Reading for Rhythmic Relaxation

I’ve read a lot about how rhythmic repetitive activities, like knitting, can be used effectively for stress relief. I’ve tried knitting, and it’s not really my thing. I’ve tried to find other activities that would fill that need—the need to relax, when sitting still and doing nothing doesn’t seem to work (mind racing, To-Do List looming, etc…).

I found that dancing is pretty effective at creating a singular focus for me (and somehow eliminates the mind chatter)–back when Matthew was a baby, we danced everyday to the Steven Tyler version of Oscar the Grouch’s I Love Trash. I wish he still wanted to do that! Β We do still have dance parties, but he’s into different music now.

I also noticed that I can lull Matthew into a smiley relaxed state with books. There’s something about the sound of a voice reading a children’s book that is soothing and calming (well, it depends on the book, I suppose!). My mom used to read to my sister and me when we were young. The three of us gathered on her bed, and she read the entire Little House on the Prairie series (and many other things, but that’s the one I really remember). When Jen learned to read, she took over reading, but that wasn’t as enjoyable for me—I loved listening to my mom’s voice reading the stories.

Sometimes it's better to just unplug and turn off the computers and TV!

This came up again when I was in college. I babysat for two kids, Daniel and Elizabeth, ages 4 and 6. They weren’t typical kids—organic yogurt was what they considered dessert and the TV was never on (it wasn’t even in the living room). One day, I arrived and they told me they really wanted to listen to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh on cd. They were captivated by it, and Elizabeth sat next to me so I could french braid her hair while she listened. Both seemed to be in some kind of relaxed trance, but at the same time completely absorbed in the story (probably not worrying or thinking about anything else, if I had to guess).

Lately, I've been drinking a lot of this...and things were great till I started adding fruit. I proved to myself again that I need to cut out the's kind of sad feeling, but I'll be better off!

I was watching an episode of Bethenny Ever After last night, where she’s practicing for Skating with the Stars. She makes a comment that skating is the only thing she does where she thinks only about what she’s doing in the moment. I would consider this a form of relaxation too—even though she’s deep in concentration and effort. She’s being mindful of only one moment–the one she’s in.

Currently, I’m seeing this reading-into-relaxation phenomenon again with Matthew. At night when he’s here, we tell stories. He loves it—and I usually try to weave in fish and dogs and things he’s interested in. Occasionally, I wonder if he’s bored, and then he interjects something into the story—he’s captivated by it, and it’s not even out of a book. There’s no real rhythm. It’s just my voice bringing something to life.

Of course, with my dissertation research being all about how people’s stories are lived and told in relation to their wellness priorities, I’m very interested in how this story telling and reading can impact a person’s well-being and stress management. I think that although I’m relating relaxation to stories, it also goes for the other things (like skating for Bethenny) where you are just being in the present moment and your mind gets a break from the craziness.

Playing is also a form of mental relaxation for kids---and for grown-ups! When was the last time you played?

People often tell me that when they get home from work, they need to zone out in front of the TV—they think they are relaxing. The problem is that they’re actually overstimulating themselves. TV is not relaxing to your brain or your body, even if you think it is while you’re doing it. It’s actually a form of detatchment—and the point here is that we want to become more connected to our body in the present moment, not less.

Reading and listening to stories, even if we’re using our imaginations to visualize, creates a situation (and the positive effects) of mindfulness meditation in the brain, with one of the main benefits being that we’ve released the mental chatter from our thoughts effortlessly.

I’ve had a lot going on, so I sort of socially unplugged myself this week. I took more time to breathe and read…and I intended to even listen to a book on cd, but I didn’t get to it. I did order Matthew a new book for us to read tonight when we’re relaxing. It was a book my sister and I loved, and the value of that is not lost on my seven year old nephew on Mother’s Day weekend. He gets to learn and know his mom through me and my mom and dad, and he’s old enough now to really love and cherish the stories about her. I just have to remember that although it’s sad for the rest of us that he never met his mom, it’s not sad for him—he didn’t lose her, as far as he’s concerned he’s just different from others because his mom is an angel. So when we tell stories about his mom, he can be more connected to her and also be in the present moment.

Did your mom (or someone) read to you when you were little?

How do you relax? Wouldn’t it be great if we had someone to read us to sleep every night?

44 thoughts on “Reading for Rhythmic Relaxation”

  1. Well I relax by taking a bath. That is one of my favourite ways. I also love reading, though these days I don't get much time to do that. However as a child I used to curl up and read all day, actually to the extreme. Sounds like Matthew is really lucky to have you. Have a Happy Mother's Day Weekend. I find that although children feel the sadness, they also fell happiness too often at the same time. At least for my daughter feeling the loss of my parents, but at the same time cherishing and being happy.

  2. I like the comment about Bethenny and skating… I'd like to try to find an activity like that. I'm all about running, but if anything it leaves me MORE anxious because I spend the entire time trying to work through issues or problems of feelings that I'm having. Right now the best way for me to relax is a good book and a bubble bath!

  3. oh, i love this post, lisa!!

    knitting is TOTALLY my relaxation method. yes, it's the RHYTHMIC REPETITION that i love – running gives me that, too.

    my mom read to us when we were little – the little house books, lucy maud montgomery (author of anne of green gables)…very fond memories of those hours.

    that is just wonderful that you and matthew have reading time together. you're setting him up to be a lifelong learner, to appreciate books…awesome.

    i'm glad you just unplugged this week and chilled out a bit. enjoy your day! πŸ™‚

  4. Dairyfreebetty

    Wow, this is an awesome post. My parents always read with me, and I've always made a point of reading with the kids I work with. Right now I am doing my practicum with teens with special needs, and their zone out tools all look different, some it's music, some use beads (that the flick between their fingers), some do deep breathing etc. It's really interesting to see what works for each student.

