Soaking in natural beauty

Some places encourage – perhaps even demand – that a person stop thinking, stop talking, and simply soak in nature. Sedona, Arizona, is one of them.

I had the pleasure of spending two days this past week in the natural beauty of red rock splendor. A Pink Jeep Tour was worth the money as we journeyed to remote locations and learned about the geology, botany, and human history of the area.

I invite you enjoy some of the beauty, too.

Red rocks reveal history of millions of years.

Red rocks reveal history of millions of years.

View from the top of Submarine Rock

View from the top of Submarine Rock

Cactus frame red rocks.

Cacti frame red rock spires.

Cyprus tree may be a 1,000+ years old

Cyprus tree 1,000+ years old

Pink Jeep Tours get two thumbs up.

Pink Jeep Tours get two thumbs up.

Writing take away? It’s no wonder so much art is created in Sedona. Nature inspires me when I take time to absorb what it has to share. Then  I return to the keyboard refreshed and with new insights.

Where do you go for inspiration?

5 Yoga Exercises For Your Writing Routine

Not long ago, I wrote about how walking stimulates my writing. Writer and yoga instructor Stephanie Renée dos Santos commented that she’s found yoga to be a great help to her writing. I asked her to share exercises anyone can do and she agreed.  Welcome, Stephanie!

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A Writer’s Daily Yoga Practice

First, I’d like to thank Carol for inviting me to share ways writers can incorporate yoga into the daily writing routine.  I write five days a week.  Normally, I write in the morning for three hours and another two-three hour session in the afternoon in what is called the “unit system.” I write for 45 minutes and then take a 15-minute break (For information about this writing method visit my blog post: Up Productivity: Writing & Editing).  In the 15 minutes of downtime, I do housework and/or practice yoga.  I am a yoga teacher when not writing, and like everyone some days I have tight regions in my body. I do yoga stretches to open and relax these areas–allowing me to comfortably write for long periods of time.

Writers often suffer from physical pain in the eyes, head, neck, shoulders, lower back, and hips. This stress in the body can inhibit or block creativity. A daily yoga practice helps reverse and relieve bodily tension; when the body is eased, so are the tensions of the mind.

Below are 5 yoga stretches most writers can perform easily, no matter your age or flexibility. (All postures are recommended to be done slowly and mindfully, meaning pay attention to what is going on inside your body–but don’t judge or attach to what you discover, just notice.)

  1. Shoulder rolls: Lift your shoulders up towards your ears, then slowly pull your shoulder blades back and together and down, continue repeating this circle.  Be conscious of your movements and tell yourself it is “okay” to let go and relax, while massaging out any tension in this region.
    Neck Stretch

    Neck Stretch

  2. Neck stretch: Begin with your eyes closed. And breathe in through your nose and out your mouth for 5 breaths with your head upright.  Then, gently let your head ease over to the right, stretching out the left side of your neck. Count 15 breaths, then using your right hand, help your head back up to an upright position.  Pause for 5 breaths, eyes still closed, and repeat on the left side, remembering to help your head up with your left hand.  Returned to center, keep your eyes closed, breathing in through your nose and out your mouth for more 10 breaths or however long you like, absorbing and basking in the relief of this stretch.  ** I suggest getting out of your regular writing chair and onto a blanket or yoga mat in a seated position or on a cushion, or sit in another chair, or on the edge of a bed to do the shoulder rolls and neck stretches.
    Forward Bend, Lower Back Stretch

    Forward Bend, Lower Back Stretch

  3. Hip circles:  This pose is done standing up.  Place your hands on your hips and slowly begin moving your hips in a circular motion, while breathing in through your nose and out your mouth for 10-15 breaths, then change circling direction for another 10-15 breaths.  At the end release your hands from your hips, letting your arms hang down by your sides. Then shake out your arms turning your waist side to side like a windmill, while flexing your knees shaking out any tension in the body.
  4. Lower back stretch:  Standing with your legs the same distance apart as your hips, knees slightly bent, inhale through your nose and then out your mouth and slowly bend forward at the waist, letting the weight of your head and shoulders draw you down to the floor, surrendering your weight forward for 10-15 breaths, stretching out the lumbar and legs.  If you are unable to touch the floor, I suggest you use a chair or blocks to rest your hands and weight into, in order to get the most benefit out of this stretch and to not aggravate the lumbar region. Inhale through your nose while coming up, vertebrate by vertebrate. 
    Standing Side Stretch

    Standing Side Stretch


  5. Standing Side Stretch: Stand with both feet waist distance apart, breathe in through your nose and out your mouth and reach up your arms into the sky, then with the right hand grasp your left wrist and stretch to the right side, opening up the left side of your torso, shoulder, and arm, taking 3-5 breaths.  Then repeat this on the left side for 3-5 breaths.  You can do this stretch, moving side to side 5-10 times or as many as you like.

I strongly encourage writers to begin a regular yoga practice at home and with a qualified teacher in your area, it will help you and your writing in profound ways:  patience development, concentration, fluidity of creativity.

