How do you feel in silence? Is it uncomfortable? Do you fill the space with distractions?
Do you find yourself reacting to things automatically (unconsciously) or thoughtfully/mindfully?
Do you feel a strong connection to your true self aka who you really are as a person?
Silence is not our norm. It could even be seen in a negative light. Think of a timeout for a child or giving someone the silent treatment if you are mad at them. Our typical reaction is to avoid it or drown out the silence.
What if instead, we saw silence as a gift, an opportunity, a freedom.
Silence is the key to an inward journey to self. When we tune out everything else, it is only then that we can realize our true feelings of the heart and can mentally evaluate a situation clearly. This space of taking time to think is powerful. It can lead to a healthier and more appropriate response.
I like to think of silence as a “fitness” for the heart and the mind. Strengthening your feelings/emotions and thoughts. Just like any “muscle”, the more you work on it, the stronger it becomes. Practicing the skill of listening completely to how you feel and what you really want. Both knowing and understanding your true self. Take a reading of your internal weather. Knowing how to move forward in an authentic way. It can be thought of as practicing mindfulness.
Do you need to be in a quiet room to do this? No, but that comes after you have a strong practice. When beginning, it helps to be in as quiet of a room as possible. All electronic devices turned off.
Here is both a yoga term and also a visual guide to help frame this better.
There is a Sanskrit term in yoga for this called Pratyahara. The withdrawal of the senses. This is the journey into the inner world, away from loud noises, to do lists, visual distractions, your daily life pace. The attention/focus is then tuned inward.
Image of a snow globe. Any stimulus from any of your senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch) shakes the globe a little bit. The snow swirls around and floats like a flurry in the globe. When the snow is moving around, we cannot see the center. The distractions continue the snow moving around. Only when we set down the snow globe, give it some time, the snow settles to the bottom. Revealing the image in the middle, aka our self or our internal world.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Yoga has an element of this inward journey (aka finally seeing ourselves in the center of the snow globe) if we spend the silent time in practice. One way I suggest is a calming quiet practice where you hold a pose for a longer duration of time. Examples include yin, restorative, savasana and meditation. These are methods for us to set the snow globe down on the table. Spending at least 10 minutes to let the snow settle at the bottom. Then see when is in the center of your globe.
Try doing nothing and see what happens. You might even enjoy it!
Don’t just do something, sit there.
Thich Nhat Hanh
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Have you ever listened to white noise or did some humming and found it to be relaxing? There is a reason for it, when you do vocal chanting or humming, you increase your vagal tone which can decrease an inflammatory response in the body. This means you are bringing your nervous system back into balance.
Reciting mantras can help balance your prana (energy, life force) and breath if chanted. The sound vibration is healthy and can influence your mood, thoughts and emotions. Even done silently or listened to, a mantra can be calming and acts as a focal point to steady your mind and increase concentration.
We grow anything that has our attention, focus and energy. Pick something that is important to you, and as you repeat this, you tend to it like a garden. Another analogy is that a mantra is a key or password to “unlock” an area in your mind. Creating access so you can attend to it.
Begin your meditation practice by repeating your selected mantra 3 times. You can either say this silently to yourself or out loud. The number 3 is auspicious, it represents past, present, future; beginning, middle, end; mind, body, spirit; etc.
Continue your practice for your selected duration of time. Using the mantra as an anchor to pull you back into the present moment anytime your mind wanders too much.
Select a single word or short phrase…
Recite or listen to a Yoga Sutra or other chant. Try to do the Sanskrit yourself, you may find it challenging at first, but the more you practice, the easier it will become. Often you can do a search online and find a video with a pronunciation.
Sutra 2.46 sthira-sukham asanam “abiding in ease is asana”
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu “may all beings everywhere be happy and free”
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, Om (shanti means peace)
Close your ears. Inhale via your nose and with your lips sealed, create a humming vibration in your throat on the exhale, this is called Bhramari Pranayama or Bee’s Breath
The vagus nerve is one of the longest nerves in your body. It is part of your rest/digest/recover nervous system (parasympathetic). It connects to your brain, heart, intestines/stomach, lungs, etc. It influences your heart and breathing rates.
The vagus nerve is also connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat. Singing, chanting or humming activates these muscles and stimulates your vagus nerve. This is one of the ways you can create more balance or equanimity in the body by dialing up the rest/digest/recover nervous system. Or in other words, increase vagal tone.
This post is considered STEP TWO...ideas on techniques to do during the time you set aside.
Pause for a moment. If you feel safe to do so, close your eyes. Bring your attention to the literal center of your brain. Focus on that spot as much as you can and just be there and breathe. How does that feel? Did your body respond?
Is yoga about controlling your thoughts? I think so. Or as Judith Hanson Lasater puts it, we are manipulating our nervous system. (which you do anyways each time you drink coffee) I think a huge health benefit is that with multiple techniques including breath focus, mantras, yin yoga, restorative yoga, yoga nidra, and meditation we can allow the thinking mind, literally the brain, to rest. This is much different than spending time watching TV, reading, playing video games or napping/sleeping. This is consciously becoming aware of your thoughts, deciding that you are not going to fixate or figure anything out right now and then focusing on something neutral like the breath, mantra, etc.