    For me to zone out, I like to read, listen to music. I get excited about having kids to have those moments too.

    Again, great post Lisa!!

  5. Now we have matching glass dharma dotted straws!! That picture of them two is so funny haha I love Joe's smile because he totally knows the picture is being taken

  6. i never thought about it that way. I think running kinda does that for me, or anything with fresh air and peaceful sounds of nature. Sometimes baking does that, depends on the day. Gosh, maybe I need to think more about this. haha.

  7. as far as he’s concerned he’s just different from others because his mom is an angel.” This brings sweet tears to my eyes. <3

    I love Sunday afternoons when I get out of work because there are short stories being read aloud on NPR. It's a perfect way to wind down and escape the troubles of the work day on my drive home. It too makes me want to get some books on tape so I can be taken away like that more regularly.

  8. Gina (Candid RD)

    It's so funny you posted this today because just this morning Nick and I were talking about getting some books to read together before bedtime. I've been having trouble sleeping and I have started taking 1 mg melatonin, which I DON”T want to be dependent on. We always watch the news right before bed and I think it would be better to read, or even write in a journal, or take a bath right before bed. My mom used to read to me too, but I never really appreciated books when I was young. Now, I love to read, and I read whenever I can!

    Happy Mother's Day to you!! I hope it's a great one.

  9. I relax by either:
    1) Drinking hot tea out of an over sized mug (those are my favorite!) and reading a book with a throw blanket.


    2) Reading a book laying out by the pool.

    Either way, reading relaxes me. Always. I've always been a reader, though.

  10. Really loved this post! For me it's cooking with the Italian music blasting.
    Have a great Mothers day weekend with Matthew!

  11. I think the Anne of Green Gables series is my second fave (behind little

    house)…I read that series multiple times! …In fact, I might pull out the

    books now and read them again πŸ™‚

  12. Another beautiful post, Lisa. Happy mother's day to you; you have obviously had a tremendous influence on your nephew. I don't think one has to have biological children to be a mother. Your post has given me food for thought on relaxation. I sometimes feel comforted when doing something rhythmic at the gym like being on the elliptical machine or walking on the treadmill.

  13. I have had no problem relaxing this weekend infact I almost feel a bit guilty. One should never feel guilty for relaxing but I know my to-do list for tomorrow is a little insane. My mom totally read to me when I was little!

  14. What a great topic. I have been trying to relax lately by putting down my laptop/ ipad /phone /book /newspaper and simply playing with my kids! Last Sunday, we kicked a soccer ball around the yard for an hour. It was great exercise and super fun. Today, I read my daughter about fifteen picture books. It was great bonding time and super therapeutic.

  15. Ok, I cried. Not because it's sad about Jen- because it's so happy that Matthew has you, someone so special, who can share his mom with him. Think about this- what if we only knew our parents through someone else's perception of them? How different… and if that's what he recognizes it as (not better or worse, just different!) then that's wonderful.

    As a side note, I went running this morning (yes, !) and am just now realizing that during that run I really thought about little else, except the run. It was in my neighborhood, on streets and sidewalks, past people mowing their lawn, walking their dogs, and kids playing in the yard… but I was just thinking about running. Everything else melted away… and I don't remember the last time I did something that created that blank awareness in my brain. You may have just helped me realize there may be more benefits to running than just the general exercise aspect of it.

    Let's do something active soon. Happy Mothers Day πŸ™‚

  16. I definitely read to relax! And I agree about the television. I don't think that zoning out in front of it is relaxing at all. My mom always told me and my sis stories when were little. I loved it!!! Have a great week!!

  17. What a great post πŸ™‚ I have to say I am often guilty of zoning out in front of the TV when I want to relax but more often I am turning to a short nap to revive me πŸ™‚

    It is so wonderful that you are sharing your love for your sister with her son. She lives through you, him and the rest of your family πŸ™‚

  18. I never really thought about how concentrating can be considered a form of relaxing, but I definitely agree. I used to try and watch tv to relax, but now I prefer to keep it off. To relax, I like to sit outside and focus on my choreography and music for the classes I teach. My Mom used to read to me when I was little and I loved it. I am not much of a reader now…it seems to put me to sleeP πŸ™‚

  19. I use audio books for my son. He is not a fast reader so it gets difficult for him to read- but he does relax at bed time with the audio books. I have book club tonight- and am NOT done the book but it is great, and I enjoy the relazing

  20. lauren@spicedplate

    I try to meditate…sometimes my husband reads me poetry to sleep — i'm one lucky lady! Going to the gym is a great de-stresser, as is dancing to crazy rap music.

  21. JL @ HealthyHeyday

    Great post. Makes ya stop and think. πŸ™‚ Reading is a “treat” for me. I long for a quite corner to curl up and dive into a good read. My Mom read to my brother and I when we were kids…best memories, for sure. I was touched deeply by your paragraph. You're awesome, Lisa!!! πŸ™‚ Have an AB-FAB week! xo

  22. JL @ HealthyHeyday

    oops I meant to type: I was deeply touched by your “last” paragraph.

  23. Lisa, this entire post made me so happy. πŸ™‚ I just love what you do for Matthew. What an angel auntie he has. I love reading to my kids. My mom didn't really do that…but I did read to ALL of my younger sisters. We're reading a Lassie mystery right now. We love to read in our house. We also don't have cable “tv” (plenty of fun videos for the kiddos though) but we have an entire area of our house devoted to crafting and games. I love how much you are truly trying to engage and connect with Matthew. So blessed are both of you. πŸ™‚

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