finding silence by alex rees

Shops playing Christmas music (since October… Grrrr). The apparently-legal- but-

should-be- highly-illegal trend of buskers WITH AMPLIFIERS at Oxford Circus, even

at rush hour. The screech of the tube so loud it must be contravening a sub-clause of

the Human Rights Act. Even worse, merry revellers on the underground post-festive

party, laughing loudly: HOW DARE THEY?

There is So. Much. Noise. Perhaps I’m slightly biased as I live in a busy part of

London, but right now the radio is fighting a losing battle against next door’s

scaffolders, a siren and a loud motorbike. Sometimes the generic, background noise

gets so bad that I use self-inflicted noise to block it out. Whilst trying to concentrate,

I’ll plug myself into a Rain Noises Playlist on Spotify in an attempt to enjoy a flow of

concentration that lasts longer than three seconds. Mock me if you will, but after

three minutes of “Distant Thunder, Relaxing Rain”, you’ll see what I mean.

Even in the sanctuary of the HYS studio, it’s hard to stay focused when someone

drags a rattling wheely case on the uneven pavement above. I find myself getting

twitchy and a little bit irate when, at the end of our 20 seconds of savasana, the

teacher is all “up and at ‘em folks!” Forget three more seconds of lying down resting

my body: It’s three more seconds of silence that I crave. A huge part of yoga is

listening to the teacher, listening to your inner voice and listening to your body:

Hard to do when you’re muttering under your breath about the Loud People outside

who are, well, being LOUD.

In October I wrote about Shinrin Yoku (or 'Shrinking You’ as my brain keeps

unhelpfully translating it), a Japanese concept of “forest bathing” also known as

going for a walk in the park/ forest/ green space to unwind. Perhaps I left out a very

important component: It has to be in complete silence. No phone to check, no

podcasts, no music, no Rain Playlist, no conversation.

Now that is quite a lot of rules just for a lunchtime stroll in the great outdoors, but

have you tried it? Going outside for no other reason than to walk (or perhaps run or

cycle) without a gadget to fiddle with or something to listen to? I’m all about going

for a walk with a close friend with whom comfortable silence is well, comfortable,

but it’s hard not to indulge in chatter, mindless or otherwise.

As for going out for a walk, run or ride on my own without a podcast: My goodness. I

can’t bear it. I tried it today and got halfway down my road before giving into the

allure of the latest episode of ‘Money Talks’ from The Economist (oh I know how to

have a good time, folks!).

The point is silence is hard. It’s almost impossible to escape it in shops, restaurants,

public transport and even at home. So we have to find silence. We have to be

comfortable with the silence we have with ourselves. As I mentioned earlier, finding

a friend with whom you can be comfortably silent with is wonderful- and rare. Try

that with yourself: What happens? Does your brain spiral into a To Do List? Do you

start mulling over; dwelling on a disagreement you’ve had with someone? Do you

start worrying about something (anything will do!)? Berate yourself for something

(again, it seems the critical voice will add anything to it’s arsenal)?

How about just sitting and being? Just thinking. Or not thinking, letting your mind

drift. Just sit down somewhere relatively quiet and take off the constraints placed on

your mind by work, family, chores and other responsibilities.

Whilst I think music and podcasts (and of course rain playlists) are helpful in

focusing, relaxing and unwinding, we do not get enough silence to let ourselves just

‘be’. It might be commuting or cooking or going for a run: Next time, try it in silence.

This might be tricky with children or housemates around, but swap the Spotify for

silence and see how you feel.

I attended one of the ever-marvellous classes by the ever-marvellous Cintra at Hot Yoga Society a

few weeks ago, and found my brain spinning out of control, matched by the furious

pace of my pulse, breath and heart rate. I was like a wayward shopping trolley

careering down a steep hill with zero control and a crazed expression in my eyes.

So I sat down. And I switched off. Just for a few minutes. I didn’t listen (which is hard

because one person I love to listen to is Cintra), and I listened to the silence inside of

me. It wasn’t scary. And when I stood up and started my practise again, I had one of

the best classes I’ve had in over 10 years of practising yoga.

When being run ragged by Christmas chores or New Year’s preparations, control the

noise you can (e.g., the TV or radio) by switching it off; or if it’s a human, asking very

nicely if you could have a few moments of quiet, and sit down, exhale, close your

eyes and find even just a few seconds of wonderful, peaceful silence.

Yogi since 2005, Alex has practised hot yoga in studios across Europe and the USA, but Hot Yoga Society is her favourite! 

Twitter @Lexilicious21

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stay happy and healthy!