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…

My father gave me the gift of sleep

June 29, 2013 at 10:54 pm | Posted in arthritis, nutrition | 4 Comments
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‘At our most moving moments are we not all without words?’
Marcel Marceau, the famous French mime artist said that. Or wrote it, I suppose. It’s enigmatic and powerful, I reckon, because it says so much. Doris Lessing had a phrase about the thinning of language against the density of our experience. But you wouldn’t be reading this unless you were interested in language and words, and people like us will try to find the words, no matter what.
A friend of mine died. He had a rare cancer. He was 52 but he still looked like a schoolboy. That was what was holding my words back. And part of why I didn’t write a blog for the past fortnight.
Homer wrote, ‘There is a time for many words, and there is a time for sleep.’ It seems so apt for Paul Mees http://theconversation.com/vale-paul-mees-australias-leading-transport-and-land-use-researcher-15385 whose words flew so fast and furiously and funnily about public transport and politics and people and everything under the sun. And he is out of his pain now, having his time for sleep.
Psychoanalysts believe that insomnia can sometimes be a fear of death – that long sleep. I would never suffer from that, even if I were afraid of death. I’m a champion sleeper. Is this hereditary? Some of my siblings seem to have inherited our mother’s chronic insomnia. Not me, and not my brother who died recently. We inherited our sleeping patterns from our father, who died young too of the same heart-related thing. We neither of us got along with him. But he gave us the gift of sleep. Priceless. No matter how bad things get, I almost always can sleep – and when things get bad one really needs that sleep! So I’m lucky that way.
If on a rare night I can’t sleep I get up and have a chamomile tea and scribble in a notebook to tease out what is bothering me, and resolve it, and then go back to bed and sleep like a dead person. Chamomile tea is a soporific substance; have two teabags in a mug – double strength – and fall asleep at the kitchen table! I don’t take drugs or medicines so herbs affect me a lot, I guess. They seem really strong to my system.
I’ve inherited something else: osteoarthritis. It was getting so I’d wake up in the morning feeling as if I was suffering the early stages of rigor mortis. Whoahh! You’re really not supposed to be that way in your fifties.
This stopped it: acupuncture took the pain away (that’s a scientifically verified effect of acupuncture, the only thing the scientists could verify about it with their western methods) plus a horrible rigmarole involving cod liver oil, more on this later, plus tai chi.
The cod liver oil thing, got from a very old and tattered book found in my mother’s house when we were cleaning it out after she died: for six months, every day you first of all, drink a big glass of hot water. (That’s the worst part.) You can’t have eaten or drunk for three hours before. So that makes first thing in the morning a suitable time, but of course you’re going to miss that tea or coffee first thing, it really mucks up your morning. You can time it for between meals, just before dinner, say. Second thing is you wait ten minutes after the water. Thenm, third, you drink a tablespoon of cod liver oil or flax seed oil mixed with two tablespoons of strained fresh orange juice or of milk. Not nearly as bad as it sounds. Then after, (fourth thing) don’t eat or drink for at least 30 minutes. Every day for six months (during which your skin will look amazing – a nice side effect), then just a few times a week. For the rest of your life. (Ugh.)
The tai chi? It’s pretty easy to learn the basics but like the English language not easy to get really good at it. My teacher, Fontane, is like a little tiny peach blossom, so petite and graceful and pretty. She’s good on the philosophy of it too, a very good teacher.
It has been a time consuming journey over the past year which I’ll write about at another time but those three things have made me much, much better. And the more I practise tai chi the better I will get, the more flexible, the stronger. I will never be a little peach blossom like my teacher; I’m a giant in comparison, two inches taller than the average western woman and with my father’s big swimmer’s shoulders – but in my own way, I will become more graceful and refined. (Ha! Refined – me?!) Plus tai chi is a sort of meditation. It is calming and you focus just on it so, practised regularly, it helps you come to terms with people you love dying young, for example.

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