Mindfulness and Reading

Mindfulness is a state of being where you are present only in the moment, no matter what you’re doing. It’s similar to meditation in that you notice and focus on your breathing, but it also encompasses much more. If you’re on a walk, you might take notice of the sound your feet make on the pavement and how brightly the sun shines or how cloudy the sky appears. If you’re having a conversation, you focus on your companion’s body language, how loud or soft his voice is, and the way his words fit together to form meaning. You focus on every aspect of the moment itself, without reservation or judgment, and in that way you devote your attention to what’s most important at that moment. So, the question is, can you apply mindfulness to reading, and if so, how?

The answer is yes – it’s often referred to as “deep reading.” Instead of skimming over passages in a novel or a textbook and getting sidetracked by social media, your phone, your environment, or anything else, you first calm your mind, then set your task, and finally focus on your reading.

There are a number of benefits of deep reading. Recent research has indicated that reading books can actually keep you alive. For example, a study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine found that individuals who read a book for 30 minutes a day lived an additional 23 months when compared to those who did not read. This figure held up regardless of the individual’s income, education, gender, or health. What is perhaps most interesting is that this advantage was specific to physical books – no other type of reading material produced results as beneficial as these.[1]

The researchers hypothesized two reasons for their results. First, books encourage the kind of reading where “the reader draws connections to other parts of the material, finds applications to the outside world, and asks questions about the content presented.” Second, books have the ability to “promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival.”[1]

While living longer and being a better person are certainly compelling arguments for reading, if these are the only reasons we read, we risk reducing our reading experience to the level of a monotonous hygiene task, something like flossing your teeth after meals. Reading can and should be a greater experience, something that not only requires mindfulness to complete but also produces a state of mindfulness that carries through the rest of our daily lives.

So, how exactly do you go about creating a mindful reading experience? Success, it turns out, is in the details, much like mindfulness itself.

  • Choose a time when you can focus on your reading, rather than trying to squeeze it into a hurried lunch hour or the ten minutes before you go to bed. Give yourself permission to take the time you need to read through whatever amount of text you’ve allotted for the session.
  • If you are reading for pleasure, choose something that will engage but not deplete you, something that requires a bit of mental energy but doesn’t end up as another chore on your to-do list. There’s a whole world of text out there to discover: novels, biographies, histories, collections of essays, science writing, poems, and long-form journalism to name a few. If you are reading for school or for work, put yourself in the mindset of “need to know.”
  • Consider reading in print. If much of your reading is on a screen, then mindful reading from a physical book could be a nice break from the constant distractions electronic devices present. As you turn the pages, also notice the quality of light, the color and even the smell of the ink on the page, and how the spine of the book feels against the palms of your hands. Again, the experience is in the details.
  • Pay attention to language. Look at how the writer presents facts to form an argument or how a novelist uses unusual word choices to show a character’s inner thoughts. Examine how the language builds a mental picture of what the writer is trying to communicate to you.
  • Ask yourself questions about what you are reading. If it is a textbook, query how a fact or theory relates to others presented in the chapter; if it’s a novel, think about the relationship of the characters and how they develop over the course of the story. Take notes of your thoughts and observations.
  • When your mind wanders, gently pull yourself back to the text and keep going. Don’t berate yourself for losing focus – it serves no useful purpose.

Mindfulness, like reading, is a choice, and both can help strengthen your body and your mind. When you combine the peacefulness of being in the moment with the look, feel, and presentation of the text, you essentially take the best of both worlds and form a new and better place for yourself.



[1] calmmoment.com. (September 8, 2017). Mindful deep reading: the health benefits of reading novels. Retrieved from http://www.calmmoment.com/mindfulness/mindfulness-deep-reading/

Author: AceReader Blogger

The AceReader blogging team is made up of specialists in a number of different areas: literacy, general education, content development, and educational software. For questions about posts, please submit them in the form below. For suggestions about blog topics, please email them to blogger@acereader.com.

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