What Is 'Mindful Reading' and Can It Help Your Brain?

By   |  March 29, 2024

By Ernie Mundell HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2024 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, March 29, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Ever immersed yourself in a book and lost all sense of the time and place you're currently in?

That's how reading can meld with mindfulness, one neuropsychologist explains.

The experience can bring real mental health benefits, said Dr. Samantha Henry, an assistant professor of neurology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

“Reading is a quiet pursuit that can be a more adaptive coping strategy than some other hobbies we engage in,” she said in a Baylor news release.

Henry said that there's a difference between typical reading and mindful reading.

Very often, folks are reading for a goal: To read through a document or book within a specific timeframe, with the conscious aim of acquiring valuable knowledge.

That's fine, but it's different from mindful reading, which focuses only on the pleasure of reading itself, without a set goal, and remaining fully present to understand whatever it is you are reading.

According to Henry, you can prepare for mindful reading by practicing mindful breathing, which is often taught in meditation classes.

"We can think of mindful reading in the way we think of mindful breathing, which is just focusing on your breath," she explained. "Normally when we breathe, we don’t think about it because it’s automatic. Traditional reading can be that way too; to get to the destination of finishing that book. Try to slow that down and be aware of the process actually involved in reading."

Mindful reading is different from what Henry calls "passive" reading -- there's no skimming or multitasking during mindful reading. It's reading slowed down, focused on understanding the text, and with all distractions removed.

You could begin a practice of mindful reading focused on small passages, building a habit of awareness of what you are reading, Henry said. Paying attention to the book itself -- its pages' look, smell and feel -- can also enhance the mindfulness experience.

“Our thoughts drift all the time, and mindfulness practices help redirect them back to the present moment in trying to savor what’s happening," she said. "For both mindful reading and leisure reading, one of the important elements is setting aside that time. It’s far too easy to forget to do these things because we haven’t built out a space for it, so just try to incorporate it into your schedule. Start with small steps so it can be achievable and accessible.”

She said that in today's busy, goal-focused world, many people even harbor guilt about reading as an indulgence.

“As kids, reading is thought to be more of a leisure activity we can engage in as a form of recreation, and it is encouraged," Henry said. "As adults, it is a pursuit that is often seen as a form of escapism –- it feels wrong and people feel guilty engaging in reading because they think about all the other things they have to do.”

But, whether they know it or not, many people read for pleasure and as a kind of mental therapy. According to Henry, studies have shown that folks who read regularly may even lower their odds for dementia.

So, try to incorporate reading into your daily life, she said -- even starting with 15 minutes per day helps. Pinning yourself down to a set schedule for reading isn't necessary, either.

Henry said that paper books, rather than an e-versions or listening to audiobooks, are still the best route to mindful reading. Reading on a phone means being distracted by texts and pop-up messages, and audiobooks often encourage multitasking, she noted.

SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, March 27, 2024