Happy writing!

Yoga in ParisStephanie Renée dos Santos is a fiction and freelance writer and yoga instructor. She is currently working on a historical novel set in 18th century Portugal and colonial Brazil. Stephanie leads Writing & Yoga Retreats/Workshops in Brazil and the United States. For more information please visit: or email or Facebook: Stephanie Renee dos Santos.

Upcoming Workshops in USA:  July 13-14, 2013 half-day & full-day, Writing & Yoga Workshop, Bellingham, WA;  July 2013 (exact dates to be announced) 3 nights, 2 full-day Writing & Yoga Workshop, Oregon Coast, OR. Visit Stephanie’s blog for workshop details:

Nurturing Creativity – Six Steps to a Successful Retreat

Each morning I turn on my computer, open up the files, and write. By myself. For hours. Writing is a solo activity, at least much of the time. My story. My time at the keyboard. My effort day and night.

Photo courtesy of This Day Photography. Published in The Iowan Jan/Feb 2013

Photo courtesy of This Day Photography.
Published in The Iowan Jan/Feb 2013

Creativity is often an individual effort. One person with an idea they bring to fruition. But creativity is also nurtured in groups. I was reminded of that as I wrote an article on quilt retreats for this month’s issue of The Iowan

The women I interviewed for this article were effusive about the benefits of doing what they loved in groups. They enjoyed time with their friends who share the same interest, time to learn new techniques, time to focus without interruption on something they love. By the time I finished the interviews and wrote the article, it crossed my mind that I could have written the article without doing the interviews. Because what these quilters described was exactly what I get out of writing retreats.

Even though my writing buddy Mary Gottschalk and I meet every two weeks to discuss and critique writing projects, we still spend a week each summer in a retreat away from our homes. Over the years, we’ve established a retreat approach that works for us. Here are the steps:

  1. Agree on retreat goals. Everyone doesn’t have to be working on the same genre or be at the same place in the process but everyone should agree on the overall structure and goal.  In our case, the agreement is to actually write and critique. It’s not going to work so well if someone thinks sleeping in or shopping all day is a better use of her time.
  2. Take a walk. We start each morning with a walk. Exercise is good for the body and the brain. We might talk writing, we might not.
  3. Write all morning. After breakfast, we settle in at our computers. We might be in separate rooms. We might be at the same table. But we are both dedicated to writing. Upon occasion, if one of us reaches a particularly problematic point, we talk it through, but mostly we write.
  4. Have lunch.  We may talk about the morning writing. Or not. It’s as important to take a break as to focus on the task.
  5. Critique. After lunch, we trade copy, read and spend however much time we need to provide feedback on the morning efforts.
  6. Reward! In the evening, we reward ourselves for our dedicated effort over a glass of wine and a nice dinner.

The next day, we go at it again. Same approach. Every day for as many days as our retreat lasts. We’ve tried a variety of venues for retreats, from bed & breakfasts to meeting rooms, but the main requirement is that the space be physically comfortable for long hours at the computer. A coffee pot is mandatory; a refrigerator helpful.

As writers, we do a lot of work alone and we’ve scaled writing mountains together. 

How about you? Do you create in groups as well as alone? What works for you?

Does exercise improve your writing?

A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.Helen Dunmore

British novelist, poet and children’s author Dunmore shared this bit of wisdom in a list of her “Nine Rules of Writing.”

Other writers have also found that physical activity plays a role in their creativity. The January 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest touched on this in an article “If Walls Could Talk” by Joy Lanzendorfer. (I could not find this article on line.) Lanzendorfer visited the writing spaces of a number of famous authors and shared the lessons she took away from those visits.

She reports that Lousia May Alcott was a runner. Alcott also climbed trees and jumped fences), activity that gave her the energy to write Little Women.  Poet Robinson Jeffers split his days between writing and gathering the boulders he used to build his house. Lanzendorfer’s conclusion is that there is a “connection between the moving body and the thinking mind.” And that “Even just a walk through the neighborhood can invigorate writing in unexpected ways.”

I’ve  found that walking yields writing benefits for me, too. An early morning walk clears the nighttime cobwebs so I sit down to write with a clear head. A mid-day walk offers a break from the keyboard, loosening my neck and shoulders at the same time it seems to loosen my brain. Sometimes I step out with a particular dialogue or plot problem I’m puzzling over. More often, I make it a point not to think consciously about my writing. It is surprising how many times I return to my desk with a new thought, a clearer thought, about how to tackle the next page.

I don’t know how it works or why. Perhaps for the same reason people facing a difficult decision are often advised to “Sleep on it.” Stepping away from a problem lets our subconscious minds work their magic. In any case, it’s nice to know all my walking does serve a purpose. And here I thought I was just procrastinating!

My guess is that many forms of exercise accomplish the same end. Is exercise part of your writing routine? I hope you’ll take a moment and share your experience.