by Karen Deger McChesney
Lauren, my massage therapist: “Any areas that you want me to especially work on?”
Me: (Pointing to my triceps and forearms.) “Here and here. They’ve really been hurting.”
Lauren: “Have you been writing more?”
Her question surprised me. Lauren listened intensely as I rambled about revising, which I rarely do outside of writer circles. Then, she got her usual twinkle in her eye and briefly explained why my aches were from writing. My pride sunk. I wanted to hear that my aches were from my weightlifting or something else. Not writing! Unfair. Yes, my aches could be much worse. But, from writing? A year ago, I committed to increasing my weekly writing time – and now I have an achy-breaky upper body? Darn! As my mind melted into the land of massage, it made more sense. Like Natalie Goldberg says: “Writing is physical…like an athletic activity.”
After my massage, Lauren showed me stretches and mentioned that she works with writers (and how much she enjoys “them”). Wow! What a coincidence!
I recently interviewed Lauren about stretches for writers and to motivate myself to un-hunch and stretttcccchhhhh! Lauren has been a massage therapist and cranio-sacral practitioner (a hands-on therapy to enhance the body’s natural capacity for healing) for over 25 years, and she has taught yoga for 18 years to a wide variety of people in health clubs, yoga studios, senior centers, and other settings.
What ails writers? What do they come to you for?
Stiffness and pain in their neck, shoulders, low back and hamstring. I find that writers get so wrapped up in their writing, they go for hours without moving.
Name your top tips for writers:
1st, set a timer to go off every hour.
2nd, then, get out of your chair and stretch.
3rd, do gentle twists while you’re sitting.
Describe the correct way to sit at a computer:
Sit in a chair that allows your hips to be a little above your knees. Ideally, you want your body to be stacked, which means in alignment – your shoulder joints over your hip joints and your ears over your shoulders. Then, always be looking straight ahead at your screen, not down. If you’re not at a desk, put a pillow on your lap to lift up your laptop closer to eye level. Keep changing positions and trying different chairs.
How do we maintain good posture, especially when writing for hours and hours?
I tell my yoga students: imagine moving your right shoulder blade toward your left hip pocket and vice versa. This will open up your shoulders.
What’s a good stretching sequence for writers?
CHAIR TWIST: To the right, then left. Hold each side 15-30 seconds.
WALL DOG: Hold 15-30 seconds.
EAGLE POSE: Left elbow over right, then vice versa. For maximum stretch, press elbows together.
Any other stretches to add to our sequence?
PALM AND WRIST STRETCH: Push both palms and all fingers into a wall simultaneously. Hold 15-30 seconds.
TRICEP STRETCH: Bend left arm over, touch fingertips on left shoulder, then right hand over head and touch left elbow. Vice versa. Hold each side 15-30 seconds.
ARMS OVER HEAD: Hold 15-30 seconds.
What stretches should writers do while sitting?
1: CHAIR TWIST
2: RUBBERBAND STRETCH:
Wrap rubberband around outside of fingertips.
Then, spread thumb and fingers out. Hold 10-15 seconds.
Are there any other aches that you’ve noticed in writers?
When they’re into a really intense session (and feeling a lot of emotion) or writing for extremely long periods, they often clench their jaw. This can cause neck issues and pain. Try this: Move the tip of your tongue to the middle of the roof of your mouth. Hold for 10-20 seconds.
Your words of wisdom?
Experiment and do stretches that feel best for you.
What is your current yoga class schedule?
7-8am Wednesdays – Living Yoga Studio, Denver; 8:30-9:30am Fridays – Sol Center for Radiant Living, Georgetown.
Special thanks to Lauren Hess for her time and commitment to writers. For more information about her massage therapy and yoga class schedules, contact Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org.