Sounds simple but it is not easy to do. Often when we start it can be frustrating and may seem to “not work”. A red flag that you need it is when it is difficult to do and might be something that you avoid trying all together. Start small, 5 minutes a day. Pick one of the suggestions below, set a timer and just try. Next day, repeat. It will take time but it is worth it. Rome was not built in a day and your mind will not settle quickly either. Have patience, be gentle to yourself and keep going. You are worth the time & effort.
Note this is not a luxury or ever a waste of time. There is nothing you can do in those 5 minutes that is more important. I am reading a booked called Radiant Rest by Tracee Stanley which is about Yoga Nidra. She says it beautifully that we are not just resting for ourselves. We are resting also on behalf of our family members who came before us. They are part of our DNA. So it may not be our tendency to stop and take care of ourselves before others. But this is my way of knowing the larger picture. I am resting for myself and those who came before me. It makes it a deeper practice in my life.
Enjoy science studies? I do! I think it is helpful to ask why and know that it is not just a yoga teacher suggesting this but real science is behind it as well. The scientific studies about having mindfulness moments is so numerous you don’t have to look far to find multiple books and reputable studies online on the subject.
During a conscious focusing of the mind, your brain activity can be summed up into the following categories…
Awareness of the fact that one’s mind wandered
Redirecting attention back to chosen object of concentration/meditation
Active maintenance of sustaining attention on given object (or focal point)
You are not just helping out your brain but it has a full body impact as well. Even helps boost your immune system. Think of these breaks as a daily vitamin.
My intention with this blog post is to provide a stepping stone to some techniques that I have found helpful. There are SO many ways to do this and I suggest having multiple ones you enjoy to add into your toolbox. Days are different and one may resonate with you more in a given moment.
All of these practices can either be done seated with a tall spine or reclined in a comfortable position. As much as possible, the inhale & exhale are done via the nose. Keeping the breath subtle, smooth, silent and comfortable. Like a whisper. Not trying to force the breath or take a HUGE deep breath like you are filling up a balloon to capacity. Of course, when possible, make your practice longer than 5 minutes. I have been trying for 20 minutes each day.
The quieter you become the more you are able to hear.
Present Moment Focus
The most simple way to get into the present moment is to focus on sensations. What you are feeling. The air on your skin, the touch of fabric from clothing, which parts of your body are in contact with the floor and which are not. We have memories of past events but we cannot recreate the actual sensations of that moment. These are only found in the present and this is what anchors us into the here and now.
Soham or Sohum Mantra “I am that”
Listen and feel the rhythm of your breath
Inhale say silently to yourself “So”
Exhale in your mind say “Hum”
Inhale “So”, Exhale “Hum”
Repeating the mantra linking to your breath cycle provides a focus point for the mind. If you lose focus, just start again.
Visual Alternate Nostril Breathing for Balance
This method does not manually close the nostrils, it uses a mental focus to visualize the flow of breath in a U-shape. The third eye can be seen as the space between your eyebrows.
Inhale up the right nostril, looping up past the third eye
Exhale down this U-shape and out the left nostril
Repeat in the opposite direction. Imagine you are inhaling via the left nostril. Looping up past the third eye center. Exhaling out the right nostril.
Repeat the pattern going back and forth. Focusing on which nostril is receiving the breath and which is releasing it.
If helpful, you can imagine a healing blue light associated with the air you are breathing in and out.
I could name this breath curiosity but I have been loving the word “Wonder” lately. It has a playful tone to it.
There are many ways to create a sense of wonder with the breath cycle, here are a few to try out…
Focus your attention on the cooler air entering the nasal passages and the warmer air exiting.
Visualize the movement of the diaphragm (your primary breathing muscle). Located around the low rib area, it begins as a dome shape. As you inhale, it contracts and moves downward, creating a negative space vacuum for the air to be pulled into the lungs. As you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and move upward, returning to its dome shape. Note the lateral (side) movement of the low ribs with each breath. You may want to provide some feedback by placing the webbing between your thumbs and index finger on the sides of your waist at the low rib level.
Note the pause at the end of the exhale. Not holding the breath but just noticing the pause and then continue with a comfortable inhale breath.
As you continue your subtle, smooth, soft breathing pattern, see if you notice any changes in your body temperature, overall feeling or even the amount of saliva in the mouth. These will indicate the rest/digest/recover nervous system is turned up in your body.
Counting or Words associated with breath cycle
There are so many techniques for this it would be difficult to write all of them. Here are some that I suggest exploring.
You can even read a quote or poem you enjoy and then use a line or a couple words from it for your mantra.
Counting length of your inhale and exhale. Knowing that each breath is unique and may not match this pattern exactly. Still continue to count and notice the pauses after the inhale and exhale.