When Writing is a Pain in the Neck (or Back)

When Writing is a Pain in the Neck (or Back)

 “If you sit at a computer all day,” a wise instructor once told me, “you are telling your body you want a shape to fit a chair…bent and crooked.”

Our bodies are designed for movement, but when we remain still and seated for most of our day, we are instructing our bodies to hold that shape and our body happily complies. Yet when our backs are stiff upon rising, we complain as if it wasn’t our own direction to the body that created the aches and pains.

Margaret Atwood, in her “Top 5 Writing Tips” on YouTube, advises writers “to pay attention to posture because writing/keyboarding is hard on the neck and back.” She suggests doing back stretches, getting enough exercise, and walking around. Frequent breaks, she says, are good for the back and other muscles – and can also help with writer’s block – so get up, take a walk, do some stretches.

As someone who practiced several modalities in holistic health prior to focusing on writing, I would like to expand on Atwood’s suggestions. Here are some ideas.

  • Books (I’m a writer. You knew there was going to be books, right?)

Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living: The Practice of Mindful Alignment, Kathleen Porter

8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back, Esther Gokhale

Both are excellent resources on how to sit, bend, stand and sleep for a healthy back. Also, when you read, prop up the book so you are not bending your neck forward.

  • Franklin Method

Last summer at the Sage Hill Writing School, I had the pleasure of trying the Franklin Method® which combines anatomical imagery with physical movements to create changes in the body and mind. This method is taught around the world, including at schools such as Julliard. It stimulates brain creativity by waking up the body and nervous system through the use of simple movements such as tapping, brushing, sponging, shearing, and shaking. Here are a couple to try:

Neck sponging (Hint: In addition to writing and keyboarding, two causes of head-forward posture are cell phone use and a need for corrective lenses.)

Eye refreshing

  • Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a low-impact exercise with slow, graceful movements that provide many benefits – muscle strength, flexibility, balance, cardiovascular health, and improved mood and cognition. There are long, medium, and short forms of Tai Chi, as well as different styles. While it takes time to learn, The Beijing 24 is a simplified form that can be done in 10 minutes – perfect for a writing break, especially on winter days when you may not want to go outside for a walk. There are several Tai Chi academies in London and the city also offers classes through its recreational programs. Once you learn the 24 moves, it is simple to do Tai Chi anywhere.

  • Qigong

Somewhat similar to Tai Chi, active Qigong (versus passive qigong) includes movements – sometimes meditative, sometimes energizing – which are repeated while standing in one spot. Try this favourite for a short break. Or this one describing the basic qigong moves.

In addition to incorporating stretches into your writer breaks, consider adding regular maintenance such as chiropractic treatments, cranial sacral massage, or Bowen therapy (aka Bowtech, Bowenwork.) Full disclosure – I practised Bowen for many years. I’m now retired from practice, but regular Bowen sessions are integral to maintenance of health.

Bowen is a gentle therapy originating in Australia and practiced around the world. It uses small moves on the fascia. Bowen addresses many health issues in addition to back pain. Movements to complement back procedures might include TMJ, pelvic, rhomboids, and psoas (the muscle becomes tight/shortened through sitting.) There is a handful of Bowen practitioners throughout London and surrounding areas.

So there you have it…some resources for writers who want to maintain a healthy neck and back. But don’t just read about it – put it into practice. Add an alarm to your cellphone or laptop, perhaps mid morning and mid afternoon, or whatever fits best into your writing schedule. And don’t ignore the alarm, even if you’re deep in the writing zone. Instead, jot down a few words and begin your break. You will remember the ideas when you return and, who knows, you may even tap into more ideas as you exercise, maybe because you are exercising.


Photo credit: julien Tromeur, Unsplash.

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