How To

How to Exercise While Reading

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I am a person who gets her reading done in the tiny snippets of time that exist between motherhood and work. I read at school pickup. I read while waiting in line at the post office. I read while hiding in the bathroom. I read while sitting up in bed during that sleepy hour or so before I lose consciousness.

In pre-pandemic times, I also brought a book to my yoga studio so I could read it while sitting criss-cross applesauce, speeding my way through a chapter while the people around me stretched and centered themselves. I’d place it reluctantly to the side when it was time for class to begin.

I have seen my yoga instructor side-eye my “I’d rather be reading” tank top. The truth is, I’d rather be doing both at once. I’ve often gazed longingly at my book while in some reclined, restorative position.

And yes, I know this defeats the purpose of actually doing yoga.

Still, is it possible to read while working out? I mean, beyond just opting for audiobooks?

author of post wearing a Bookworm tank top and waving

Hi there. I’m Steph Auteri and I’m a bookworm and a multitasker.

To be honest, I don’t do audiobooks. If I’m engaged in a workout that requires me to exert myself in such a way that I don’t have the use of my hands, I’d rather be listening to music…something catchy and upbeat that pushes me to keep moving…something like Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop” or Britney Spears’s “Work Work.”

Still, I do believe it’s possible to exercise while reading. Though your fellow gym-goers and your personal trainer might look at you funny.

Book Rioter Nikki VanRy once wrote about the 5 best yoga poses for reading, and I think she’s onto something. In showcasing poses like pigeon pose and lizard pose, she’s shown how easy it is to read while doing anything that stretches your legs. I’m going to build upon that.

So come on in. Welcome to my living room, where I’ve been teaching Zoom yoga for the past two years among the detritus of…life. I’ll show you some of the poses I teach during my yoga classes (though I swear I don’t also read while I’m teaching), and then I’ll show you that reading doesn’t necessarily have to be confined to your yoga mat.

Let’s begin.

Reading in Butterfly Pose

author reading while in baddha konasana

Here I am in butterfly pose, also known as cobbler’s pose or, in Sanskrit, baddha konasana.

You’ll see that I no longer have my “I’d rather be reading” top, but I do have this “Bookworm” tank top, plus a headband that shows off my massive forehead. This photo also features the pile of groceries I couldn’t fit into my pantry. Just like a real yoga studio!

Anyway. This hip opener is perfect for catching up on some reading. All you have to do is place the soles of your feet together and draw them toward you, hold onto your feet, toes, or ankles, sit up nice and tall with your heart drawn forward and your shoulders drawn back, and start to hinge forward any amount. This places you at the perfect angle for reading and — bonus! — the longer you stay in this pose, the more of a chance you give your muscles to really let go.

Reading in a Seated, Wide-Legged Forward Fold

author reading while in a seated, wide-legged forward fold

Similar to butterfly pose, this stretch allows you to place your book directly in front of you and then fold forward so you can read. Just keep those feet flexed and, before you fold, sit up as tall as you can. You may find yourself schlumping back in this position. I recommend you either sit up on the edge of a prop of some sort (block, bolster, blanket, or pillow) or place your hands behind your hips and press, rolling your pelvis forward. This will help to keep your spine nice and long so your lower back gets a delicious stretch as you make your way through the next few paragraphs of your book.

Reading While Taking a Seated Twist

author reading while in a seated twist

I could live in this pose. To get into this twist, sit with the soles of your feet planted in front of you, more than hips-width apart. Then, just let your knees fall to the right. As you can see in this photo, your left knee should land so that it rests gently against the bottom of your right foot. Then sit up tall, lengthening your spine, before walking your hands around to the right and back behind you.

If I were teaching this one during class, I might come deeper into the twist by bringing my forearms down to my mat or my bolster (optional). But when I’m multitasking, the bolster makes a handy stand for my book.

Once you’re done on one side, you can unwind from that, let your knees fall to the left, and twist again.

Reading While in a Supported Bridge Pose

author reading while in supported bridge pose

Now that we’ve finished stretching our legs and twisting our spine, let’s take a gentle, supported backbend. Lie down on your back with the soles of your feet planted about hips-width apart, heels scootched back toward your butt, and press down and forward through your feet, lifting your hips into the air. Slide a prop of some sort beneath your sacrum — block, pillow, a copy of Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton — and let your hips relax down.

You’ll notice here that I’ve switched to my Kindle. This is because the thought of my hardcover library copy of Brian Broome’s Punch Me Up to the Gods falling onto my face terrifies me. In this photo, I am instead enjoying an egalley of Tara Isabella Burton’s The World Cannot Give.

Reading While in a Supported Shoulderstand

author reading while in supported shoulderstand

You don’t have to move far to get to this next pose. You’ll notice that I’ve moved my block to its lowest setting and have extended my legs toward the ceiling. I like the elevation of my hips here, but it’s not required. You can remove your prop if you’d like.

You can also do this with your legs leaning up against a wall or, if there’s no wall space to be had, against a couch, dresser, or other large item.

Reading While Doing Leg Raises

author reading while doing leg raises

As much as I’d love to just stretch my hips and hamstrings allll the time, you can start to lose stability in your hips if you don’t also spend time strengthening them.

Luckily, it’s totally possible to get reading done while also doing more active exercises. Instead of counting reps, just set a timer so you know when to switch sides!

In this photo, I’m doing leg raises. Here, let me show you:

Reading While on a Weight Machine

Finally, you can totes read while doing strength training on a machine. It just has to happen on legs day. Like so:

In this Boomerang, I have apparently released my anxiety about books falling on my face. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the endorphins.

Anyway. This can work on any leg machine. What’s that one that’s like a Thigh Master? You can read on that one, too. The one that lets you do leg raises? That works as well. Leg curls? It may have become clear to you by now that I don’t know the names of any exercise machines but, I swear, I’ve used them.

So, yes. While you can’t necessarily read during your Bar Method class or while — I don’t know — belly dancing, exercising while reading is not completely outside the realm of possibility.

author reading Kindle while in a seated twist

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk on how to exercise while reading. Even though it took place in my messy living room. For more inspiration on exercise moves you might try pairing with your latest book, read Celine Low’s list of fitness books that might change your life.

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