“Sitting is the new smoking”— Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic.
The writer’s job is to plunk our butts in chairs and produce words day in, day out. As a result, posture suffers, eyes blur, brains fog, carpals cramp, and rear ends keep getting wider. In extreme cases, Butt-in-Chair Syndrome leads to the dreaded Dead Butt Syndrome (you can’t make this stuff up!).
Here’s a countdown of five easy tips to counteract the occupational hazards of our profession:
Sitting hunched over a computer leads to shallow breathing. The lungs need to fully expand to allow oxygen to fill the alveoli (little air sacs) and move into the bloodstream. The shallower the breathing, the less oxygen flows through the blood to the brain. The less oxygen, the harder for the brain to solve problems in stories.
According to yoga practitioners, deep exhalation is even more vital than inhalation, because exhalation flushes carbon dioxide out of the body.
If you don’t exhale fully, it’s like sticking a banana in the tailpipe of a car. Fresh air can’t get in, gases build up, and pretty soon the engine stalls and quits.
New ideas, brilliant plot twists, and compelling characters require a fresh intake of oxygen and a full expulsion of carbon dioxide.
Effective breathing is easy:
Sit straight with your butt tucked against the chair back. Lift your chest, arch your spine and pull your shoulder blades together, then allow shoulders to drop. Contract abdominal muscles to press your belly button toward your spine. Place a hand on your belly and inhale for a slow ten-count. Feel your abdomen expand as you draw air in. Hold for a slow ten-count. Then exhale slowly until you completely empty the lungs. Repeat several times an hour. You may feel tingling in the scalp.
Your mom always told you to sit up straight. Turns out she was right. According to I.A. Kapandji, MD: “For every inch of Forward Head Posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds.” In other words, if a normal 12 pound head leans three inches closer to the computer screen, it now feels more like 42 pounds. Yikes!
Over time, that additional pressure can lead to neck and spine problems that may become permanent.
It’s always better to prevent problems than try to reverse them.
To counteract the tendency to slump forward, sit with your rear end tucked firmly against the chair back. Lift your chest, arch your spine and pull your shoulder blades together.
Hmmm, isn’t this the same position for deep breathing? You can take care of two exercises at once—talk about efficient. Your mom would be proud.
- Hand and wrist stretches
Caution: Stretching should NEVER be painful; if you feel discomfort, STOP!
Many writers suffer from numbness, tingling, and pain in wrists and hands from carpal tunnel syndrome which occurs when the median nerve to the hand is compressed in the wrist. Treatment options range from NSAIDs (hard on the stomach, liver, and kidneys) to splints/braces (uncomfortable and awkward to type while wearing) to steroid injections (ouch!) to surgery (been there, done that, not fun).
Simple stretches can help alleviate symptoms. Extend your arm in front of you, palm up. Bending your wrist, use your other hand to gently pull the fingers of your extended hand toward you until you feel a mild to moderate stretch in your wrist. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat with the opposite hand.
For more stretches, visit this link.
Do you have 20/20/20 vision? No, that’s not a typo, but rather an exercise suggested by eye doctors to counteract eyestrain and blurry vision from too much screen time.
Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen to an object at least 20 feet away and focus on it for at least 20 seconds.
For more eye exercises, check out: http://www.allaboutvision.com/cvs/irritated.htm
And finally, my favorite exercise…
- Go for a walk
When you take your dog for a walk, she knows what she’s supposed to do. The writer’s brain can be trained and reinforced with praise the same way you train your pooch. As you move muscles and increase blood flow, your brain expels waste.
I confess during walks I’ve left many hot, steaming piles along the pathway. The best part is, unlike the dog, I don’t need a baggie to pick them up!
Start training your brain with a small problem: let’s say you’re seeking a particular word that’s eluding you, despite searching the thesaurus. Go for a short walk and let the brain relax. After a few minutes of exercise and fresh air, the elusive word often pops up from the subconscious.
Give yourself a pat on the head and praise, “Good brain!”
A Milk Bone is optional, your choice.
Pretty soon, the subconscious learns that when you take a walk, it’s expected to perform, just like Fifi. While it sniffs the bushes and chases a squirrel, it’s also learning to deliver fresh ideas and solutions. The more you positively reinforce the subconscious for its results, the better and more frequently it comes up with solutions.
Walking works for me 100% of the time because my brain is conditioned. If I’m stumped about what a character should do next, or if the plot gets lost down a rabbit hole, I take a spin around the neighborhood. Before long, the uncertain character now knows her next move; or the rabbit hole has led to an unexpected escape route. I can’t wait to rush back to the keyboard eager to implement the solutions my subconscious offered up.
Wishing you good health and good writing in the New Year!
TKZers, do you have a favorite exercise that helps your writing?