There has been lots of fuss around how important silence is for our brains over the last few months and I’ve seen several posts on Facebook this summer about friends taking holiday digital detoxes. But why?
In a world of so much connectivity we rarely give ourselves the downtime we need for restoration and repair. Some people may associate silence with loneliness or boredom, but the research shows that spending time in silence has numerous positive effects on our physical and mental well-being.
Some of you will remember the days of three or four TV channels and nothing much open on a Sunday. As a child, if there wasn’t anything on TV, we found something else to do.
We played, we made something out of lego or went for a bike ride. And we weren’t worried about the lack of noise, it was normal.
Now there is always something on for everyone. Our children don’t have to find something to entertain them, particularly if they have an array of entertainment devices around them – I’m thinking teenagers in particular here.
But it’s not just children that are being affected.
Conversation and communication are completely different these days because of mobiles and social media. And that’s ok. I’m not saying we should put an end to it all, just highlighting that there should be a balance and we need to counter the effects.
Self-reflection is a really important part of development. Allowing our minds the time and space to think things over is vital, but this is so hard to do if our brains are constantly occupied.
In an experiment at Duke University, mice who were exposed to only 2 hours of silence a day, developed new brain cells in their hippocampus which is the area of the brain responsible for the formation of memory, emotion and learning.
The research shows that time spent in silence can:
- Help to lower blood pressure
- Boost the immune system
- Grow cells in the brain
- Decrease stress
- Promote hormone balance
How Does Mindfulness help?
Mindfulness Meditation generally takes place in silence (apart from the ambient noise wherever we are practicing). And during practice we learn to notice our thoughts (which can often seem very loud!) and we either redirect attention and don’t engage with the chattering mind or alternatively we observe the thoughts as they pass through the mind.
We learn to notice whether our thought patterns are helpful or unhelpful and we develop a new skilful way of relating to them.
This allows ourselves the time to rest, and of course we are developing the ability to be more present and really turn up for our lives mentally as well as physically.
There are several simple ways to give yourself a break from the noise:
- Turn the radio off in the car. Instead of the mind wandering off on auto pilot whilst driving, really feel your hands on the wheel and notice what’s around you.
- Take breaks from what you are doing – have a cup of tea in the garden and just sit. Notice if the mind wanders and bring it back to the sights and smells around you.
- Don’t have TV or phone on just as you are going to bed. Give yourself time in silence before sleeping.
- Go for a walk. This has an added physical benefit too! (Take your headphones out)
- Read a book
- Just sit and be. Anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
Your body and mind will be grateful!
Oh, and as a Mindfulness teacher we attend a five day silent retreat each year. It can be challenging but the benefits are plentiful. As part of our MBSR 8-week course we offer a silent retreat session is so why not join us on the next one!