I’m literally in traction. My chiropractor says my back muscles are in spasms. What causes this, I asked him? Innumerable problems he said: poor posture, improper ergonomic setup, nutrition, life stresses. And trust me, with both my mother and my mother in law living with me this summer (another blog topic), while trying to finish my novel, I fall into every one of the above categories.
So rather than trying to figure out what I've been doing wrong all these many months, I contacted fellow Colorado Romance Writer member Tiffany James, who in a former life, was a massage therapist. She shared some great advice and it's my turn to share it with you.
DB: Tiffany, first thanks for being here. Are you still a working massage therapist, and if not, why did you give it up?
TJ: Thanks for having me, Donnell! I’m an avid Five Scribes reader, and I’m thrilled to be on the other end this time around.
Two years ago I decided to give my newly discovered dream of becoming a published author a go. As I tried to manage a handful of roles, I realized I was spread too thin. I wasn’t doing anything well and experiencing a lot of stress – more than normal. That’s when I knew I had to give something up. After almost ten years of working as a massage therapist, I made the difficult decision to let it go and really focus on my writing (furious nail biting).
DB: Knowing when to say when--you sound like a very wise woman. What techniques did you bring from your massage training background and incorporate into your own writing?
T.J.: Great question! I’ve been writing since I stumbled upon National Novel Writing Month (www.nanowrimo.org) in the fall of 2007. I completed that year’s challenge as well as contracting a serious case of I-have-to-write-itis (a potentially debilitating condition in which the person afflicted has to write or risk turning into a cranky, chapfallen, just plain creepy freak. It’s not pretty – take my word for it!).
At first, I didn’t bring anything from my MT background into my writing practice. I thought they were two completely different worlds until I had a very enlightening conversation with my husband.
One day last year I was whining to him about how my back and neck hurt, and how that pain seemed to be moving into my shoulder. “Well, you have been sitting at the computer a lot lately,” he answered, oh so helpfully.
It was a “light bulb” moment for me. Nothing we do happens in a vacuum. We can always take lessons, techniques or thought processes from other vocations with us into our next adventure.
To make a long story even longer (sorry, Donnell), I started applying my MT skills to my writing life. Eventually, I developed a little system I called “Just B.R.E.A.T.H.E”. It’s an acronym that reminds me of the things I need to address in order to create a physical foundation for my writing.
B – Breathing
R – Rest & Relaxation (which addresses stress relief)
E – Ergonomics
A – Atmosphere
T – Timer (Use it!)
H – Healthy eating
E – Exercise (Ugh, yuck, ewwww!)
For more information, check out my “Just B.R.E.A.T.H.E” page on my website: www.tiffanyjames.net .
D.B. LOL, I knew I'd come to the right place, Tiff. When you worked on people in chronic pain, what would you say was their number one complaint?
T.J.: They had a myriad of complaints: tight necks and shoulders, low back pain, headaches, wrist pain and tingling fingers (carpal tunnel-like symptoms). But I believe that, in most cases, those complaints related back to one thing…working at a desk for eight, ten sometimes even twelve hours a day.
D.B.: Were any of their ailments preventable?
T.J.: I’m no M.D., but I do believe that, with basic changes in their daily routine, those problems could be significantly improved, if not completely resolved. These changes are simple, but don’t get me wrong, they are never easy!
D.B.: I appreciate the tips, and plan to incorporate them. As for massages, they're expensive. Any suggestions on where we authors on a budget can get one?
T.J.: Oh, yeah! Massage schools are an excellent resource. Before massage students can receive their certification or licensure (depending on their state’s regulations), students have to complete a specified number of client contact hours. Many massage therapy schools have a student clinic available. The students are usually in their last semester of study and the rates are reduced, often by fifty percent. Some schools even have professional clinics where the teaching staff treats clients, again at reduced rates. Make sure the school or professional clinic you attend is associated with an accredited massage therapy school.
Check with your local massage therapists as well. Many have reward programs that offer a complimentary massage if you refer clients or a reduced rate if you schedule your massages at regular intervals.
Speaking of regular intervals… in my practice and my own personal experience, I find that consistency is the key to effective massage therapy. It doesn’t necessarily matter how often you get a massage. What matters is that you stick with a regular schedule. For example, I’ve found that if I get a massage every six weeks (every four weeks during particularly busy or stressful times), I’m able to maintain the positive benefits. Experiment with your timeline and find what interval is best for you.
Visit www.massagetherapy.com for more information about massage therapy or to find a registered or licensed therapist in your area.
D.B.: After every massage I’ve ever received, I’m told to drink water. How important is water to the average writer sitting at a keyboard?
T.J: I don’t think there’s a yardstick long enough to measure the importance of it! ;)
Getting a massage gives your circulation a kick, revs it up so that toxins can be cleared from your body and nutrient-rich blood can be carried throughout it improving your overall health. Being well hydrated aids that process, which is why massage therapy clients are encouraged to drink water.
However, as most of us know, our circulatory systems are always working - even when we’re sitting at our desks. So drinking water all the time is important for the same reasons.
Here are a few more reasons to keep the water flowing:
* Water makes up 75% of our body, and we are constantly losing it through breathing, sweating and going to the bathroom.
* Not being properly hydrated can cause problems with everything from dry eyes to muscle cramps to decreased concentration and light headedness.
* In various studies chronic (over an extended period of time) dehydration has been connected to everything from constipation, headaches and allergies to asthma, depression, joint pain and premature aging (think of a plump grape full of water versus a dehydrated raisin)!
