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Why Science Suggests, SHHH – You Should Be Practicing Silence

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silence-copy“Never miss a good chance to shut up.” ~ Will Rogers

Whether you find this treasured commodity by locking yourself in the bathroom, visiting a library, retreating to the forest, or entering a temple or church that is most often empty, you are taping into one of the human race’s most pressing needs – SILENCE.

The word “noise” is derived from a Latin root meaning queasiness or pain. According to the historian Hillel Schwartz, there’s even a Mesopotamian legend in which the gods grow so angry at the clamor of earthly humans that they go on a killing spree. Many of us might feel the need to mimic legend when our neighbors blare their stereo on 10, or someone leans on their horn in city traffic.

Just be happy you don’t live in Mumbai, India, where a local publication called the city, “unfit for living, at least on a cacophony front,” or Cairo Egypt where noise levels have reached such ear-piercing levels that many residents are now reporting hearing problems. Or how about New York City, where city officials receive more than 40,000 noise complaints every year. Shanghai, China city officials receive 100,000 noise complaints annually, and in Karachi, Pakistan the sheer number of cars on the road (five million) surely contributes to noise-induced insanity.

What Noise Does to Your Health

Epidemiologists have discovered correlations between high blood pressure and chronic noise sources like highways and airports. The lack of silence has also contributed to high rates of sleep loss, heart disease, and tinnitus.

We react to loud noises when we are awake, but also while we are sleeping.

“Neurophysiological research suggests that noises first activate the amygdalae, clusters of neurons located in the temporal lobes of the brain, associated with memory formation and emotion. The activation prompts an immediate release of stress hormones like cortisol.”

We need silence for innumerable reasons.

When the world’s constant cacophony is getting under your skin, its likely that you need a little more of this rare jewel. Silence is so precious, that researchers found it is even needed for the brain to develop new cells. Silence actually helps us to make something out of nothing.

In the journal, Brain Structure and Function, a study titled, “Is silence golden? Effects of auditory stimuli and their absence on adult hippocampal neurogenesis” describes what happened to lab rats that were exposed to two hours of silence, as compared to white noise, or ambient noise that is in most labs. They state, “silence resulted in statistically increased levels of neurogenesis.”

The researchers found that silence bred the creation of new brain cells in the hippocampus, a brain region responsible for encoding new memories. This is also the area of the brain that regulates emotions and helps us to navigate space.

Moreover, when we experience silence our brains default into a regenerating state. Scientists call this “self-generating cognition,” but put simply, it means we are more prone to day-dream, or meditate, which is where some of our most profound problem-solving happens, seemingly without any effort.

Even Two Minutes of Silence is Life Changing

Another study published in the journal Heart found two minutes of silence to be more relaxing even than listening to music based on changes in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain. The effects of silence were the same on both musicians and non-musicians alike.

It shouldn’t be surprising then, that two-minutes of silence practiced in so many cultures around the world, is actually restoring in and of itself.

The Original Sound is Silence

Nature becomes quiet before a storm, and even the ancients venerated silence, as the ‘unstruck note,’ or Anahata Nada, an etheric vibration not within the human hearing threshold, that creates all we see. This phenomenon is described poetically in the Manduka Upanishad. It is said that the mantra, OM, most resembles this unheard sound, as the mantra is divided into four parts. The first three are vocal sounds: A, U, and M. The fourth sound, unheard, is the silence which begins and ends the audible sound, the silence which surrounds it.

Want to see if you can be silent for two minutes? Try this. If you fail at this test because you are so used to being bombarded with sound, perhaps try this two-minute guided meditation, or simply find the silence at the end of OM chanting. When you can find a place to be completely quiet, get to it as fast as you can.

As it turns out, silence truly is golden.

Image credit: flickr

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