Tag Archives: yoga

Writer’s cramp and other maladies…

Is your writing career turning into a pain in the neck? Do you experience occasional numbness and tingling in your hands? Does it feel like it’s impossible to sit up straight for any length of time at the computer? Headaches? Muscle spasms? Wrist and forearm pain? Cramps? Tendinitis? These are all symptoms of the postural imbalances that are created when we spend too much time sitting at the computer. If it feels as if gravity is winning and you are slowly shrinking into a ball of knots, consider that this post is for you.

PJ Sharon here, and after twenty years as a Physical Therapist Assistant in the field of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, and eight years as a Massage Therapist and personal trainer, I have a unique perspective on how to address these issues. I’ve come to see our current sedentary lifestyle as the “De-Evolution of man.”

Is this where I'm headed?
Is this where I’m headed?
Humor me when I suggest that for the past 50,000 years or so, we have walked upright for good reason. We could not have created the world we know today if this evolutionary change had not occurred. So why, in the past hundred years have we become a society of people who can’t run fast enough to save our lives, let alone catch our dinner? How have we devolved so quickly that heart disease, Diabetes, and Cancer are killing us at epidemic rates while most of us have access to the most advanced medical technologies known to mankind? So glad you asked!

I’ll leave the huge problems with our diet, pollutants, chemical toxicity, and over-dependence on sugar for another day. Today, I’ll focus on one simple fact that is at the root of many of our health issues–especially our orthopedic complaints. One fact that we can control. Our bodies are not designed for prolonged sitting—although our widening hips and increased padding may suggest otherwise. I’m sure none of us wants that to be our evolutionary norm. We may not be able to fight “progress” in the world of technology or the societal decline of a physically active lifestyle, but we can change how much WE sit. The rise in health problems coming about because of the “computer-age lifestyle” should be evidence enough that things need to change. READ this NY Times article if you think I’m exaggerating.

But change isn’t so easy, is it?

I’m a big one for focusing on what we CAN do rather than what we CAN’T. So here are a few things that may help.

1) Check your set-up (feet flat on floor, support behind your lower back, knees lower than your hips, screen directly in front of you, and mouse in close enough to keep your elbow in close to your body. Avoid reaching and make sure you have a wrist support.

2) Stop every hour and get up, walk around, stretch and drink water.

3) Try a “stand-up desk” or a “treadmill desk.” Check out the above article for suggestions.

4) More on stretching—

a) Hold stretches and breathe deeply four or five times. Stretching should not be painful. If it hurts, stop and get proper instruction from a physical therapist or personal trainer.

b) Tip ear toward shoulder and extend opposite arm out to side to stretch the deep neck stabilizers. When these muscles are chronically tight, it weakens the neck and can also contribute to nerve impingement and carpal tunnel symptoms.

c) Stretch your forearms by extending your arm straight out in front and gently pulling your fingers down toward the floor and then up toward the sky. There are a few variations of this to stretch deeper into the forearm muscles. Wrist stretch 2wrist stretch 1
Yoga postures are great for wrist flexibility and strength.

d) Stretch your legs. Basic calf, quad, hamstring, hip flexor, and piriformis stretches can make a remarkable impact on spinal tensions that affect the neck and back. It is worth working with a certified trainer to learn proper stretching technique.

e) Get a massage on a regular basis. Once a month is recommended for maintenance. At the very least, every three months is acceptable. You probably change the oil in your car and pay your taxes that often. How much more important is it to take care of yourself?

Today’s unlocked secret: The bottom line is that we need to get off our bottoms!

A final thought—if you really are the boss, would you treat an employee the way you treat yourself, or would you insist they take care of themselves properly and encourage them to avoid overuse issues that would ultimately cost you in decreased productivity?

Okay, writers…what are you willing to change to correct this De-Evolutionary disaster waiting to happen?

PJ’s Top 10 Health Tips for 2013

Welcome! Tuesday’s Scribe here. This is an extra long post, but worth the read if you’ll bear with me. Being a Massage Therapist and personal trainer in the “real world” doesn’t exempt me from the laws of nature. That means that I am as susceptible as you are to the effects of gravity. As the image in my mirror reveals (it refuses to lie no matter how many spells I cast upon it), I can’t hide the addition of several pounds of holiday related “rolls”(ew). Yes, I too suffer from the intense attachment to chocolate that plagues even the strictest of gym rats. I’m PJ Sharon, and I, like many of you, am determined to do serious battle with my new found “writer’s bulge,” courtesy of my first year in publishing.