On a side note: The recommendation used to be 8-10 eight ounce glasses of water. I’ve recently heard that if your urine is clear, you’re properly hydrated. So take a peek at what you excrete!
D.B.: Here’s the next question: Does coffee, fruit juice etc. count? ;)
T.J.: It used to be that those things didn’t count, but I heard not long ago that we could count them. My personal recommendation would be to get most of your daily fluid intake from water. Remember, coffee and teas are diuretics so they increase the amount of water you lose, defeating our purpose. That’s not to say you can’t have your coffee and tea. I love my caramel lattes! I just don’t include that in my daily count. If you’ve had enough of the taste of water, you can add a slice of lemon, lime, or orange for a change of pace.
D.B.: How about exercise, and can you give us some tips about some stretches to do?
T.J.: Ugh! Just the word makes me want to hide under my desk. :)
Like many of you, I’m obsessed with my writing. It’s as essential to me as breathing. So I figured if I could apply that loathed chore of exercise to my writing I might be more inclined to do it. Guess what? It worked! Some of my best ideas come to me when I’m huffing and puffing up the hill near my house, and those nagging plot points that I just can’t figure out often work themselves out during my daily jaunts.
I’ve also found a way to get a little stretching in during the day without even realizing it. As you saw above (and probably wondered about) is that the “T” in my “Just B.R.E.A.T.H.E.” approach is my timer. Every time I sit down at my desk I set it for 30 to 45 minutes. I type madly as the minutes countdown then, when the timer goes off, I take about three minutes to stretch. By the end of an eight hour day, I’ve gotten a 24 minute full-body stretching workout! Not bad for a few minutes here and there. ;)
Here a few of my faves that I can do right from my chair:
FOR NECK & SHOULDER: Sit tall with your feet on the floor and hold the bottom of your chair with your left hand. Pull up slightly. Tip your right ear toward your right shoulder. Feel that stretch? It’s intense! Drop your chin to your chest then do a half circle to the right with your head, stopping at particularly tight spots for a few breaths. Now do the other side.
Shoulder and gentle neck rolls are great too.
FOR UPPER & MIDBACK: Sit tall in your chair. Place your right hand on the outside of your left thigh. Reach your left hand behind you, look to the left and twist your body gently to the left. Hold for a few breaths. Switch to the other side.
ARMS: Pull your arm across your body. Hold for a few breaths. Now reach up to the ceiling, alternating reaching higher with one hand then the other (great for all of those muscles running through the sides of your upper body). Next, bend one arm, letting that hand reach “down” the back. You can use your other hand to increase the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
WRIST & JOINTS: Circle ‘em! Roll your feet around in all directions. Do the same with your hands. Place your palms and fingers against each other then gently push your palms away from each other. This stretches out all of those hardworking typing muscles in your hands and fingers.
I try to alternate stretching breaks from my chair with stretches that require me to “get up off a’ that thing”. Do you hear James Brown?
One of the best full body stretches I’ve found is the yoga series “Sun Salutation”. It would take me forever to explain it so check out this site: http://www.yogasite.com/sunsalute.htm . Be especially careful with hands up and upward dog. They can cause pain and injury to the back if you overdo.
*** Whenever you’re exercising, remember that pain is your body’s way of communicating with you! If it hurts, don’t do it or lessen the intensity.
D.B.: I can't wait to check out the site and try these exercises! I take my first hot yoga class next week. So, Tiff, how important are breaks from the keyboard?
T.J. If I could convince today’s readers to do one thing, it would be to take breaks from that keyboard! And not just to get up and move around like I talked about above – although those are really important. Even taking a mini-break and gazing out the window, at a favorite picture or art piece can relax your eye muscles and lessen eye strain.
D.B. And if you could sit down with a group of writers, what kind of advice would you give them regarding keeping their bodies healthy so they can have a successful career?
T.J.: I would encourage them to think about it like this: We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t draw water from an empty well”. It’s the same with your writing. Your body is the well, your creativity and inspiration the water. If your brain can’t function because it isn’t getting enough oxygen because you’re not taking full, deep breaths; if you’re burned out because you’ve been working non-stop; if you’re in pain because your desk set-up doesn’t jive with your body; if you can’t produce because the atmosphere in which you’re working isn’t conducive; if you’re unable to concentrate because you didn’t eat or stay hydrated or exercise then you’re trying to draw excellence in prose from an empty, uninspired, creatively void well.
Fill it! Take some time each day to “Just B.R.E.A.T.H.E.”.
D.B.: Tiffany, my body thanks you, and I bet there's some sore writers out there who thank you, also!!! Before you leave, tell us about your writing, what you’re working on and how it’s going?
T.J.: (Clapping hands like an overjoyed child) I’m so excited! I just finished the final edits on One Season, a contemporary romance and the first book in my “Girls of Keegan-Bentley” series. Here’s the log line for One Season:
It’s said you can never go home again. But if returning means forgiveness and stepping back into the land of the living, is it worth the risk?
Hayden Questra is about to find out.T.J. Thank you for having me, Donnell!
D.B. My pleasure, Tiff. Okay, readers. There you have it. Tiffany and I are going to award $25 to one lucky commenter that ideally you'll use for a massage. But here's the rub.... you must comment on WHY YOU NEED ONE IN THE FIRST PLACE. And "BECAUSE I'M SORE" doesn't count. Tiffany and I will review the responses and insert the creative ones into the drawing. Personally, I think I'm way ahead... A mother and a mother in law moving in with me??? Who can beat that? We're listening....And we'll announce the winner on Friday September 25th.
Here's to Happy Pain-free Writing!