The Health Benefits of Reading

Reading is very much a part of my daily routine.  No matter the day I’ve had or how tired I am, I always read before I go to sleep.  Sometimes I get just ten minutes in before I fall asleep but the important part is that it clears my head beforehand which helps me sleep soundly.  I live by this routine because a good night’s sleep improves the quality of my life.  This is just my experience but here are two more proven health benefits of reading:

Stress Reduction

There’s nothing quite like reading to take your mind off the stresses of your life.  You may already be doing this but if you need some incentive Mindlab International at the University of Sussex completed research in stress reduction which showed that of all the activities you can do to relieve stress (listening to music, having a cup of tea/coffee, taking a walk, playing video games) reading worked the best and reduced stress by 68% and you can do this by reading for as little as 6 minutes.

“Subjects only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles, he [Dr David Lewis] found. In fact it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started.”

“Dr Lewis, who conducted the test, said: “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation.”

You can read more about these findings in this Telegraph article.  If considerable stress reduction in today’s high pressure world isn’t bonus enough, reading has another high value health benefit.

Longevity

Yale University’s recent study ‘A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity’, which used data from 3635 people over 50, found that reading books about 3 and a half hours or more per week can afford you the benefit of living longer.

“Book readers lived an average of almost two years longer than those who did not read at all.”

You can read more in this NYT article.  Reading books forces you to clear your mind and concentrate on something other than your day, your to-do list, or your problems.  It requires you to immerse yourself in a conscious and enjoyable activity.  It is both brain exercise and play.  If you don’t already read books daily let the benefits of stress reduction and longevity be your incentive to start a routine that will also bring a great deal of pleasure to your life.  And once you’re hooked, the good news is you have an extra 2 years to read all the books you’ve ever wanted to read but didn’t think you had time for.

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Review: The Dhammapada translated by Eknath Easwaran

The Dhammapada is a collection of the sayings of the Buddha in verse form.  It is one of the most widely read of the Buddhist scriptures and the most essential.  There are many translations but I chose Easwaran’s because of a recommendation – the source of which I can’t for the life of me remember.

“As irrigators guide water to their fields,
as archers aim arrows, as carpenters carve
wood, the wise shape their lives.”
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The Dhammapada is an easy and enjoyable read.  It is full of simple wisdom some of which may seem likeThe Dhammapada Eknath Easwaran common sense but is lovely to be reminded of from the Buddha’s unique perspective.  He has a very simple and down to earth way of delivering essential truths which is the essence of his teachings.

“…the Dhammapada seems more like a field guide. This is is lore picked up by someone who knows every step of the way through these strange lands. He can’t take us there, he explains, but he can show us the way: tell us what to look for, warn about missteps, advise us about detours, tell us what to avoid. Most important, he urges us that it is our destiny as human beings to make this journey ourselves. Everything else is secondary.”
Eknath Easwaran, The Foreword

The Dhammapada is described as a handbook to the teachings of the Buddha but it is Easwaran’s informative introduction on Buddhism and the text that give an extra insight to the seemingly simple words of the Buddha.  I enjoyed reading his introduction and it serves as a great starting point not only for this text but for Buddhism on a whole.

If, like me, you’ve never read any Buddhist texts (or much about Buddhist teachings) this short book of verse is a great place to start, particularly Easwaran’s translation.  The opening verse of the Dhammapada is a profound reminder that our lives are shaped by our minds and we become what we think:

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought:
we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those
whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts
give joy whenever they speak or act. Joy follows
them like a shadow that never leaves them.”
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It happened that earlier this year I read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, then some weeks later Easwaran’s Dhammapada, followed by The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle which in retrospect could not have been better planned.  I didn’t read them back to back but each prepared me for the next and I think I was able to take a great deal more from each one’s message for having read them in this order.  Obviously you don’t need to read them like this but if you’re interested I enjoyed this reading order.

I enjoyed and recommend reading The Dhammapada.  A wide variety of translations exist but I found Eknath Easwaran’s Introduction a highlight of reading this book.  He has also done translations of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita which I hope to get to at some point also.Save

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Review: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

I have found that I’ve read many books at just the time I needed them, no matter whether they were fiction or non fiction, and on occasion the order in which I’ve read some books has been just right that it helped me fully digest or appreciate the books that came later.

This is true of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle for me.  I’m sure by now everyone has heard of this book.  It has been translated into over 30 languages and even Oprah sings its praises.  I’ve been meaning to read it for ages but honestly if I’d read it before now (no pun intended) I’m not sure I would have got the message.  Earlier this year I read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse which led me on internet travels of Buddhist thought and I’m currently reading Eknath Easwaran’s translation of The Dhammapada whose introduction was very interesting reading.  Both those books got me into the right frame of mind for The Power of Now.

