When life seems a bit noisy, I sometimes like to imagine the ancient yogis sitting in their Himalayan caves, the snow softly falling outside, as they meditate for long hours.
Perhaps the only thing to be heard is the whoosh of the breath and the beating of the heart. I like to imagine that perhaps they also heard sounds beneath the physiologic processes – sounds of internal Sanskrit mantras emerging from the subtle body, or the sonic vibrations of the universe as the mind expands out into it.
Milarepa in his quiet cave
When I think about the things that nourish me: asanas and meditation, time in nature, good food, loving relationships – one thing I must include on this list is silence. In this 24/7 world, silence is a rare and precious commodity.
Movement creates noise. And, as human beings, we really like to move – It’s action that gives our lives meaning and purpose.
But silence is foundational for discovering the direction of our actions.
A 2011 student showed that mice who spent 2 hours in silence daily grew more hippocampal cells. The hippocampus is a part of the brain important for memory formation and recall, particularly related to sensory and emotional experiences. A healthy hippocampus is essential for managing stress and creating greater resilience.
So silence really is golden.
A 2006 study showed that 2 minutes of silence is more relaxing than 2 minutes of relaxing music.
When we make time for the regular practice of silence, meditation becomes more familiar too – if you can be okay with silence, you can be okay with meditation – it no longer feels like the bizarre opposite of “real” (i.e. crazy, busy, noisy) life. The regular practice of silent meditation provides an opportunity to slow down brain waves to theta and delta where the mind gets off the hamster wheel and finds the opportunity for increasing awareness and expansion.
In meditation (as well as pranayama) the kumbhaka, or the space between the inhale and the exhale is particularly important. The yogis say it’s in this space that the mind stills and things begin to shift (perhaps we have greater access to neuroplasticity in this space as well).
So the invitation is to try, without forcing, to sit in the silent gap between the breath for a while each day. Not holding your breath, just observing those spaces of silence. After a week or so, notice – How does that empty, breathless space feel? What does it tell you? Does it help you to be a bit more present in the 24/7 noise?
“Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance.” – T.S. Eliot
I love reading your posts. You make learning these subjects so enjoyable. I am learning so much from you and I want you to know that I and my yoga students really benefit and really really appreciate what you do and your sharing of it .
Love and light
teaching at an addiction center, I have found that silence and stillness are so difficult for my students. I am constantly talking with them about the practice of stillness and silence, that it is vital for their recovery and their health. Thank you for this blog tonight. I am a little envious, I love Ireland. I hope you are having a wonderful journey.
Much appreciated, thank you 🙏
Wonderful to read this today. I am emerging from submersion in overwhelm and whatever name or title will eventually emerge, if any, though of course from the outside it’s no doubt looked like laziness, shirking, craziness, giving up, grief, wallowing, indulgence, poverty. I’ve bobbed near the surface for seven years. Treading water. Breathing and choosing self care above all else. So much time in silence. So slow. So long…. Finally working through the Science of Slow – slowly. and catching up with some of your emais which await in my inbox. This week I cried. At last. Thank you.
Ahh yesss…. To find the Stillness within stillness & the Silence within silence….the Darkness within darkness where the Infinite Light of Source Shines Eternal…. Samadhi
Nice….very evocative and just makes such sense. The notion of finding kumbhaka just adds an immediate depth to the sensation of silence…thanks for these images.
Loved this article. We live in such a noisy world! I need silence on a daily basis. Sometimes it is hard to find.
Thanks for addressing the power of silence. Can you provide citations for the two studies on silence? I am also interested in finding the source of your “making waves” graphic.