Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

The Healthy Writer 

by S. Labloch
2002, S. Labloch


Easy yoga-inspired moves for stress relief and increased flexibility

No writer wants to get carpal tunnel or any other repetitive stress injury. One way to stay limber is with these easy moves. Just getting up and taking a break every hour or less helps, too. Your eyes will thank you.

Now, don't be afraid. These are moves inspired, adapted, and modified from Hatha Yoga, along with non-yoga stretches I've found helpful. I get sore and stiff like any other writer -- tender wrists and fingers, numb behinds and hurting backs, headaches and crushing migraines. I thought I'd share a few things that work with me. No pretzel twists here -- promise. Read through to get an idea of what you'll need to do before you dive in to the exercises.

Before we start...

Anyone can do these poses and stretches, and do them almost anywhere. Comfort is key, in both clothing and during the exercises. Close the office door if you're shy.

Be gentle, and go slowly. Muscles are like chewing gum -- when they're cold, a good pull can tear them, but when they're warm, the same pull stretches it all out. Even cold muscles stretch well, if you take your time -- anywhere from 20-60 seconds (count: "one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand...").

Remember, muscles are designed to pull, so maintain gentle stretches for as long as you need until the muscle relaxes. If you want to take it deeper, take it in small increments. Take care not to overstretch ligaments.

Head, Shoulders, Neck

Headaches can come from eyestrain or neck/back strain (and other pains).

Sometimes simply reminding yourself to relax your shoulders can ease the bunched muscles and get your shoulders out of your ears.

The Back

Sometimes it's poor ergonomics or poor posture. In any case, it hurts. Yes, the sore back. Slouching over a keyboard all day doesn't help us, and we'll concentrate on easing the muscle strain.

(Note on ergonomics: Sitting is harder on the back than standing, and poor working conditions cause even more physical stress. Try to have arms parallel to the ground and hands floating above keyboard and mouse. Wrists should be flat, not resting on keyboard or pad while typing. Have feet on floor if possible and look down at the glare-and-dust-free monitor. For more information, start with http://www.office-ergo.com/ )

On to The Good Stuff

First, loosen your belt, pants, and shirt buttons, then stick your stomach out. That's right. Push it out. See it round out? That's what you want to see when you breathe in. A deep breath comes from the belly; your diaphragm pulls down and your organs go out. Breathe into the stomach, then fill up to the top of the chest. Focus on your breathing, on feeling it go in and out. Inhale and exhale evenly.

Repeat five times, slowly. (see, I told you this would be easy!)

Now, the stretches:

Quickies (At your desk/Seated Moves)

(Wrists/arms)

-Place your palms together in front of you, then point your fingers towards your neck. Pushing your hands together, lower them away from your body until your wrists separate. (Stretch gently!) Hold for 20 seconds.

-Stretch out with arms out from your sides (you look like a T), palms facing away from you, fingers pointing up. You should feel the stretch along the top of your forearms. Settle your shoulders away from your ears.

(Shoulders)

-Clasp hands and raise them over your head, palms facing the ceiling. Keep your shoulders down and elbows loose. Hold for 20 seconds.

-Lower clasped hands and place them behind your head (but not touching it) and feel the stretch across the front of your upper chest. Squeeze the shoulder blades together. Hold gently for 15 seconds.

-Place hands behind you and clasp them. Straighten arms and stretch the front of the shoulder socket. Hold for 15-20 seconds. Raise hands for deeper stretch.

-Now take clasped hands in front of you, palms facing away. Keep arms at shoulder height and push out with shoulder blades, reversing the previous stretch. To bring in the back, round out the lower back away from the hands as if you're pulling away.

-Shoulder rolls. Roll shoulders in large circles from front to back, then back to front. Do 10-20 times.

(Neck)

-Sit up straight. Concentrate on pushing your shoulders down and on pulling your head up. Hold for 20 seconds.

