Why Silence is More than Lack of Noise

yoga in silence
Harem Pants by Bohemian Island • Malas by Japa Mala Beads

Yogis are no strangers to silence. When we sit in meditation, lay down for savasana, or just pause to take a breath, we are experiencing silence. But what many of us may not realize is how beneficial this silence really is. Recent science suggests that silence is linked to better health and well-being. Silence scientists are starting to understand how and why noise and silence influences your brain and body.

The negative effects of noise

Various studies have concluded that constant noise is harmful to the body. In fact, they linked extended exposure to noise with heart disease, sleep problems, high blood pressure, and hearing loss. Since then noise pollution has also been linked to mental health issues, impaired communication, and inability to complete tasks.

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More recent research into how hearing works has uncovered the why. Basically noise hits our ear and vibrates the ear bone, which creates movement in the cochlea, which is turned into electrical signals that are sent to the brain. It is nearly impossible for the brain to ignore these signals, even when sleeping, and it can cause disturbance in the amygdalae (where we form memories and regulate our emotions) and trigger release of cortisol (the stress hormone).

Silence: more than the absence of noise

For a long time silence was considered the absence of noise. Scientists knew noise could be damaging and assumed silence was just a lack of those negative effects. Then, in 2005, scientists Bernardi, Porta, and Sleight published a study stating that there may be something to silence beyond the absence of noise. They gathered a group of random individuals and played a wide range of songs to them, studying how their brains reacted to each song. They found that during the random two-minute pauses between songs, participants were able to relax more deeply than when listening to even the most relaxing music. That’s when people became curious about studying silence on its own. What could silence do for the body?

What a little more silence could do for you

In a recent article for Nautiuls, science writer David A. Gross wrote that prolonged exposure to silence can actually lead to greater overall health. When silence lasts for a while, our auditory cortex is able to relax and the inactivity gives our brains a much needed break. In 2013 Duke University regenerative biologist Imke Kirste was examining the effects of sounds in the brains of adult mice when she discovered the effects of silence. Kirste found that two hours of silence per day prompted cell development in the hippocampus, the area related to the formation of memory.

When the world around us goes quiet, the brain starts to create its own noise. The brain is constantly active, even in rest, pulling in and making sense of information. So when we rest in silence, we give our brain a chance to take in all the information within and without, make sense of it, and figure out what it all means for the individual.

In silence our brains are able to decrease stress, replenish creativity and the ability to focus, and process thoughts, emotions, memories, and ideas. In other words, silence is where all the good stuff is waiting for you.

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