It’s not the easiest self help book to get through.  At first I wasn’t really comfortable with the question answer style of certain parts as I prefer a narrative style but you do get used to it.  You may or may not be familiar with some of the ideas that form the basis for Tolle’s message.  Your familiarity with or exposure to some of the concepts in the book could potentially affect how you feel about it.  Stick with it, read slowly, let it percolate.

I do think it is an important book for us all to read at some point.  It’s a short book but best read slowly.  There is a lot to take away from The Power of Now but the most basic message as you may have guessed is related to time.  There is no time but Now.  The past is but memories and the future is imagination, the only thing you need to concern yourself with is now.  This is quite liberating if, like me, you often find yourself worrying about a future that doesn’t exist yet and a set of problems that may never exist.

The more time that passes since finishing it the more I realise about its implications for my life.  I’m sure that no matter what you’re going through; good, bad, or meh, there’s something for you in this book that will help you.  If you’ve already read this book I’d love to hear what you thought about it.

 

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Review: The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna

I sat down and read this book cover to cover in an hour.  It is a fabulous, thought-provoking, and inspiring book filled with drawings, word art, and great advice.  In the way it is written and designed it gets you thinking practically and creatively.  I found it part inspiration and part workbook which was very helpful.The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna Review

The GoodReads blurb: “Who hasn’t asked the question “How can I find and follow my true calling?” Elle Luna frames this moment as “standing at the crossroads of Should and Must.” “Should” is what we feel we ought to be doing, or what is expected of us. “Must” is the thing we dream of doing, our heart’s desire. And it was her own personal journey that inspired Elle Luna to write a brief online manifesto that, in a few short months, has touched hundreds of thousands of people who’ve read it or heard Elle speak on the topic. Now Ms. Luna expands her ideas into an inspirational, highly visual gift book for every recent graduate, every artist, every seeker, every career changer.  The Crossroads of Should and Must has a universal message—we get to choose the path between Should and Must. And it gives every reader permission to embrace this message. It’s about the difference between jobs, careers, and callings. The difference between going to work and becoming one with your work. Why knowing what you want is often the hardest part. It gives eye-opening techniques for reconnecting with one’s inner voice, like writing your own obituary (talk about putting life in perspective). It talks about the most common fears of choosing Must over Should—money, time, space, and the ultimate fear: total vulnerability—and shores up our hesitation with inspiring stories of and quotes from the artists and writers and thinkers who’ve faced their own crossroads of Should and Must and taken the leap. It explains the importance of mistakes, of “unlearning,” of solitude, of keeping moving, of following a soul path.  Presented in four chapters—The Crossroads, The Origin of Should, Must, and The Return—inspired by the hero’s journey outlined by Joseph Campbell, The Crossroads of Should and Must guides us from the small moment, discovering our Must, to the big moment—actually doing something about it, and returning to share our new gifts with the world.”

As the title suggests this book is great for people seeking their life calling and for people who are at a crossroad in their life and not sure what to do next.  This short book will guide you through sorting through the basic questions you need to answer to get to the root of you and begin to formulate small actions you can take to move forward.  Luna’s idea isn’t about making a decision and making an overnight transformation.  It is about the process or journey to your ‘Must’ which is far more achievable and sustainable for us all.

I loved the quotes throughout and I especially liked the questions Luna asks you to ask yourself and the suggestions she gives for what you can do.  I made a few notes along the way and brainstormed my answers to the questions she poses in the book.  Reading this book was a great exercise in working out my direction.  This isn’t a book about abandoning your job to pursue your passion without a plan.  This is about helping you work out how you can live your passion and pay your bills.  But at the same time it proposes that you not be afraid of a path which has no easy answers or no set guidelines.

For no other reason than to know yourself better I recommend this book; from its questions which get you to examine your Shoulds so you can know your prison, its prompt for you to define your must-have money vs. your nice-to-have money, to creating your ‘what-are-you-so-afraid-of’ list, you are bound to learn something about where you’re at and where to next.

A lovely book to boost your life and creativity for anybody and everybody.

