Body friendly reading positions

Do you love to read? So do we! There is a beaver-dam-like installation of books on my side of the bed, an overflowing shelf in my studio, and the upstairs bathroom just got its own book-shelf…so there is lots of reading going on at all times in our home and at work.

Whether you read books or prefer electronic devices, reading posture is something to consider. While there are no “good” or “bad” reading postures, the chance is that you may be choosing one that does not support vital functions – like breathing, swallowing and digestion for example.

Try this with me – hold something to read in your hands, and whether you are sitting or standing, let your head go forward and slump a bit (see Roland demo the slouch here).Take a full breath. See how it goes. Now stand upright, place your head over your shoulders and try again – feel the difference?

Once you become aware of how your reading and working positions affect breathing, digestion, the geometry of your blood vessels (see, all these tubes can’t be twisted and kinked in the same way for long periods of time), the tension of muscles, the shape of joints and fascia…you will also be able to make some changes.

As the saying goes: you can’t change what you are not aware of.

Take some time right now to notice your most common reading postures. Take an inventory:

  • where is your head
  • is your neck effortlessly balancing the head over the shoulders or are you straining
  • are you able to breathe and swallow with ease
  • is your spine aligned and relaxed or is it slouched/slumpy or overly tight/extended
  • are you able to change your body positions every now and then or are you in one position for long periods of time
  • is your position one that invites stretching or moving

Below are some shots of how I love to read with short explanations of what feels good about them and how they help with various functions.

Supine, shoulder supported stacked cobbler position. Allows the upper body to be relaxed, ribs to be aligned for breathing, and lets you create some much needed mobility for the hips, while enjoying your favorite read. Remember to switch the leg that’s on top.

90-90 twist. Twisting is lovely for digestion and spinal health, as long as you can find a twist that works for you and feels comfy. In this position I’m fully relaxed into a twist and will probably stay here for 4-5 minutes before I change positions.

Bolstered cross legged sit. In this position my pelvis is neutral on the ground and legs are crossed, but I am using balls (or pillows work, too) to rest the legs. Lovely for maintaining a neutral spine, and ease of breath while opening the hips. I have been practicing reading a bit farther than is habitual for me (we talk about print pushing in our book and how it can help your vision) and this is one of my favorite ways to practice it.

Kneeling with open shoulders. This allows you me to maintain knee flexion, while also resting my upper arms in external rotation (palms up), which takes weigh off the shoulders and maintains effortless upright position. If you feel like being upright is too much work, try resting your arms on your thighs in this position and feel how it settles the shoulder blades. This is also a good place to check that the head is over the shoulders. From here you can also stretch your upper body, like this or like this.

Twist-sit. In this position I am cross legged, the pelvis is neutral, and while the thoracic spine is rotated right the neck is rotated left. This practice of opposition of segments of the spine, as well as differentiation of the movement in the different segments is key for good walking, twisting and function of the respiratory, digestive, cardiovascular and lymphatic systems. Notice you can also work on stretching the wrist that is on the floor.

While you are at it, you can also do a seated figure 4 stretch for the right hip, while using the free hand to interlace the fingers between the toes and give your intrinsic foot muscles a little stretch. Don’t forget to switch positions, and let both hips enjoy the external rotation and hip flexion. Lean forward a bit to get into the hamstrings. Spend more time on your less mobile side.

Chest opener. With my forearms vertical, hands pointed towards me, ribs down (post tilt of the ribcage), and sternum up, chin down, this posture should be called “uncomputering” or “undriving” or “uncorking” or “uncarrrying” – it reverses the forward shoulder position we so often find ourselves in in modern life. I like to take extra deep breaths here.

Seated crescent. As I am resting, I like to take my torso for side flexion. Rib and chest opening is so delightful, maintains the strength of the intercostals and the side line, and allows for smooth breathing and walking. Also, all your organs like it (just ask them). I like to take extra deep breaths into the side that is being stretched and feel the exhale on the shorter side.

The V-sit. Here I am sitting on a bolster, while both legs are straight. I can lean forward, or sideways, as well as play with extra rotation of the legs, and flex and extend my toes or roll the ankles. It’s like a party for the lower body.

I hope these pictures have inspired you to find your own way to vary reading posture. There is a wealth of possibilities not shown by me, so try lying on your belly, being up on your knees, a lunge position, standing on one leg, get your legs up on the wall… or whatever makes you break the habit of always going to one position. You can read your books and move your body, too. Please share your experiences below and let us inspire others!

Feel free to save and print the image above, and keep it where you read the most, to remind yourself of the many various ways to move, read and be well! For more inspiration to do good for yourself in daily life, check out our book Eat Well Move Well Live Well .