Mindfulness of the body for writing minds

Mindfulness of the body for writing minds by Wendy Ann GreenhalghSometimes, by the end of a writing day, I can feel like I’m nothing more than a brain that thinks, a pair of eyes (overly large) that stare at a screen, and two sets of fingers – glued to a keyboard. I get the image of some lamp-eyed creature, a writing lemur, perhaps, with prehensile fingers splayed over keys. If it’s been a particularly intensive session, then those fingers can be quite sore and achy too. Yes, like many writers, I suffer from RSI. And yes, like many writers, I can get so caught up in my writing that I forget that I have a body and not just a mind that writes. So how can mindfulness help writing bodies?

I know it’s stating the obvious, but we can’t actually show up for our writing if our bodies aren’t in reasonable shape. That’s why it’s so important to have a good chair to sit in, an ergonomic keyboard and mouse set-up, and why we need to take regular breaks and get some exercise. The benefits of a good walk are touted by many famous writers as an aide to writing, but there’s no doubt that just moving is massively important too – because, I would argue, this bring us back into our bodies, when we’ve been living so much in our head. This is why a grounded, embodied mindfulness practice is so important to me, and why I believe it’s important for ALL writers.

Firstly, bringing more awareness to the body whilst we’re writing, checking in mid-chapter or article, allows us to note what’s happening: Are my eyes sore? Have I blinked in the last 20 minutes? How’s my back feeling, am I a bit stiff? Am I tense because I’ve got a deadline? Am I tired? Am I hungry? If we don’t know the answers to these – or we’re regularly ignoring the signals our bodies are giving us, then how is that affecting us short-term, long-term? How can we expect to have a sustainable writing practice, if we’re neglecting these basic elements of self-care?

Secondly, bringing awareness into the body allows us to actually experience the act of writing, to be totally present for it – and as this is the thing we supposedly love more than anything, that’s got to be a good thing, right? Taking the time to drop into the body briefly, allows us to connect with the sensations of enjoyment, the buzz of inspiration, that ‘blood-hound’ feeling when onto a good idea, the satisfaction when that article, scene or poem comes out right. So much of that can be lost when we don’t stop to notice it. If we’re working particularly hard, are a bit stressed, or up against a deadline, those positive experiences are especially important to connect with.

If I’m honest, this particular type of mindfulness is the one I find most difficult – since, like many people who write, I’m naturally very up in my head, but taking the time to practice has been incredibly important and beneficial for me. So here are a couple of simple, embodied mindfulness techniques which I hope you’ll try, and which I’m sure you’ll receive some benefits from. Like all practices (mindfulness or writing) they need to be done regularly and with some commitment to get the real benefits. Let me know how you go.

Mindfulness of the Writing Body:

  • Before you start writing – take a moment to sit in front of your computer or notebook. Check in with your body. How does it feel today? Notice any particularly dominant sensations; places that feel warm, energised or comfortable. Now note any areas that feel cold, stiff or uncomfortable. Pay particular attention to you hands, wrists, arms and shoulders.
  • Take a few slow, aware breaths, noticing the rise and fall of your chest and stomach and the feel of the chair beneath you.
  • When you’re ready to start writing, do so slowly, be aware of fingers tapping on the keys, of your body breathing and moving as you write. Then just write.
  • Make a commitment to check-in in this way at regular intervals during your writing sessions. You could set a reminder on your phone – there are some great free mindfulness Apps for Android and iPhone, or use natural tea-breaks or bathroom breaks.
  • Each time notice any changes in your body. Is it giving you clear messages, such as – “Make lunch,” or “Can’t feel knees!” If it is, listen and do something about it.
  • Treat your body with kindness – it is the thing that enables you to write.
  • You could do all of this in just a couple of minutes or longer, but even a couple of minutes will be valuable.

Mindful Walking:

  • Why not get up and move? Take a moment to check in with your body – as described above. Then slowly get up from your chair, noticing how it feels to move back, legs, arms.
  • Walk slowly from where you’re writing into another room or around your home, office or garden.
  • Move very carefully and sedately, placing each foot on the floor so you can feel heel, ball and toes.
  • Notice how your pelvis and back move as you walk. Become aware of the feelings in your neck, shoulders, arms and hands.
  • Breathe normally.
  • When you’ve done this for a couple of minutes (or more if you’re enjoying it), come back to your chair and start writing again in a mindful way.
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