, what’s not to like? Continue Reading How to be a gazelle – on health, fitness and match-making two writers…

A struggle with mental illness – I Am Brian Wilson: A memoir

February 5, 2017 at 11:24 pm | Posted in creativity, depression, mental illness, song writing, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Pet Sounds

When I was fourteen my older brother gave me the new Beachboys’ Pet Sounds album for Christmas. It was and remains my favourite. I’d never heard anything like those sophisticated, layered compositions and sublime harmonies – and neither had anyone else. No one had ever put together sounds like that before. It had a massive influence on future music. Without Pet Sounds the Beatles would never have made their Sergeant Peppers album.

I’ve been thinking about Pet Sounds a lot lately because I’ve been reading I Am Brian Wilson (with Ben Greenman, Coronet, 2016), a story of early success and mental illness, of creative genius and tragic loss, of addiction and second chances. I love this book. Continue Reading A struggle with mental illness – I Am Brian Wilson: A memoir…

Hope and optimism in a world of worry

January 7, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Posted in creativity, decluttering, Inequality, politics, writers' health | 1 Comment
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A single word

Rather than making a list of New Year’s resolutions, someone I know chooses a single word to guide her through the coming year. It could be ‘simplicity’ or ‘generosity’, ‘creativity’ or ‘serenity’. Careful thought about the choice of a meaningful word makes decisions during the year easier and quicker.

Even though a glance back at last year, especially politically, could plunge us into despair, there is a case to be made for choosing ‘hope’ or ‘optimism’ for 2017. You know how certain people float into your mind at odd times? I’ll recall them while cycling on quiet bike paths or in the shower or swimming laps at my local pool. Sometimes they’re people who give me hope.

Some Churchill Fellows in my book, Inspiring Australians (www.churchilltrust.org.au/shop ) are often on my mind because of the positive difference they make to this country, like environmental experts Hugh Lavery and Peter Cundall – more about them later. I also think about Al Gore. I’ve never met Al Gore but it’s because of his TED talk from last year, ‘The case for optimism on climate change’ – that I keep recalling him.

(See https://www.ted.com/talks/al_gore_the_case-for-optimism_on …)

He presents some bad news (of course) but much more significant good news about climate change. The bad is catastrophic and Gore presents the facts in accessible language. He asks, ‘Must we change?’ and ‘Will we change?’ and answers with the evidence that justifies a ‘Yes’ to both questions. It’s not too late to act – and we are acting.

Solving the crisis

‘We are solving this crisis,’ he says, pointing out that in China, Europe and the US, coal plants are being cancelled at a massive rate in favour of renewable sources of energy. Even though fossil fuels are still subsidised by many governments, solar energy is growing exponentially, so that renewables have achieved grid parity and are getting cheaper all the time.

He shows pictures of solar panels on grass huts and we learn that microcredit schemes enable even desperately poor people to buy them. At the other end of the scale (and this is my observation, not Gore’s) money is the only language some people understand – well, Al Gore presents the evidence that now there is more financial profit to be made from renewables than from coal and gas.

We’ve known that investing in renewable energy and not digging up more coal is backed by science, we’ve known it’s backed by reason, and now we know that it’s backed by better investment opportunities and financial profit. This last is what is now changing things in a hurry.

Hungry for decent leadership

People’s motives for abandoning fossil fuels don’t matter – what matters is that it’s finally happening, and Al Gore’s stirring words ring in my head: ‘The will to act is itself a renewable resource!’ In a world hungry for decent leadership we’re lucky to have some people like him showing breakthroughs like this and inspiring people to action, demonstrating a leadership rarely seen these days.

We don’t see leadership in most of our politicians and we’ve come not to expect any. Too many of them have vested interests in maintaining the status quo, to put it mildly and politely. Some visitor to Australia said recently, ‘They say a country gets the politicians it deserves, but nobody deserves Australia’s politicians!’

From their abusive treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, to say nothing of our own Indigenous people, we can see that most of our political leaders are morally bankrupt. If decisions are left to them they will soon bankrupt our nation financially too because of the same limited vision that causes their racism.

The only leadership we’re going to get is from ordinary people. Hugh Lavery AO, an early Churchill Fellow, from Queensland, with environmental qualifications, experience and awards as long as your arm (see www.churchilltrust.org.au/shop for Inspiring Australians, p. 76-77), learnt much from stockmen and fishermen, as well as those developers who ‘are informed and smart and who keep out of the news’. He maintains that the quality of the environment is ultimately delivered by the people and he agrees that ‘now, we have tough times. But it’s a good time for opportunity.’

Peter Cundall AO (Churchill Fellow, 1974) is optimistic about the future of the planet and about the wisdom of ordinary people once they see that things are wrong. He sees the environmental movement growing stronger every day and he believes that it is beyond politics. He says that people all over the world are improving the earth and the planet and they are doing it themselves: ‘The politicians won’t do it; the people have to.’

Life-changing magic!

What can we do? We can live more simply and harm the environment less. The program called ‘A Simple Year’ is a good one – it’s inspiring and keeps you on the right track. They focus on a different theme for each month, like January’s is ‘Clutter’ and February is ‘Busyness’. (See http://simpleyear.com/ )

See also Courtney Carver’s www.bemorewithless.com and Sarah Wilson’s blog on living a healthy and sustainable life, every Friday: www.sarahwilson.com

You could also check out the Australian Conservation Foundation’s website at http://www.acf.org.au and see how they focus on five big ideas, such as clean energy; laws to protect our air, water and wildlife; and putting the planet before profits.

