Killing two Birds with one Stone

1 Aug

One of the perks of being a teacher is summer vacation.  I had a killer year, with a new full-time teaching job at a new school, five graduate classes, and single parenthood with teenage kids. Those people close to me know that I was pretty strung out by the time school got out.  Hence, I had two official goals for the summer: learn to relax and to read for pleasure again.

In order to learn to relax, I intended to get back to my yoga and practice meditation. I’ve tried meditating before and, frankly, I suck at it.  I have a brain that never stops jabbering to me. I twitch, I itch and before I even know it, I am composing my “To Do” list in my head. With practice, I’ve gotten better, but it still is a lot of work and doesn’t really feel like it’s helping me relax.  The yoga has been more successful than the meditation, but still, I get sore muscles, I get shaky, and my breathing is ragged. I am not giving up on the idea of yoga and meditation—I still hope to someday become a competent mediator—but by far the most successful of my goals has been the reading one.

Imagine my amusement when I ran onto this article: a few weeks ago.  Yeah, it is one of those “well, duh.” moments, but apparently, reading is a very good method of relaxing.  In a study commissioned by a chocolate company for an advertising campaign, just six minutes of reading lowered heart rate and muscle tension to levels lower than before the study began. Reading was more successful at helping subjects relax than listening to music, going for a walk or having a cup of tea. According to Dr. David Lewis, who conducted the study cited in the article:

“It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination. This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.”

Even without all the other benefits of reading, this makes reading a valuable activity for adults and for kids. Stress and anxiety disorders are a big problem for kids with disabilities and for some of them, slowing down is nearly impossible. Reading something interesting gives just enough mental stimulation to help those of us with active minds slow down and relax.

So there you have it, I killed two birds with one (unintentional) stone. Now pass the chocolate.


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