How to stretch yourself

Surrender by Penelope Dullaghan

Here’s a secret about me: I love to exercise. Having been exposed to different sports training while I was in high school it only made me love my body more when it’s in movement.

I’ve been on various teams: rhythmic gymnastics, volleyball, hockey, running, mountain climbing, and taekwondo – all at the same time. And when I’m not at school picking up a ball, I’m at home skipping rope and doing mat pilates. Early morning swim runs with my childhood friends remain in my memory as one of the fondest activity we get together for. Being in the water makes me feel as though I’m fully immersed in the moment – as though my body is one with all that is around me. This was why I mentioned that drawing for me, is like swimming.

But age catched up. I found that I could no longer run without feeling it in my knees afterwards. I took cautionary steps to alleviate the pain, but after many years of following Mr. T along with his run, I’ve decided that it wasn’t for me. So now I concentrate on doing yoga flows and pilates stretches instead because it helps me open up my shoulders – hunching over my keyboard or Wacom tablet for long periods on end makes me feel as though a curled up ball of wrangled nerves at the end of the day.

With any yoga pose (or anything at all, really), practice makes perfect. But one particular pose has eluded me for many years – the yoga push up (also known as the four-limbed staff pose). For those who don’t know what a yoga push up is, it’s basically a push up but instead of your arms being the same position as your shoulder when you bring your body down, it’s instead at a 90-degree angle, with your upper arms running parallel to your torso, so that your body weight rests on the middle of your body instead of the top of your body (and your wrists are holding your body weight up at the middle!) I just read that last sentence and oh man, here’s a case when a picture tells a better story.

So I have lousy upper body strength it seems, and no matter how much I try, I fall flat on my face every time – never mind that just getting to that bit was a torture in itself. Imagine this: You’re ready to do a push up. You square your hands, resting your hands firmly on the mat. You take a deep breath, and hope that this time will be it – it’s the time you won’t fall flat on your face because your arms betrayed you. So on to the beginning of the descent – a few inches down – and oh boy! It’s looking pretty good so far. A couple more inches, and your upper hand begins to quiver no matter how tightly they’re tucked away at your sides. Your thigh begins to feel nervous, trembling at intensity of keeping the body parallel to the floor. And during that last pivotal moment when you’ve almost hit that 90-degree angle, your body gives way, and everything – your hands, thighs, torso and all – come crashing down in a tangle of limbs.

I thought to myself there’s no way that I could do it. Some muscles obviously did not get the memo that this is the one thing that is still on my list.

My poor yoga mat almost has an imprint of my face from the many times I’ve landed face first into it. But I still kept at it. Lately, I mixed up my routine a little and instead of letting myself fall, I allowed myself to go as far as I could without diving head-first into the mat. And then, right before I felt that familiar jelly-like feeling creep up my hands, I come up for a cobra pose (here’s what that looks like).

It felt really good. I did a couple more each time.

And today, I tried the yoga push up again on its own, and I was surprised at not landing on my face. In fact, my face was an inch away from the mat as my body balanced itself parallel to the floor. I blinked in surprise. I held myself that way for a few seconds – in disbelief. It was surreal. I did it. And then I did it again. It wasn’t a fluke!

My shoulders were hurting afterwards – as though I had worked out muscles I never knew were there in the first place. It was throbbing with a dull ache, warm to the touch and tight. I felt proud.

I believe that we never stop growing or stretching ourselves. The biggest takeaway for me from this whole exercise (pun intended!) is that it takes time to practice anything at all. Whether it’s yoga, drawing, or doing your own business. You might think that you don’t have it in you, but it’s all there. Every bit of it. You just need to find your way, and maybe you’ll fall down like I did (and I don’t just mean on the mat!) but you’ll soon find the strength you never had.

When that happens, it’ll just take you completely by surprise.

And then you’ll be proud.

SHARE WITH ME:

Is there a hurdle in your life that you just wish you can get over? Whether it’s something physical, or even if it’s a mental block – what have you been doing to move past it? Share your thoughts right here with me in the comments below!

[Illustration: Surrender; by fellow yoga-loving illustrator Penelope Dullaghan, via Scott Hull]

Finding your ground

Joshua GilleIt’s funny – when I started writing more about process and creativity last year (it was a change of focus – I had been sharing images and works by others since this blog began); I felt a sense of relief. Relief because I felt that Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr in some ways had replaced blogging (especially visual blogging) in many ways. The ease of sharing things online was exciting, and I felt that instead of just re-posting things on my blog, I was able to keep a virtual diary of sorts through these fragmented sites – it was a mere click away to publish (as opposed to formatting the images, making it web-friendly, accrediting it manually, etc) before it could be palatable and presentable as a blog post.

But then I found that noise crept in. Things were moving so fast. What was that I pinned yesterday? I couldn’t quite remember what it was that I found, that inspired me enough to click that button in a mere second. Likes. Pins. Follows. There wasn’t a lack of inspiration – instead it felt like I needed a breather from all that I was taking in. I couldn’t digest properly. It was as if I was at a buffet table and shoving everything into my mouth without biting, without feeling. Now I know what my students meant when they felt incapacitated by the web.

This is the web that they know.

But it wasn’t like this, as I remembered. I wish that things were simpler, like before. But things are going to move at an even quicker pace, and I can’t kid myself that it will work the way I want it. I’m all up for progress. Rather, it’s up to me to hold on to something that I can steady myself with, so I can spin along while being centered.

