From the second your alarm clock jars you into consciousness, your brain processes the sights, sounds, thoughts, and stressors you experience throughout your day. Exposure to a constant barrage of email notifications, harsh blue light from our screens, and the endless to-do list running the monologue of the mind makes up just a smidgen of what the brain has to process.
Our overly stimulated environments and fast-paced lifestyles have been linked with rising rates of stress and depression. And considering the increase of stress and anxiety since the onset of the pandemic, we all need some serious R&R.
A logical solution to overstimulation is to reduce stimulation, and one such way is to practise silence. Researchers now acknowledge that silence plays a significant role in healthy human physiology, well-being, and spirituality.
While escaping to the woods for a seven-day silent retreat would likely work wonders to calm the mind, it’s just not feasible (or desirable) for most of us to live in silence for the rest of our lives just to keep stress at bay.
What is intermittent silence?
The key is finding a way to bring the benefit of silence into the everyday hustle and bustle, and one such method is the practice of intermittent silence.
“Our world has silence, except us,” says Dr. Krishna Bhatta, a medical doctor, creator of the Relaxx meditation app, and the originator of the intermittent silence practice. “We’re a go-go-go culture. I’m not saying we should slow down, but that we should bring some peace, bring silence into our lives as well.”
Intermittent silence involves pressing pause on the regular programming of your day, allowing your brain to rest. “In our brains, all those neurons are firing all the time,” explains Bhatta. “When you do this intermittent silence, all those brain cells get a rest—and they will thank you!”
While silence has been practised by many cultures for millennia, Bhatta’s approach involves four easy components that yield significant improvements in overall well-being. One minute of this practice gives you the essence of it, but Bhatta recommends 10 minutes per day to really reap the benefits.
4 components of intermittent silence
Close your mouth
Rest the brain centres involved in processing expression and communication.
Close your eyes
Rest the visual pathway and the cells involved with visual processing.
Listen to the sounds around you (your surroundings don’t need to be silent!). Rest the brain centres involved in auditory processing by just letting the sounds go through.
Watch your thoughts rather than processing them. Thoughts will always be there, and sometimes they’ll grab your attention, and that’s okay. Bhatta recommends watching your thoughts like traffic passing on the road—just don’t go hopping into one of the cars!
Even the busiest and most meditation-averse of us can hop on this bandwagon, because all it involves is sitting in silence, without having to clear your mind or quit your job! Intermittent silence offers a much less intimidating introduction to meditation.
“Meditation doesn’t happen when you are being guided, when the music is in the background, or when you are chanting ‘Om,’” says Bhatta. “Meditation happens in the silence.”
Reaping the benefits
In Bhatta’s experience, intermittent silence cultivates inner silence, which can help you navigate emotional storms with ease. “People who start doing it find it brings quietness and peace in their life and gives rest to the brain,” says Bhatta. “If you can find some peace, what more do you want?”
Psychology researchers suggest that inner silence increases self-awareness and is a powerful stress-relieving tool that can be used to reduce overstimulation from one’s environment. Research has also found that the practice of silence can enhance one’s sense of personal belonging and purpose and contribute to feelings of interconnectedness between oneself and the world.
Supplements to quell stress
While you’re waiting for a little silence to reduce your stress load, you might want to try the following supplements.
Ashwagandha may help reduce cortisol, stress, and anxiety.
Rhodiola is used to help cope with stress and is helpful for managing symptoms of burnout.
L-theanine may help reduce heart rate during acute stress and improve cognitive performance.
Lavender essential oil diffused as aromatherapy has been shown to reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, and promote alpha and theta brain waves associated with relaxation and meditation, respectively.
Intermittent silence on a stressful day
Bhatta recommends practising intermittent silence at the same place and same time, “because that brings the synergy of time and space and your body starts waiting for it.”
Pause to breathe before moving onto your next task to bring stillness into your day.
Step away from your computer every hour to rest your brain’s visual processing centres.
Take the last 10 minutes of your lunch break to sit outside and silently listen to nature.
Do your yoga practice and nature walk in silence to rest the auditory processing centres in the brain.
Pocketful of peace
Meditation apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Relaxx have made relaxation convenient and accessible for anyone with a smartphone. With guided meditations and intermittent silence practices catered to what you need in the moment, apps like these have been shown in studies to reduce distress and job strain while improving mental health and well-being.
The Relaxx app’s intermittent silence practice plays gentle music at the end to let you know when you’ve completed 10 minutes.