Angela Cairns — Amazon best-selling author, writing coach, BBC guest broadcaster, physiotherapist, and holistic practitioner.
Beginners or seasoned writers can create blocks that stem their creative flow and make writing difficult.
From her healthcare background and writing experience, her passion is to help you find your writing Zen.
Writing is an integral part of our lives and an essential communication tool, whether creating content, sending emails or writing a book. It can also be a fabulous tool to enhance well-being. Sadly, it becomes associated with negative perceptions and thoughts, leading to resistance, procrastination, and imposter syndrome for many.
Zen has different attributes that can all be helpful when we write. It can be considered a state of calm attentiveness where we are relaxed and not worried about things we cannot change. It also allows us to be absorbed in thought and guided by our deep instinct.
In this series of blogs, you will discover how to find your writing Zen and unleash your inner creativity so that writing sessions are productive, sustainable, and enjoyable.
So, let’s get started.
Breathing is at the centre of our well-being and creativity as writers.
Why am I talking to a writer about breathing? Because I am a holistic physiotherapist and an author, I strongly believe in the power of mind/body/spiritual connections.
Learning to breathe effectively can help:
- Provide a plentiful supply of oxygen — without which the mind and body cannot function. The brain and nervous system are particularly oxygen hungry. Tissue damage in nerve or muscle tissue occurs as early as 4 mins after oxygen starvation. Discomfort or pain begins earlier.
- Seat our creativity within our body and mind by teaching us to know and feel our physicality. Regular breathing exercises ground us and help us to be mindful of our bodies.
- Reduce tension, especially around the neck and shoulders and relieve physical discomfort. It is much harder to be creative and write if we are uncomfortable.
- Improve concentration, focus, and other critical physical benefits like improved digestion and circulation.
- Enhance your immune system. Attending to our general well-being makes writing easier.
- Concentration — being able to sit for periods, intently focussed, using a varied set of creative writing skills.
- Stamina — having sufficient physical stamina in our postural muscles to sustain the body in an economic position while performing intricate, accurate and high—speed movements with the hands to reduce the risk of overuse injury. Breathwork also gives us the mental stamina and tenacity to complete a book or a project.
Simple deep breathing exercise for writers:
- Settle yourself comfortably in a chair or sitting on the floor with an upright posture
- Allow yourself a moment to arrive and feel your body supported and still. Allow your shoulders to relax.
- Breathe in through the nose slowly, allowing the air to travel down to your stomach area and let the abdomen expand.
- Breathe out through the mouth, making a soft ‘ahhhh’ sound as you do.
- Repeat this breath three times, noticing the quality of the breath as it deepens and the movement of your ribcage.
- Notice your body as it responds to this moment of stillness, its warmth and presence, and the reassuring beat of your heart.
This exercise can be beneficial at the start of a writing session to create a boundary between everyday life and your writing session. It can act as a commitment to writing, indicating a writing session is beginning. It can also be a great way of re-finding focus mid-task when concentration wavers.
Why procrastination is not laziness.
When stressed, the body produces faster, shallower breaths by pulling on the muscles that anchor from your neck and lift the short upper ribs. Intended only to create extra lung capacity in an emergency, such as running for your life, this type of breathing can, unfortunately, become a habit. If we constantly breathe shallowly, the body will believe it is stressed because it links shallow breathing to stress. A vicious cycle begins – leading to neck pain, shoulder tension and reduced oxygen. The deep breath we have just tried switches off the stress response and allows the body to wind down.
Procrastination is not laziness – it often occurs due to feelings of stress associated with the writing task.
Stress responses in the body are ancient survival responses produced by adrenaline and cortisol. They tell us to fight, flee or freeze to protect ourselves – very useful if a predator wants to kill us. Less helpful when we have some writing to do. Procrastination results from the autonomic nervous system telling us to freeze because we feel stressed – to not act until the danger passes. Deep breaths can help beat procrastination by dialling down the brain’s perception of threat.
Re-framing how we think about a task can also help to change the chemicals our body produces. Suppose instead of feeling threatened or overwhelmed by our writing task we re-frame our thought to the task being exciting, stimulating, or challenging. In that case, our body will produce noradrenaline which enhances our confidence and abilities, rather than shutting them down or prompting us to run away from the task. Always check your self-talk and be aware of putting yourself down or talking yourself into a funk.
Take a moment to reflect. How has this made you feel, and when might deep breaths and re-framing be helpful in your writing process?
Now, let’s take a break before the next exercise. Put on a favourite song and move– shake out your body, stretch, and lift your heart rate. It may also feel good to gently slap your arms and legs to get the nervous system firing pleasantly.
The problem with a blank page:
Let’s look at the most challenging part– writing the first words on a blank page.
No one expects an athlete to start training or racing without warming up first – the same applies to writers. After breathing deeply, don’t forget to warm up your writing muscles before working on your project at every session.
Writing Warm-Up Exercise
Open a notebook, computer, or journal, ready to warm up your writing muscles.
Set a timer for five minutes.
Count back 5,4,3,2,1.
Go! Start writing.
Write anything, let the pen glide over the page, or your fingers dance across the keyboard. It doesn’t have to make sense — write what you see and hear, random thoughts, the words of a song, or how you’re feeling. But keep writing continuously.
Once you have begun and writing seems less of a ‘danger’, the brain unfreezes, and you will be able to carry on.
Until Part 2 – take three more deep breaths and say ‘Yes’ to finding your writing Zen.
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