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They say silence is golden – turns out, they may be right. There’s a lot more to silence than you think, and its health benefits may have you seeking more. Here’s what those benefits are and why you should consider practicing what’s called intermittent silence.
The rewards of silence
There are numerous payoffs to seeking silence. For starters, if you’re like most people, your brain is running several marathons every day, filling itself with thoughts to keep it fueled. The problem? “Most of those thoughts aren’t productive or useful,” says Alice Fong, N.D., naturopathic doctor in Sacramento, California.
With those useless and unproductive thoughts, you might worry about the future, which can lead to anxiety. You might dwell on the past, which can lead to depression. Those thoughts might also distract you from your day, making you feel stressed and screwing up your focus, all of which adds up. “Prolonged stress can lead to numerous negative health impacts such as high blood pressure, sleep disturbances, headaches, lower immune function and increased risk for heart disease,” Fong says.
It’s not just your thoughts but life itself that’s become distracting. “So much of the stimulation you take in throughout the day is extra agitation you weren’t designed to be processing and holding,” says Cory Muscara, former monk, co-host of mindfulness.com and instructor of positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania who was named by Dr. Oz as one of the nation’s leading experts in Mindfulness. Data shows that you experience more stimuli in one week than your ancestors experienced in one lifetime. “So silence on a practical level is the reduction of stimulation, and it gives your nervous system the opportunity to come back into equilibrium, reset and not be so caught in a fight, flight or freeze reactivity.”
But the benefits don’t stop there. “Silence is a bridge that connects you with your inner self,” says Krishna Bhatta, M.D., surgeon in Bangor, Maine, author and inventor of an app called Relaxx. “Having a better connection with your inner self can lead to having a better connection with others.” Plus, by resting the brain from processing functions, you’ll ultimately help sustain your body’s energy.
Even better? “Without silence, people tend to get caught in the momentum of their lives, repeating the same patterns of conditioning without ever questioning why they’re doing what they’re doing,” Muscara says. “While silence might feel like doing nothing, it’s in that ‘nothing’ that you reconnect to your purpose for doing.”
How to practice being silent
Several types of meditation can help you find silence, including one called intermittent silence, which is like taking a mindful pause in the day. “It helps you respond rather than react,” Muscara says, pointing to a quote by Viktor Frankl: ‘Between stimulus and response, there is space. And in our response lies growth and freedom.’ In other words, “silence helps you better see and inhabit that space so you can lead your life with more intentionality – how am I feeling right now? What’s going on for me? How do I best respond in this moment?”
There are four components to intermittent silence: Close your mouth, close your eyes, listen silently and watch your thoughts. All of this will help your brain rest, and “when that resting place is achieved, a door will open to the individual consciousness,” Bhatta says.
To start, choose a quiet environment, although even a busy setting will work. When you do this is your choice, but it’s often best before bed or upon waking. You can also squeeze it into the day, setting an alarm midday to remind yourself. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Relax and pay attention to the sounds around you. Don’t judge or analyze anything; just listen. “Watch silently and experience all that is going on without any effort,” Bhatta says.
Not comfortable with silence? It’s normal. Muscara says. “Often, fear of silence is that you’ll have to feel something that’s uncomfortable.” Rather than toughing it out with a long stretch right away, start by taking short periods of silence – 30 seconds here and there. Take that time to explore what it’s like to stop and be, and if it feels too intense, know that you can back out, Muscara says. But if you’re inspired to stay in silence longer, go for it.
Fortunately, the more you do this, the easier it will become. Who knows? Silence may be your new MO.