Living a simpler, more sustainable life frees up your time and resources to do more meaningful and creative things, creating a happier you and a healthier planet. Does that sound saccharine? Well even if it does, I’m not deleting it because it’s true. Healing the planet is up to us – ordinary people, and it’s amazing the difference living simply makes.

Courtney Carver’s Be More with Less blog is where I discovered Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Ten-Speed Press, 2014). See my 2 Nov. 2015 blog post. This book is whacky and funny. The translator seems to have preserved the young author’s voice of originality and verve. If you go to the initial trouble of following her unusual advice, it really does make your life easier and happier. Before you know it, with the free time and mental clarity you have, you’ll be full of hope and optimism and chipping large chunks away from that world of worry the media keeps flinging at us every day.

Writing Ergonomics: Tips for a Healthy, Happy Writer

August 22, 2016 at 12:11 am | Posted in creativity, health, Living creatively, writers' habits, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Don’t do what I do; do what I say…

It wasn’t as if I could plead ignorance. I’d done the Alexander Technique course on how to sit properly and how to iron out the kinks in my spine every day. I’d been told about the importance of taking a break every thirty minutes. I also knew about Feldenkrais and yoga and callanetics and swimming and walking and tai chi.

But I had a pressing deadline, and I forgot about all that. I was writing a commissioned book, that last one on the history of the Churchill Trust—and as often happens, the project grew organically into something much bigger than anyone had envisaged at the beginning, and I simply had to get it done on time.

So every day I’d wake early, make a café au lait, and sit at my desk and type. I wrote for hours, maybe had a bit of lunch, made some phone calls to people I’d interviewed, or emailed them to make sure I had their facts correct, and basically, I’d sit at my desk until it was time for dinner (or way past it).

I didn’t have weekends, I didn’t go to dance practice or out on Saturday nights, and the breaks I had were mostly flinging myself on the sofa with a glass of cabernet sauvignon to watch The Gruen Transfer or boxed sets of Masters of Sex or Borgen.

My back felt odd sometimes, but I did about two minutes of Sarah Key’s back blockexercises before dinner, hoping it would be fine. This went on for months and months until one Saturday morning I decided to have a really good scrub at the shower tiles (I’d say the grout between them dates from when the house was built: 1962). I got down and scrubbed, and when I tried to jump up and go back to my desk, I howled in agony. I was stuck.

Sitting—the occupational hazard for writers

I had to crawl to the telephone for help, which came quickly. My osteopath made a home visit. After solving the initial problem, she recommended taking a break every 30 minutes of sitting. Walk around the house. Run on the spot for 30 seconds. Walk around the house again.

After the second 30 minutes, walk around the house again, run on the spot 30 seconds, and lie on your tummy with arms out in front and kick your legs as if you’re swimming, for 10–30 seconds. Get up and walk around the house again.

It’s awfully hard to break every 30 minutes when the deeper we are into a piece of writing, the more we want to stay with it. However, there are programs you can install on your computer—try the free apps, AwarenessTime Out FreeBreaker and Big Stretch Reminder.

The Alexander Technique

‘You translate everything, whether physical or mental or spiritual, into muscular tension,’ wrote F. M. Alexander (1869-1955). The Alexander Technique gives people practical skills to gain a high standard of poise, muscular tone and breathing for general wellbeing, management and prevention of injury, and postural and ergonomic issues. Canberra practitioners, Michael Stenning and Léonie John, have a studio in O’Connor, and more information on the Alexander Technique can be found on their website.

Feldenkrais Method

I was explaining to a friend about what we did in a Feldenkrais class and she said, ‘It sounds like tiny yoga’. That’s a good summary. This method, after Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), improves posture, flexibility, coordination, self-image and alleviates muscular tension and pain. It promotes awareness of the body and gives the ability to move with grace and elegance, precision and power. Google for Feldenkrais classes in your area.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi improves posture and coordination, and increases circulation and flexibility. The teachers of Canberra’s Tai Chi Academy claim that it will make you ‘feel relaxed, calm and connected with your inner peace.’ Courses and DVDs are readily available and the graceful movements are a refreshing counter to too much desk work.

Sarah Key

Australian physiotherapist Sarah Key’s books on the back are excellent, as is her The Body in Action (Allen & Unwin, 2006). They have simple exercises and illuminating images on how our bodies work, how they go wrong, and how to prevent and cure injury. Sarah Key demonstrates her easy exercises on You Tube.

Meditation

Thousands of peer-reviewed studies show that mindfulness enhances mental and physical wellbeing and reduces chronic pain. Meditation decreases stress, improves memory, quickens reaction times, improves stamina and improves the immune system.

Dr Danny Penman wrote Mindfulness for Creativity (Piatkus, 2015), which includes a meditation CD. You can find out more at www.franticworld.com/resources

**

PeninStudyFranzePenny Hanley has been a film critic, book reviewer, artists’ model, caterer’s assistant, and deck hand on a yacht. Then after a 20 year editing career, she became a freelance writer. She has had a novel and 20 short stories published. Books commissioned include Creative Lives: Personal Papers of Australian Artists and Writers (NLA, 2009) andInspiring Australians: The first fifty years of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (ASP, 2015). She has a PhD in Communications from the University of Canberra and a BA (Hons) in English Literature from the Australian National University. Penny loves books, cinema, travel and dancing the Argentine tango.

This blog was originally published on the ACT Writers Centre’s blog, CAPITAL LETTERS, 22 August 2016.

Continue Reading Writing Ergonomics: Tips for a Healthy, Happy Writer…

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