(This interview originally appeared in the Tattoo Artist Magazine blog, here.)
Q: What type of physical problems have you encountered due to tattooing?
Obviously tattooing can put strain on your fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders, neck, spine, and lower back. In broader terms, all of these body parts are connected, like a series of stops on a train. The physical action of sitting and extending your arms, making small, repetitive hand motions over long periods of time puts stress on the body that just goes down the continuous line of interconnected body parts. I deal with pain, strain, and discomfort in all of these areas on a regular basis.
Then there is the sort of separate issue of the eyes. Intense focus on up-close objects can strain and wear down the eyes over time. Sometimes this problem is simply genetic and occurs early in life, before tattooing becomes a factor. I've been prescribed glasses since my early teens.
Q: You once mentioned a trick that your eye doctor told you, which is to focus on a distant object while tattooing and do it for a certain amount of time...?
Yeah that's basically it. It's ideal to rest your eyes as often as possible. Just let them blur out and relax for a few minutes, then resume. If you're not tattooing intricate details, you can do this while you work. Or spend a few minutes changing your focus to something in the distance, then resume.
Q: Have you had to see a doctor, chiropractor, massage therapist, acupuncturist, or anyone similar because of health problems or because you want to avoid them?
I've been to every one of those types of health care professionals, for a combination of treatment and prevention. Most regularly, I receive upper body massage. I’ve also found myofascial release, by a physical therapist trained in that specialty, to be extremely effective.
Q: Have you modified your workstation because you have encountered physical problems or wish to avoid them?
I've made minor adjustments, such as sitting in a physician's operating room chair instead of a normal office chair, and I always try to position my client for my working comfort as well as theirs. But I feel I need to make further changes to help my posture, to keep my shoulders from slouching inwards and forward due to having my arms extended while working. The regular practice of sitting meditation has actually helped correct my posture somewhat, because holding the ideal meditation posture trains you to sit with your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and head resting squarely on top of the spinal column, which is the proper and natural position for the upper body. I also make sure I have great lighting in order to avoid having to lean in or tilt my head forward to see what I’m doing more clearly, which puts more strain on my eyes and neck.
Q: Do you have any tips for good tattooing posture?
Slouching forward with your back curved, which collapses the chest and diaphragm, is bad for the body, so while sitting down to work, hips should be tilted forward slightly. Lean forward at the hips rather than only with your upper back and shoulder area. Sit with your back upright, keeping your shoulders down and relaxed, with your head and neck balanced squarely above your shoulders, not tilted forward and down. This is basically what I described with the sitting meditation practice in the previous question. Another good tip for tattooers is to get on a regular core workout regimen, meaning abdominals and back muscles. Having a strong midsection comes in handy for holding oneself upright in the correct sitting posture for long hours, whereas someone without a strong core may tend to slouch sooner from fatigue. Of course, taking breaks as frequently as possible will always help, especially if, while on your break, you do some stretching and loosening up, where you hold each stretching posture long enough for it to be effective—usually 30 seconds to one minute with deep, easy breaths. I’ve found it helpful to do stretches that move my body in the opposite direction from that which I hold it in all day while working. For example, after working with my shoulders and arms extended forwards and down, it feels good to do stretches with my arms thrust upwards and backwards, above my head or behind my body. Same concept applies to my back and spine.
Q: Do you follow a workout regime to keep in shape and healthy?
I do anything I can to improve my conditioning, since long hours spent tattooing and painting are so harmful to certain areas of the body. My favorite form of exercise and physical training is Crossfit, which is a fitness system designed around natural functional movements that target the entire body, as opposed to repetitive isolation exercises with movements one never uses in their daily life. Part of crossfit involves weight training, but with emphasis on only the largest/most heavily used muscle groups. So this is something I try to do when my hands and forearms aren't too strained from tattooing, which can be a challenging balancing act. Other helpful activities are light daily calisthenics and stretching (using only body weight), walking, hiking, bike riding and occasional running. Stretching once or more per day is actually very important and I need to get a better regimen of that going. I've tried yoga occasionally, which is great since it's low-impact with a lot of stretching—I should do more of that also. One absolutely amazing form of exercise that I’m not into, unfortunately, is swimming. Perhaps if my joints become so deteriorated one day, I’ll have to turn to that. But generally I live an active lifestyle overall, which keeps my body in good enough shape to be able to handle the demands I put on it. And perhaps just as importantly, as I get older I’m getting better at knowing when and how to rest and let my body recover, in order to get ready to resume the active demands.
Q: Have you had to change your eating habits in any way because of tattooing?
I became vegan a few years before I started tattooing and I continued with that dietary approach for 13 years, believing it to be the healthiest choice. However, towards the end of those 13 years, I had increasing health problems, and I made an overwhelming effort to eat healthy vegan foods (as opposed to processed convenience foods), like lots of raw fruits and veggies, seeds, nuts, and sprouted grains. I also made sure to keep up my nutrition with various vitamin supplements and protein powders. But after struggling like this for a few years without satisfactory results, I started to research other healthy dietary regimes, and eventually came across the work of Weston A. Price.