-Lean your right ear into your right shoulder. Keep the shoulder down and feel the stretch along the left side of your neck. Hold for 20 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

-Bow head forward, mouth and jaw closed (not clenched). Tuck your chin into your chest and feel the stretch along the back of your neck. Hold for 20 seconds.

-Lean head back, mouth closed and jaw loose. Hold for 20 seconds.

-Roll head in large circle, clockwise. Do 5 times, then repeat counterclockwise, 5 times.

(Back)

-Sit in chair, feet touching the ground and wide apart. Bend over, slide your arms (palms up) inside your knees, and put your shoulders near your knees. Let your head hang down and release your shoulders and back. Hold for 20 seconds. 

You can also stand and give yourself a long, leisurely stretch. Go ahead, I'll wait. :) 

Extra Moves

Numb Butt (This helps muscle tone, too!)

To get blood flowing back into the posterior, try a short walk around your writing area or some squats.

Then, parallel your feet slightly past hip-and-shoulder width or spread your feet widely but comfortably. Keep your knees behind your toes (in line with your ankles if possible) and lower your bottom as if you were trying to sit, butt-first, into a chair. Go as low as you comfortably can above 90 degrees with the knee and then get back up slowly, using your glutes and straightening. You can hold on to your desk or bathroom sink for balance if you wish. 1-10 times.

More Relaxation Moves

(You'll need standing and reclining space. Have pillow or towel handy if you'd like the extra padding.)

-Do the Quickie moves, then get comfy for some floor moves.

Back

Start at Table Pose, go to Cat Pose, Table, Cow, Table. Repeat 2-3 times or as many as you'd like. (Always sandwiching Table Pose between Cat and Cow Poses.)

-Table Pose

Get down on all fours, and place your arms under your shoulders, and legs about hip width apart, knees under your hips. Your back parallels the floor. This pose should be relaxed and comfortable. (Put towels underneath your knees for cushioning if you'd like.) Keep your gaze soft and at a 45 degree angle or so. The spine feels free of tension.

-Cat Pose (also helpful with menstrual cramps and safe for pregnant writers)

Think of a cat arching.

From Table Pose, bring head down, hips down and in. Raise the abs to round out the back. Think of pushing up with the abs (or of pulling in and up) and letting the back open up. Brace the hands and the tops of your feet against the floor for a deeper stretch. Hold for 20 seconds.

(Breathe. Go back to Table pose by releasing the abs, hips, and raising head.)

-Cow Pose

Think of reverse Cat Pose.

Tilt your hips to the ceiling, push down and in with the lower back, drop the spine to the neck, and raise the head. Feel the stretch in the front of your spine. Hold for 20 seconds.

You can also try the side stretches before moving on to Child Pose. They're listed after that pose.

-Child Pose

From Table Pose, sit back on your legs until your head reaches your knees (or thereabouts). Arms outstretched or crossed next to your head, rest or recline your head and relax. Let the tension flow out of you, and shift to the most comfortable position in the pose. Breathe, and relax.

-Side Stretches

From Table Pose, twitch your hips to the right and look over your right shoulder. Feel the stretch along the left side of your spine, your weight evenly distributed between your right and left sides. Imagine that your spine curves in a C if viewed from above. Gently hold for 15 seconds. Reverse to stretch your right side for 15 seconds, and then hold Table Pose for another 15. Breathe, and sink into Child Pose.

If you're still game, try...

 Reclining Move

Lie on the floor, arms anywhere from 45 to 90 degrees from your body, whatever is most comfortable. Hands, too, should be at their most comfortable position. You can put a folded towel under your head. Comfort is key. Relax, breathing gently and deeply. Be aware of your breath, but let it ebb and flow.

If a thought enters your mind, follow it but then let it go, like a balloon easing from your hand. Bring your awareness back to your breath.

To get up, roll to your side, your head supported by your arm, and then push up with your arms to bring you to a seated position.

That's all the yoga I'm getting into for now. Enjoy the relaxation and the time you've given yourself.

Thank you -- you've been good to your body.

Happy writing!