People read for many different reasons. You might pick up a copy of the latest trashy romance novel just for fun or suffer through a stuffy historical work for an academic requirement.
Maybe you scroll through your news feed, scanning the day’s top stories, or you might spend time reading blog posts on your favorite personal development website.
All forms of reading are beneficial to your brain, but mindful reading stands out above the rest in terms of self-improvement and mental well-being.
Mindful reading goes beyond skimming news stories or reading for a bit of quick enjoyment.
And while academic reading is helpful for building your literacy and analytical skills, it is mindful reading that can truly quiet your mind and help you connect with your inner self.
What is Mindful Reading?
As a concept, mindful reading refers to a reading practice that asks you to slow down and engage with the text in a meaningful way.
Mindful reading encourages you to almost get lost in the piece you are reading.
The process asks you to forget about the outside world and all its troubles and focus on the words on the page in order to experience a sense of peace and deep understanding.
How is Mindful Reading Different?
What differentiates mindful reading from other types of reading is that when you read mindfully, you don’t have an end goal in mind.
Often when you read, you are trying to achieve an objective, such as cramming in a bit of studying before bed or catching up on the top stories of the day.
Mindful reading is different because when you practice it, you are reading to clear your mind, create space for your thoughts, and allow insights to spring up naturally between yourself and the text.
Reading mindfully feels less rushed and structured, and provides your mind and body with a break from “thinking”.
What Are the Benefits of Mindful Reading?
Like meditation, mindful reading offers several benefits to those who practice it regularly. Reading mindfully is a type of meditative activity that allows you to be present in the moment rather than worrying about the past or future.
As an intentional practice, mindful reading does the following:
- Calms your mind
- Gets you out of multitasking mode
- Helps you bond with the text
- Be present in the moment
- Improve emotional balance
- Creates space for new ideas, insights, and feelings
- Cultivate empathy and understanding
In addition to these perks, reading books may help you live a longer life! A Harvard study found that those who read novels lived 20% longer than those who read other types of texts, and BBC News reported that reading has been shown to slow signs of dementia later in life.
How to Practice Mindful Reading
Although there is no one “right” way to practice mindful reading, there are several approaches you can take to reap the benefits of reading more mindfully.
Below are a few techniques for mindful reading as well as some general tips you can implement to make reading a mindful activity in your life.
1. Savor a Word or Phrase
When you pick up your text, read a page or two. Then, set down the book and notice which word or phrase stands out. Repeat the word to yourself, aloud or in your mind over and over, savoring the way they sound and the images they conjure up for you.
Notice any feelings that come up. After you do this for as long as you want, reread the section and pay attention to how your understanding has changed.
2. The Wrap Around
Grab your text and sit down. Before opening the piece, close your eyes and perform your preferred breathing technique to induce a state of calm.
Open your book and read for as long as feels right, then close the book and repeat the deep breathing exercise.
Open your book again and notice how you feel. Is your body more relaxed? Is your mind calmer? Continue the pattern until you are ready to book the book away for the day.
3. One From Many
This technique is one that you will want to practice with a group of like-minded people. It may feel awkward at first, but the technique can help you focus on a text in a way that brings you outside of yourself.
Make sure everyone in the group has a copy of the text. Each person sits quietly and takes several calming breaths. Then, one person reads the piece aloud.
After an ample period of silence, a different person reads the first line of the text aloud. Then, after another bit of silence, another group member reads the next line of text. This repeats until the entire section of prose or poem is read.
The point here is to listen to the words and phrases with different voices and inflections to gain varied meanings.
4. Read in Print
Much of what we read nowadays is digitally formatted. While digital texts are convenient and easy to access, mindful reading is better performed with a printed text.
There is something about seeing the words on the page and touching the print that helps take you out of multitasking mode and into a more focused, calm headspace.
When you use a printed text rather than digital, you also avoid the distractions that come with phone alerts and messages.
5. Get Physical
Get physical while mindful reading – physical with the book that is.
Hold the text in your hand and take the time to immerse yourself in the physical presence of the book.
Notice the smell of the pages and the printed ink. Run your hands over the pages and feel their texture. Feel the weight of the book in your hands or on your lap. Name the colors of the pages and appreciate the font that the text is printed in.
If you like to use the pen method to focus on reading, listen to the sound of the pen as it moves across the page. All of this helps you slow down and immerse yourself in the text.
6. Read Aloud
Choose a piece of text, maybe a poem or excerpt from a longer novel, and read it aloud to yourself.
Read slowly, taking care to enunciate every word on the page. Feel the vibration as you speak and notice how your voice sounds as you say the words.
It may feel silly, but you can even try reading a section in a different accent or playful voice.
After you read a piece out loud, stop and think about it.
Did reading it out loud help you see something in a different light?
Did a different accent help you look at a word or a phrase with a new feeling?
Let yourself mull over these questions for a deeper reading experience.
7. Just Be
When you sit down with your text, allow yourself to simply be.
Don’t force yourself to focus. Don’t judge yourself if outside thoughts pop in. Don’t worry if you reread the same word twenty times and it still doesn’t resonate.
Just let yourself be in the moment and feel what you feel.
You may find with this type of mindful reading that your brain has trouble shutting off or you might fall asleep before you read a large section. All of this is completely okay and can give you an indication of where your stressors are or what type of care your body needs.
What Should You Read?
When it comes to choosing a text for mindful reading the decision is completely up to you!
There are no set rules, however, it is a good idea to choose something that is engaging but doesn’t require too much mental energy.
My favorite kind of text for mindful reading is poetry. In any other setting, I don’t enjoy poetry one bit, but it works for me in mindful reading because it uses strong imagery and emotional language that I can engage with on a deep level without feeling the need to overanalyze.
You may opt for different types of texts – novels, religious texts, poetry, essays, biographies, memoirs, self-help books, or short stories – and switch it up to see which one supports you best for mindful reading.
Incorporate Mindful Reading Into Your Daily Routine
Reading is something that most of us do every single day. We read advertisements, menus, news, social media posts, and everything in between, but few of us stop and read with intention.
Mindful reading helps us calm our brains and get lost in the moment. It helps us tune out distractions of everyday life and reduce stress by shifting our focus.
To reap these benefits for yourself, try to set aside time every day to read mindfully. The result will be that you feel calmer and centered and develop increased self-awareness and contentment.