I know, I know…another diet, another fitness plan. Every January  the gyms are flooded with well-meaning but “weak-willed” souls who last about a month and then fall back into their old rut of unhealthy living. The truth is, living healthy is not rocket science. A healthy lifestyle is not a “diet” or an “exercise routine.” It requires a long term commitment to change. I wish I had the secret to turning on the “self-control” and “self-discipline” switches in the brain that some have and others struggle to find. There are many factors that influence us to take care of ourselves, but none is greater than healthy self-esteem. If you’ve tried and failed on your own and repeatedly lost and gained a significant amount of weight, I highly recommend you seek counseling to address the underlying issues that are keeping you stuck.

It may sound mean, but we all know when we put something in our mouth if it’s good for us or not. If you don’t know this, join Weight-Watchers and learn how to make healthier choices. Usually, we know when we are over-eating, and we definitely know when we aren’t getting enough rest (one of the leading contributors to weight gain). The trick is in catching the problems early. It’s infinitely easier to get back on track when we’ve gained only a few pounds instead of waiting until it’s ten or twenty…or fifty. It’s not hard to imagine why our clothes are fitting tighter than we like, or why we feel like crap from the sugar hangover we inflicted the night before by eating pizza, drinking that “extra” glass of wine, and then scarfing down chocolate ice cream for dessert. I’m not saying you can’t eat a piece of pizza or enjoy a glass of wine occasionally, but learn about portion sizes and find alternatives to these “fun” foods, saving the real deal for special occasions. And no…Friday night is not a special occasion. There are tons of creative ways to prepare foods that are healthy and delicious. Explore…get out of your rut!

I don’t know about you, but this being a grown up thing is a mixed blessing. Being an adult means that I can do what I want…eat what I want, right? Sure…if I want to live with the consequences. On the down side, there’s no one else to blame for my declining health or weight gain but me.  The bottom line is that I’m responsible for making good choices…about food, about my activity level, about cultivating healthy relationships, and about my work habits.

The first change I’ve made in the past few months is creating time to take care of myself by designing a work schedule that I can live with. That means regular office hours set aside to run my author business, and regularly scheduled work out sessions. Whatever I don’t get done in my office on any given day/night, I choose to let go and trust that I’ve done enough for that day. I will no longer sacrifice my “Healthy Me” time for social media or other tasks that will still be there the next day calling out to me. I know we’re all struggling to find balance these days, but honestly, none of it is worth dying over.

I’ve often told my clients that a healthy lifestyle is your best tool for success. I still believe that. I’d like to share some tips that I’ll be using to get back on track. I hope you’ll join me.

1)      HYDRATE- I’m not talking about ten cups of coffee or a liter of Diet Coke. I mean good old fashioned water. A good rule is to take your weight, divide by three, and that’s how many ounces per day of water you need to drink to stay properly hydrated. (Ie: A 150 pound person should consume 50 ounces of water per day). ** Fill a large water bottle first thing in the morning and drink it throughout the day, refilling as necessary to meet your daily ounce count. Feel free to add a slice of lemon. You’ll find you have more energy, you’re less hungry, and you’ll suffer fewer headaches, leg cramps, and muscle aches if you are hydrated. Trust me; your body will thank you!

2)      BANISH THE BREAD!-No not that!!!-White breads in particular break down into simple sugars very quickly. If you are sedentary, all that sugar gets stored as fat for later. But in this line of work, later never seems to come. Avoid white, starchy foods altogether. Switch from white potatoes to sweet potatoes, white rice to brown rice, and stock up on quinoa, cous cous, beans/legumes, and taboule, adding these complex whole grains and protein/fiber rich foods to salads or serving them as side dishes. Now most of us have already switched to “whole grain” breads, but if you read the label on your bread, you’ll likely find high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and a host of other additives and preservatives. **Try Ezekiel 4:9 Bread. You can find it in the refrigerator section of your grocer or local health food store. It has no flour! Instead it’s made from sprouted live grains like wheat, barley, millet, lentils, soybeans and spelt. It packs a whopping 4grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and is sugar free and fat free, and only 80 calories per slice. It tastes great, too!

3)      WALKING MEDITATION-Meditating is one of the healthiest and most difficult practices to cultivate. Most of us can’t sit still and empty our minds for ten seconds, let alone twenty minutes. But just twenty minutes a day of meditation can be life changing. It reduces your stress level, improves your immune system, and has so many health benefits I couldn’t possibly list them all here. Ironically, twenty minutes of walking daily does much the same thing. Imagine if you combine them! I’m all for multi-tasking, even when it comes to taking time to BE PRESENT! **Take a twenty minute walk daily. It doesn’t matter what time of day or even if you break it up into two ten minute walks, but do it—every day. While you’re walking think about your breathing. Feel each heel strike. Notice your arms swinging at your sides. Be aware of your posture, tuning in your abdomen and keeping your shoulders back. This conscious awareness of your body is as much a meditation as sitting cross-legged on a mat.