Dr. Price traveled the world in his day, studying the diets and health status of the last remaining indigenous tribes and isolated peoples from every locale or climate. What he found was that, according to all of his modern medical knowledge and tests, these were by far the healthiest people in the world, because they had a nutrient-dense natural diet of both animal and plant foods, that was also free of processed food and refined sugars.
So after months of research and moral crisis, I eventually decided to radically change my dietary approach from veganism to what’s been nicknamed a “paleo” diet, which is basically a way of eating that approximates an ancient indigenous diet of free-range meat and eggs, fat, and vegetables, with no grains, beans, starches, sugar, large fruits, or refined carbohydrates. I made this change about 2 years ago and many of my health complaints have been improving. I have increased energy, strength and stamina, as well as a drastically improved mental stability and focus. So although it took some intimidating inner spiritual-type work to be at peace with eating the flesh of dead animals again, I’ve found it beneficial from a health standpoint, and plan to continue this nutritional approach until further notice.
Q: What brands of supplements or vitamins do you use?
My preferred products have evolved over the years, as I deal with different health issues that arise, and become more educated about nutrition. Right now I’m really into meeting as much of my nutrition requirements through eating nutrient-dense whole foods and ancient “superfoods.” I’m also starting to learn about herbalism and have been using mushroom extracts and things like stinging nettles for overall health. My favorite brand of nutritional supplements lately is Surthrival. I’m really into their colostrum and other androgenic supplements. I take a lot of probiotics in food form and in supplement form, to help achieve proper digestion. I’m also into the omega-3 supplements lately to combat the inflammation caused by the stress I put on my joints and tendons with tattooing, so I stock up on fermented cod liver oil from Green Pastures for that and for vitamins A & D as well. Besides those specialty items I supplement the other major vitamins like B, C, and E, and the major minerals with calcium-magnesium citrate powder and high-mineral grey sea salt. For making a quick survival smoothie while traveling, I use Vega brand complete nutrition powder, and I consume copious amounts of virgin coconut oil no matter where I am, for the healthy fatty acids it contains. Lastly, whenever possible I drink true spring water instead of flouridated, bleached municipal tap water. Natural untainted water from springs contains the full mineral content and proper molecualr structure of whole water, whereas most tap water in the U.S.A. is recycled from the city’s waste-water system and treated with toxic chemicals like bleach and flouride in order to make it drinkable again, ironically.
Q: What about spiritual/psychological health? How do you maintain that?
Psychological health has always been fascinating and very important to me. As a natural part of my personality, I spend a lot of time thinking about things, often in solitude, because of my highly sensitive, intense, artistic nature. This has led to an increase of self-awareness, intuition, observance of psychological and spiritual matters, and of people and the world around me. These qualities all contribute to a self-maintenance of my mental health and achieving my life goals. However, these same parts of my personality have also led me to be withdrawn, ineffective at maintaining lasting intimate relationships, occasionally neurotic, or hypersensitive to emotions, moods, problems, and frustrations. All of which contribute to a deterioration of mental health. In other words, with the good, also comes the bad. Long periods of my life have consisted of mental and emotional struggles to feel 'right' or 'whole' or 'happy' in the conventional sense, simply because of my highly active mind, heightened awareness, and complex internal dialogues. So finding balance is very important to me.
But, these times of struggle have led me to be a stronger person, and to be pro-active in many ways such as constantly reading psychology books and even attending personal growth seminars, acquiring new knowledge and strategies to implement along with a deeper understanding of how myself and others function. I've also attended talk therapy with various psychologists and counselors over the years, whenever certain issues in my life seem to build up too much, or sometimes just for regular emotional 'maintenance' and advice.
And lastly, over the past few years I’ve begun to investigate the spiritual side of life a little more as another way of maintaining mental health, to encourage my own personal healing and growth. Reading books on Buddhist philosophy and establishing a regular meditation practice have been a huge help for me in maintaining emotional understanding through some really tough times, and has helped me find a greater degree of peace, contentment, and balance.
“Nutrition And Physical Degeneration” By Weston A. Price
“Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine” By Ron Schmid
“Primal Body—Primal Mind” By Nora Gedgaudas
“Thrive: The Vegan-Based Training Program ?for Maximum Strength, Health, and Fitness” and “Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to ?Optimal Performance in Sports and Life” By Brendan Brazier
“Positive Addiction,” “Choice Theory,” “Take Effective Control Of Your Life,” and “Warning: Psychiatry May Be Hazardous To Your Health” By William Glasser
“Ruling Your World” and “Turning The Mind Into An Ally” By Sakyong Mipham
“Heart of the Revolution” By Noah Levine
“When Things Fall Apart” By Pema Chodron