This blog is an ever-evolving experiment, and I like that I can play by my own rules.

So yes it’s a place where I can take things a little slower. To digest. To feel. To experiment.

That way I’ll know when to catch myself when I feel that things are spinning out of control. And that’s something I can hold on to.

SHARE WITH ME:

In a world where things seem to spin so fast, what keeps you grounded? What is the one thing that remains a constant for you – that centers you and helps you to keep going?

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[Illustration by Joshua Gille]

Q+A: 5 tips for a stress-free social media experience

Hi Amy,

I am a recent illustration graduate from the UK. I’m already using Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about my work, but I’m not quite seeing the results that I am hoping for. And I have to say that I’m feeling really stressed at seeing other people’s pages and tweets – they make me feel pressured, almost as if it’s one big game of brown-nosing, and I’m not good at it, and I’m not sure if I can do it much longer. What should I do?
~ Qibby

Dear Qibby,

Your question prompted me to do a bit of research about introverts, and according to the Urban Dictionary, an introvert is defined as “a person who is energized by spending time alone. Often found in their homes, libraries, quiet parks that not many people know about, or other secluded places, introverts like to think and be alone.” [read more!] And what do you know? Although I’m an extrovert by nature, however I’m a social media introvert (I coined the term myself, ha!)

The thing is this: with social media, it can get really overwhelming really quick. I’m not sure if this holds true for other people, but it holds true for me. For the first 10 minutes in, it can get pretty fun: “oh look, so-and-so just got a new book out, hurrah!”; “you mean I can’t do that for a client, because it’s considered plagiarism? Bummer.” But leave me on for more than 15 minutes and I melt into a puddle of confusion and beleaguered with self-doubt that you’d have to scoop me off the floor in a cup. Give me a quiet space to work on my projects or put me in a room with people I don’t know, and I’ll work it just fine (with a few new friendships made along the way) – but social media? Uh-uh.

So instead of hiding away, for me, I think of it this way: it helps to think of social media as a way of connecting with others, and not merely brown-nosing! Think of how you’d usually connect with other people face-to-face. Taking it online is almost the same thing, where there are rules and etiquette to follow. I’d advise you not to think of what your friends or acquaintances are doing as “brown-nosing” it’s just a way that they’re connecting with others. The issue if how. Perhaps it’s the way they’re doing it that turns you off. But there are other ways that you can make yourself more comfortable with the idea of using social media – maybe my handy list of how to interact with others on social media will help you out:

TIP #1:
Don’t send tweets to other people where you’re clearly just talking about yourself and don’t care at all about the other person. You’ll just be ignored!

For example: “Hey @pikaland check out my portfolio – I think you’ll LOVE it!” Some people do this and wonder why they aren’t getting responses – and I’m here to tell you that there’s a reason why. A Twitter account isn’t a personal hotline to a client/blogger/editor at your disposal! Think of all the hair-tearing sessions where you wonder why you didn’t get that response from someone although you clearly tagged them on Twitter/Facebook/etc. Yup. If you didn’t know before, then I’m going to tell you now – CUT IT OUT. You’re better off sending a nice email instead. And make it personal. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

TIP #2:
Be genuinely nice and helpful.

If you see someone on your list needing a bit of insight or help, jump at the chance to offer your time and expertise. People will remember you better and will thank you for taking the time to come to their aid.

TIP #3:

Don’t overdo it.

Space out time for yourself instead of hearing everyone else’s chatter online! We might trick ourselves into thinking that if we spend our time on social media then it’s time spent on “researching” or “keeping in touch” – but don’t lie to yourself, you’re going to feel sorry for yourself at the end, because I know what you’re really doing. You’re just sizing yourself up on competition and that’s not healthy at all!

From the article Age of Distraction: Why It’s Crucial for Students to Learn to Focus:

[quote] “If you have a big project, what you need to do every day is have a protected time so you can get work done,” Goleman said [Daniel Goleman is a psychologist and author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence and other books about social and emotional learning on KQED’s Forum program]. For his part, when he’s writing a book, Goleman goes to his studio where there is no email, no phone, nothing to distract him. He’ll work for several hours and then spend designated time responding to people afterwards. [/quote]

Hey it works for me, so it might just work for you!

TIP #4:

Separate your Twitter/Facebook friends into lists.

For example, you can filter your social media connections into media contacts, inspirational reads, friends, clients, etc. Doing so will help you keep track of different segments of your lists, especially those you feel are important to your growth as an artist, instead of just consuming everything all at once like a no-holds barred buffet bar. You’ll only get sick afterwards with no recollection of what you just consumed! Here’s help for Twitter, and here’s one for Facebook.

TIP #5:

Take it offline.

A lot of the connections I’ve made isn’t just online – they’re made offline as well. So go out and connect with other people from different fields. Start a new hobby (or get serious with a current one). The most important thing is that while the internet has made it easier to connect, it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s easy to make connections. You’ll need to spend some time to build relationships – and that applies to both offline and online.

And there you have it! If you follow these guidelines, you’ll slowly realize that social media isn’t the be all and end all for artists (especially if you’re like me, a social media introvert!) It’s just  a tool for you to reach out to your fans, friends and to help others understand you better. How you use it is up to you.

Good luck Qibby!

SHARE WITH US:

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by social media? If you have, what have you done to make it all easier for your sanity and productivity? If you have any tips for Qibby, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

{please note that Q’s are usually edited for clarity and conciseness, as the queries I get can get pretty long winded!}

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