4)      STRETCH-I suggest frequent stretch breaks throughout the day. If you join a yoga class and go 2-3 times a week, maybe this isn’t as important, but if you are sitting at your computer for several hours a day, it’s beneficial and takes no time at all to stop for a few minutes every hour and stretch. If you don’t know what stretches to do or have some physical limitations that prevent you from exercising, seek advice from a physical therapist or qualified trainer.IMAG0098

5)      START WITH PROTEIN and FIBER-Starting your day with carbohydrates sets you up for blood sugar spikes and dips that will have you craving a candy bar before noon. Skip the bagel or the cold cereal and opt instead for an egg white omelet with veggies or a bowl of oatmeal or multigrain hot cereal with nuts, cinnamon, and fruit. (Cinnamon is a natural anti-inflammatory). Loading your breakfast with high protein, high fiber and nutrient packed foods will keep your blood sugar levels balanced and help curb cravings. A handful of nuts or a high protein yogurt (Greek yogurt is yummy and packs about 15 grams of protein) for your mid-morning or late afternoon snack will keep you from binging at meal times.

6)      VITAMINS-Due to soil depletion, over processing of foods, and our generally poor diets, most of us are vitamin deficient and don’t know it. Fatigue, weight gain, inability to concentrate, skin conditions, joint pains, neurological symptoms…you name it, vitamin deficiencies could be the cause. A daily multi-vitamin is a must and some people could benefit from other supplements depending on your individual needs. You may have to see a nutritionist or Naturopath to address this issue. Ask your doctor if he/she can perform a blood panel to screen for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Many women in particular are lacking in Vitamin D, which can lead to a whole host of ailments including porous bones and hair loss…eeek! It’s worth a blood test.

7)      STRENGTHEN YOUR MIND AND BODY-Lifting light weights, swimming, yoga, cycling, or even dancing around your house with the vacuum cleaner are all ways to burn calories and strengthen your core (the muscles of your trunk that offer a stable center for your extremities to work from.) In addition to strengthening muscles and improving your posture and balance, regular exercise strengthens your heart, releases endorphins that ease pain, and improves your mental attitude/mood. When you feel strong, you are more confident. If you need another convincing tid-bit, lean muscle mass burns calories more efficiently and your clothes fit better.IMAG0091

8)      AFFIRMATIONS-I’m a consummate goal setter. Not that I achieve all of my goals, mind you, but I make them, check in on them now and then, and adjust the plan accordingly. What I do know about goal setting is that I have to be able to imagine the desired outcome before I can make it a reality. I have to believe I can achieve it, and then I have to speak it into existence by making choices that lead me in the direction of achieving my goal. Affirmations are those positive messages that I speak to make my goals come to fruition. **Start every writing session with an affirmation. Ie: “I am an excellent writer. I am a bestselling author,” etc. Start every workout with an affirmation. Ie: “I am lean, healthy, and strong. I look awesome in size eight jeans”…you get the picture. See it, believe it is possible, and speak it into existence as if it is already the reality. Over time, your brain has no choice but to comply by making it so, and eventually your body will catch on.

9)      RELATIONSHIPS-“No man (or woman) is an Island.” Or so the saying goes. I don’t know about you, but I would be nowhere without the help and friendship of other writers, friends, family, and especially my dear husband. It’s easy to become isolated when so many of our hours are spent behind a computer screen. Connecting with and showing appreciation for the people in my life is something I don’t ever want to put off until tomorrow. There comes a time in every life when tomorrow won’t come for us or a loved one. **Don’t let a day go by without showing the people in your life how much they mean to you.

10)  GRATITUDE THROUGH KINDNESS-I’m a big believer in random acts of kindness. Nothing gets you out of your own head and gives you a lift as much as showing your gratitude for all that you have in your life by paying it forward. It’s much easier to see the good in your life when you recognize a need and fill it in someone else’s life. Volunteer, reach out to help someone in need, donate your time or money to a worthy cause. Get involved. We are all intricately connected in this world and there is no reason why any of us should feel alone.

Any other tips you want to share?

Blessings in the New Year,

PJ

Retreat Recap

Tuesday’s Scribe, PJ Sharon here. I had the great pleasure of joining several CTRWA members this past weekend at the lovely Guest House Retreat Center in Chester, CT. We’ve been planning this weekend retreat for months, and no one was more excited than me to get away and share some quality writing time with my pals. I thought you all might like to hear about the highlights.