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Review: Super Brain by Deepak Chopra & Rudolph Tanzi

I could not have started the year off with a better book.  Super Brain is an incredible book, part neuro science, part self help book, it was the perfect combination of fact and guidance.  On the cover it says: “Unleashing the explosive power of your mind to maximise health, happiness, and spiritual well being.”  It is this and so much more.super brain chopra tanzi

Two pioneers in health–Dr Deepak Chopra and Prof Rudolph E. Tanzi, one of the world’s foremost experts on the causes of Alzheimer’s–share a bold new understanding of the brain and a prescriptive plan for how we can use it to achieve physical, mental and spiritual well-being. (GoodReads)

Super Brain describes eloquently and backed up by scientific fact how the brain works and then shows us how we train it sometimes positively and sometimes negatively.  Super Brain explains how this training can result in either the brain using us or us using it as is supposed to be.  It provides guidance on how you can retrain your brain for maximum health, happiness, and spiritual well being.

In each chapter the authors talk about an area or function of the brain and also deal with a specific problem that many of us face in society.  For example the book explains and offers guidance on memory loss, depression, overweight, anxiety, personal crisis, self-healing, maximum longevity, among others.  And even if you don’t deal with any of these in your life the book is so well written and interesting that you will enjoy it for the simple fact that we all have a brain and it’s wonderful to better understand it and our particular nervous system because they are the vehicle through which we experience life.

The beautiful message of this book for me is that you have control over your brain and therefore your experience of life.  My favourite line in the book comes from pg 167:

“…every thought is an instruction…”

I enjoyed and highly recommend this book.  It was a fantastic read and I’ll be reading the follow up Super Genes later in the year.

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10 Self-Help Classics from Tom Butler-Bowden

50 Self-Help Classics: 50 Inspirational Books to Transform Your Life from Timeless Sages to Contemporary GurusI have been reading Tom Butler-Bowden’s 50 Self-Help Classics and I wanted to share with you a selection of 10 of these classics that you may or may not find interesting.  I have also really enjoyed his other books 50 Psychology Classics and 50 Spiritual Classics.  I love a good reading list and Bowden’s books are like deluxe reading lists – love them.  They are in no particular order and the quote which follows each title is but one of Bowden’s selections for his book.  If you have read any of these books please share your thoughts with me.  What are some of your favourite ‘self-help’ books not on this list?

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your DreamsThe Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra

“The best way to put the Law of Giving into operation … is to make a decision that at any time you come into contact with anyone, you will give them something. It doesn’t have to be in the form of material things; it could be a flower, a compliment, or a prayer … The gifts of caring, attention, affection, appreciation, and love are some of the most precious gifts you can give, and they don’t cost you anything.” read more on GoodReads

The Alchemist by Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist

This book was recommended to me while I was on my Gap year and I finally got round to reading it when I got home. I enjoyed it very much.

“He had studied Latin, Spanish and theology. But ever since he had been a child, he had wanted to know the world, and this was much more important to him than knowing God and learning about man’s sins. One afternoon, on a visit to his family, he had summoned up the courage to tell his father that he didn’t want to become a priest. That he wanted to travel.” read more on GoodReads

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus: AND How to Get What You Want in Your Relationships: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting ... Want in Your Relationships (French Edition)Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray

“To feel better, women talk about past problems, future problems, potential problems, even problems that have no solutions. The more talk and exploration, the better they feel. This is the way women operate. To expect otherwise is to deny a woman her sense of self.” read more on GoodReads

The Road Less Travelled by M Scott PeckThe Road Less Travelled

“Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties in life as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy.” read more on GoodReads

The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for LivingThe Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama XIV and Howard C Cutler

“I believe that the proper utilization of time is this: if you can, serve other people, other sentient beings. If not, at least refrain from harming them. I think that is the whole basis of my philosophy.” read more on GoodReads

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin FranklinThe Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

“And I was not discourag’d by the seeming Magnitude of the Undertaking, as I have always thought that one Man of tolerable Abilities may work great Changes, & accomplish great Affairs among Mankind, if he first forms a good Plan, and, cutting off all Amusements or other Employments that would divert his Attention, makes the Execution of that same Plan his sole Study and Business.” read more on GoodReads

The DhammapadaThe Dhammapada by Eknat Easwaran

This is a short book well worth reading.  Read my review.

He who in early days was unwise but later found Wisdom, he sheds a light over the world like that of the moon when free from clouds.read more on GoodReads

As A Man Thinketh by James AllenAs a Man Thinketh (Tarcher Family Inspirational Library)

“Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results … We understand this law in the natural world, and work with it; but few understand it in the mental and moral world—although its operation there is just as simple and undeviating—and they, therefore, do not cooperate with it.” read more on GoodReads

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal ChangeThe Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

“People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about and what you value.” read more on GoodReads

Tao Te Ching by Lao TzuLao Tsu: Tao Te Ching

“Trying to understand is like straining to see through muddy water.  Be still, and allow the mud to settle.  Remain still, until it is the time to act.” read more on GoodReads

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