Why Silence is Good for Your Brain
People have wondered about the capabilities of the brain. It has been one organ in the human body that has gone under tremendous amount of study. One question that has been raised regarding brain function and health is the idea of silence and meditation: is there any research out there that suggestions that silence is actually good for the brain? And if so, why? Let's take a look at what some are saying about this phenomenon.
On a non-scientific tip, silence sounds pretty good right now (pun intended). It seems like the world around us is getting increasingly louder: heavy machinery, more construction, more cars on the roads, highway traffic, louder music, conversations on cellphones in public, and the list goes on. Our brains are getting overloaded with more noise to process. So, what happens to the brain when it has to continuously process noise and sound?
It's probably no mystery that being exposed to too much noise, especially loud noise, can lead to hearing loss. That's a no brainer, but what about the brain itself? Research has shown that overexposure to loud noise can not only lead to hearing loss, but it can also affect the brain's ability to recognize speech. (What did you say?) Noise-induced hearing loss can lead to the inability to recognize and understand speech sounds. The remedy: turn down the music, protect your ears, and get your hearing checked regularly. Since it is a bit obvious that chronic noise affects the brain, what happens to that bundle of grey matter when it is exposed to silence?
When there is no sound, there is less for the brain to do. Thus, the brain can relax: it doesn't have to go through the complexity of mental computing and processing. This is essentially stressful for the brain; all those stress-inducing hormones get released into the bloodstream when the brain and body are under duress. But guess what? Studies have shown that as little as two minutes of quiet can actually release tension from the brain. If your brain is less tense, your whole body is less tense. That's good thing!
A moment of quiet can also improve your memory. The area of the brain associated with memory is the hippocampus. When this part of your mind is functioning high on all cylinders, your ability to recall and focus is much better. Can't remember what you had for lunch yesterday? Take a moment of quiet time; you might even call this "clearing your mind" or "getting your mind right." This is the same as allowing the brain to slow down for a few seconds so the hippocampus can do it's thing - help you remember.
And since we are leaning into some brain science right now, there are some studies on the books that suggest that silence may be related to cell growth and regeneration in the brain. This takes us back to the hippocampus (remember that?) If you give yourself at least two hours of silence, the hippocampus can regenerate cell growth. Not only is this area of the brain responsible for memory, but other high functions like learning, remembering names, and emotional awareness and control.
Another great benefit of exposing the brain to silence is healthy sleep. Those of you that might be suffering from insomnia, time to put your cell phones away while in bed, turn off the televisions, and stash away your music headphones. Your brain needs to dial-down and experience quiet in order for productive rest and sleep to occur.
Now that you know some of the benefits of quieting the mind, how do you actually do it. Have you tried yoga or meditation? Hmmmm. Maybe it's time to pick up one or both of these practices.
As you know, there are many physical benefits to practicing yoga. Although the body may be moving, there are times when the body (and mind) can be at rest during your practice. Here's an example. You're in your vinyasa flow yoga class, you're sweating as you move from pose to pose, but then your instructor asks you to hold a particular pose longer than others. This is an intentional instruction. It gives the yogi the time to be still; to hold the pose for more than a few seconds. In that moment, the yogi can focus on their breath, to be aware of the sensations that show up in their bodies, and to have a moment of quiet even during a dynamic moving yoga class. This is an opportunity for the yoga student to be silent which, as you now know, is good for the brain.
Another more obvious example is when you practice Savasana at the end of your yoga lesson. That is when you lie down on your back on your yoga mat. It is a time to rest and relax your mind and body after your grueling yoga flow. Here, everything softens: your thoughts, your muscles, your breath. The yogi practices being present in this classic yoga pose. When the mind sits in the present moment, it doesn't stray into thoughts of the past or future: this is anxiety provoking - thus, not so healthy for the brain. But when the mind and body are at ease, those benefits listed above come into play: you'll feel less stressed, improve your memory, experience brain cell regeneration, and get a good night's sleep.
This is really the key to silencing the brain. When you take the time to sit still in silence on a regular basis, your brain will be very happy. What can you do to start? It's not uncommon to feel intimidated by meditation; it seems daunting and not accessible. If you're new to this concept, you're not required to one day just sit down on some plush pillows, surround yourself with incense and burning candles, and be asked to chant for a few hours. No. It can be much simpler. If you have two or three minutes to spare, sit in your favorite chair, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and just focus on the sound and sensation for your breath. And if you're able, do it in a completely silent space. In those few minutes, you'll be giving your body and brain the much needed noise-break that it deserves.
So, it looks like silence IS good for the brain. As the world around us continues to get louder and louder, it may be in your favor to find some quiet time. It may be as simple as turning off the music for a few minutes or treating yourself to a relaxing meditative yoga class. Your brain will be grateful.