I spend at least two hours reading every day. Depending on what I’m working on, it might be up to six (as much as I’d like to be able to do more than that, after the six-hour mark the words start dancing off the page). But whether you’re an English-professor-in-training, a professional who has to read a lot of reports, or an amateur bibliophile, there is an untapped way to make your reading “healthier” and sustain focus for longer periods of time: stretching while reading.
All too often, we read hunched over and/or crammed in a chair. These postures put a great deal of strain on the neck, shoulders, upper and lower back, hip flexors, and hamstrings. In other words, this is a recipe for soreness.
To mitigate that achy feeling and provide intentional distractions to break up long chunks of reading, try assuming these static stretch positions for ~5 minutes each (or 5 minutes per each leg if it’s a single-leg stretch). That totals 65 minutes of reading and stretching! A very respectable chunk of time before your next tea/coffee break.
- Legs straight out
- Seiza (also called diamond pose): yogis claim this position stimulates digestion and calms the mind (so a good posture to assume when you’re reading after lunch 😉
- Runner’s lunge
- Yoga block squat
- Belly down
- One leg out
- Cross-legged (or lotus position)
A few reminders: there’s no need to force the stretch. The priority is reading, not becoming a performer in Cirque du Soleil. Although these positions might feel a little strange at first, they should not distract you from your work. Ease into the posture and make sure you’re aligned properly (there are ample images and videos on the Internet that I don’t need to recapitulate here). Then forget about it and focus on the next few pages.
There is some controversy in the sports world about whether static stretching before exercise aids or hinders performance. That debate doesn’t factor in here, because flexibility is unquestionably beneficial in general. Stretchy muscles might inhibit your ability to exert power (like if you were about to sprint or lift heavy weights). But the only power you’re exerting while reading is mental. Stretching absolutely does prevent muscular and joint stiffness, and that’s a positive for us endurance readers.
A final bid for gaining flexibility (entirely based on Blakean mysticism rather than present-day science): “Man has no Body distinct from his soul” wrote the most visionary of the Romantic poets. Maybe, just maybe, a pliant body facilitates a supple mind. At least, that’s what I like to tell myself while sitting like a weirdo with an enormous novel in hand.