After checking in at 3:00 on Friday afternoon, we were all treated to a wonderful dinner and dessert before settling in for an evening of critiquing. We divided up into small groups, and each had the opportunity to share the first five pages of our WIP. This was immensely helpful to me personally, as my fabulous critique partners, Jane Haertel and Tracy Costa, convinced me yet again, that my short story prequel to my trilogy, to be released as part of the WG2E October Anthology, called SOUL REDEMPTION, actually started in chapter two. (Read my previous post about “The story starts here.”) I’m not sure why I haven’t quite mastered the art of where to start a story, but they were absolutely right and it will now read so much better.

Saturday morning, I rousted eight of my fellow writer friends out of their beds to join me in a 6:00 a.m. yoga class. I’ve been teaching yoga for about seven years now, and I love sharing a gentle, restorative practice with newbies and experienced yogis alike. Relaxed, refreshed, and energized, we had a hearty breakfast and then spent the next few hours working on our individual WIP’s in the comfort and solitude of the many nooks scattered about the quaint old inn.

After lunch—and I have to say here, that the food was simply outstanding—we gathered for an interactive debate with authors Kevin Symmons and Arlene Kay, who shared their humorous and spirited take on setting vs.character. Then we had more alone time before supper, where most of us made another dent in our weekend word count. I was able to finish all of my edits for WANING MOON, and I heard from Melanie Meadors that she broke her record of 5,000 words in a weekend. WTG Melanie!

Saturday night after a tasty Salmon dinner and blueberry cobbler—seriously, did anyone else gain five pounds this weekend—we got together for a fun-filled evening of Plotting Playoffs with our hostess diva, Jamie Pope, aka. Sugar Jamison. Our illustrious Prez, Jennifer Fusco won the big honor of the night and was rewarded with the coveted tierra, boa, and pink girly gloves—not to mention the best writer on earth certificate.

I’d like to personally thank the brilliant Jane Haertel, aka Suze Hardy, for helping me plot out Book Two of my trilogy, WESTERN DESERT. It’s going to be awesome, but I may need another retreat in the spring!

Much wine was consumed, laughs were shared, and in my opinion, the best line of the weekend came from Jennifer Yakely, another CTRWA contracted and soon-to-be published author, who said, “Historical romances are all about balls and Duke screwing.” I love writers! Don’t you?

Breathing 101 for writers

 PJ Sharon, here. In my other full time job I am a Massage Therapist, personal trainer and yoga instructor. I recently gave a friend some excellent advice and
wanted to share it with you. I told her to “step away from the computer…go
outside and breath, stretch, and walk around the yard…only once (smell the
roses, don’t get lost in them), and then get back to work.”

This was my advice to her as a health care professional and fellow writer. It is essential that we
take care of ourselves, but we are all so darned busy, we get sucked into the
vortex of overwhelming tasks. Taking care of ourselves becomes another item on
our to-do list, and somehow it always falls to the bottom of the list. So I’ll
break it down to the single most important thing we can do, and the simplest
way we can nourish the muse.

Breathe.

Breathing is something we take for granted. We don’t
think about it because it is part of our autonomic nervous system—it happens
without thought. If you ever watch babies and animals breathe, you will notice
that they deep belly breathe. They make a snoring sound in their throat (Ujaii
breath in yoga), and their whole body rises and falls with the breath as if
they are inhaling all the way to their toes.

Once we hit the age of four or five–when life starts becoming stressful, believe it or not–we start to take shallower breaths. Over time, chest breathing becomes the norm and we rarely
breathe deeply into our lungs. The causes of this are numerous. From poor
posture (writers know where that comes from), to emotional holding, fear,
anxiety, stress in all its forms, and just plain unconscious living. We don’t
pay attention to our bodies.

If you simply start and end your day with ten deep
breaths, trust me, you will feel so much better. Frequent breathe-and-stretch
moments throughout the day can increase your energy and productivity, and
you’ll sleep better at night. What I like to call “stop-and-smell-the-roses”
moments also decrease the effects of stress and reduce muscle tension, aches
and pains. Lots of benefits from an action we have to do anyway. We might as
well make it conscious and purposeful a few times a day. Breathing quickly puts
life into perspective and helps you re-focus your attention.

So wake up and smell the roses, take a moment or two
to take stock, and be grateful for each breath. When you come back to your
writing, your muse will be satisfied and your creative juices will flow more
freely.

So tell me, what is the best health advice you’ve gotten lately that helps nurture you muse?

Blessings and Happy Writing