Recite While You Jog (Move While You Memorize)

The other morning, I tried reciting a few chapters of Mark while I jogged. The synergy surprised me. Both reciting and jogging felt much easier.

Move While You Memorize

When I first started studying “Bible rhythms”, this image jumped out at me: Middle Eastern children would study their sacred texts by moving around. Western teachers spend their energy trying to force kids to sit still. But these kids had to move while they recited. They had to act the rhythms which they spoke.

The book where I read this, The Oral Style, was written in 1925. So I don’t know how common this technique is today. But a contemporary scholar who studies oral traditions assured me years ago that movement is still essential to recitation.

Even If You Don’t Like to Move

Did I take her advice? No. Just as I postponed deep reading and imagining the text, I also hoped that movement was optional. Actually, I hoped that movement was optional in general. I didn’t play sports as a kid, and I certainly didn’t start in adulthood.

But attitudes change. Through a somewhat separate series of events (which includes the critical help of a Seinfeld-style “don’t break the chain” chart), I’ve recently started jogging three times a week.

I’ll never look at joggers the same way again. Not without an empathetic twinge of pain.

But my dazed, underused muscles aren’t really the problem. It’s that internal voice that keeps pointing out how far it is up the next slope. As I’ve found with trying to go to sleep, my internal voice needs a better task.

Why not reciting?


My main memory project right now is to learn Spanish by Christmas, but I also want to get back to reciting long texts, like the Gospel of Mark. Several months ago, I realized that my flashcard review system wasn’t working for long texts. I’ve been thinking about how to get back into my texts. I don’t want to keep hammering at what’s broken, but I also don’t want to let these memories drain away.

So, I was jogging, and instead of turning on a podcast, I had a sudden hunch. I picked a chapter of Mark and started reciting.

Everything changed.

Harmony. Every part of me had a good task: my mind, my mouth and chest and lungs, my ears, and my arms and legs. Everything was finally pushing together, in the right direction.

Jogging Gets Easier

My mind, instead of pushing against my body, could leap away to a completely different place, where Jesus argued with the experts and told the quadriplegic to pick up his bed and walk. A podcast can partially occupy my mind, but it doesn’t demand as much mental energy.

My mouth and chest and lungs could focus on something besides gasping for breath. Using the air may even help me breathe better. I’m not sure. I do know that the slight physical effort to talk helped shift the focus away from all that other physical effort I was desperate to ignore.

My ears could listen to something besides the aforementioned gasping.

And my arms and legs could finally do their thing without mental nagging.

I tried it again this morning. Still good. Reciting gives me rhythm. Like the rhythmic songs that people used to sing as they cut grain. Rhythm releases energy.

Reciting Gets Easier

But the assistance works both ways. Reciting makes jogging easier, but jogging also seems to make reciting easier.

  • Jogging makes me actually feel a rhythm. When my whole body is moving in rhythm, saying the text in short, rhythmic bursts comes quite naturally.

  • Jogging moves me through a physical space as I move through the text. I’m beginning to suspect that this metaphor of moving through a text may prove important.

  • Jogging requires energy. With only a limited amount of energy left over for reciting, it seems that I am much less inclined to get distracted, especially by my mistakes. It’s not so easy to obsess over a missing word when you’re simultaneously straining muscles that have a remarkable capacity for instant exhaustion. I’m not in the mood to hunt textual perfection. I want to think about something besides jogging, and I’d much rather think about the actual story.

Should you jog while you’re first learning a text? I’m not sure. Learning a text takes a lot of reading. And mental effort. On the other hand, jumping around seemed to work for those kids.

For now, I have plenty of texts to revisit before I learn new texts again. This discovery excites me. I’ve known I need to carve out time to enjoy these texts, but I’ve resisted. Since jogging time is already spoken for, if I can also use it for these texts at all, I’ll be happy. But if these two tasks somehow click together into a new, better experience of both, I’ll be thrilled.