Silence is Golden

It’s easy in our modern society to feel overwhelmed, bombarded with sounds and stimulation.

I went on a cruise last December to get away from it all, and everywhere I went on the ship I was met with loud music and flashing lights. I’m sure they were trying to create a “vibrant” atmosphere, but I found it really annoying! Going to a place like Vegas is even more ridiculous.

But even in regular day-to-day life, we’re almost constantly exposed to TV, radio, traffic, machines, music, conversation—noise, noise, noise! It’s not healthy.

In fact, a 2011 World Health Organization report called noise pollution a “modern plague,” concluding that “there is overwhelming evidence that exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of the population.”

How many minutes of each day do you spend in silence? If you’re like most people, probably not very many. But more and more, people are finding ways to increase the stillness in their lives, either by deliberately sitting in silence for 10 minutes each morning, or heading off for 10-day silent retreats.

According to Carolyn Gregoire of Huffington Post, here are four reasons why silence is good for our health:

1. Silence Relieves Stress and Tension. Noise pollution has been found to lead to elevated blood pressure and heart attacks, as well as disrupted sleeping, impaired hearing and other health problems.

But just as too much noise can cause our stress hormones to increase, research has  shown that silence has the opposite effect: releasing tension in the mind and body. A 2006 study published in Heart journal found two minutes of silence to be more relaxing than listen to soothing music, based on changes in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.

2. Silence Replenishes our Mental Resources. Sensory input is being thrown at us at every turn, constantly competing for our attention. Our brain is literally on high alert, and it stresses the part of our brain we need to use for high-order thinking like decision making and problem solving. It’s extremely draining. When our mental resources are depleted, we can be distracted and fatigued, and struggle to focus, solve problems, and come up with new ideas.

The good news is that we can literally recharge our battery. The “attention restoration theory” says the brain can restore its finite cognitive resources when we’re in environments with lower levels of sensory input. The quieter the better, like taking a walk in a forest (either alone, or with others but without speaking—see below).

3. Silence Encourages Deep and Creative Thought. Gregoire explains that the “default mode network” of the brain is wired for daydreaming, meditating, fantasizing about the future or just letting our minds wander. It’s only when the mind is still and disengaged from external stimuli that we can tap into our deeper thoughts, emotions, memories and ideas. She writes, “Engaging this network helps us to make meaning out of our experiences, empathize with others, be more creative and reflect on our own mental and emotional states. In order to do this, it’s necessary to break away from the distractions that keep us lingering on the shallow surfaces of the mind. Silence is one way of getting there.”

4. Quiet Helps Regenerate Brain Cells. Silence can literally grow the brain.
Gregoire cites a 2013 study using mice to compare the effects of ambient noise, white noise, pup calls, and silence on the rodents’ brains. Although the researchers intended to use silence as a control in the study, they found that two hours of silence daily led to the development of new cells in the hippocampus, a key region of the brain associated with learning, memory and emotion.

Forest Therapy

If you are having difficulty making time at home or other areas in your life for silence, you might try a technique the Japanese call Shinrin-yoku, a term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.”

The practice has been around since at least the 1980s, and its traditions are rooted in many cultures. The idea is simply to visit a natural area and walk in a relaxed way. Some practitioners insist on no talking. Some allow cameras or journals/sketch books. But it is proven that just walking and observing nature without agenda provides calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits.

Especially in this year of a presidential election, with all the talking heads and impassioned Facebook friends shouting to get your attention, I highly recommend disconnecting from technology and going for a nice, quiet walk in the woods.

Sources:
“Why Silence is So Good For Your Brain” by Carolyn Gregoire, huffingtonpost.com and republished in dailygood.org

shinrin-yoku.org, the Medicine of Being in the Forest

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Category : Blog &Health &Massage Therapy Posted on March 23, 2016

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