Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Challenge of Silence

They have been some really interesting comments about what we take from yoga, especially the stillness and quiet. For me, savasana is the hardest pose and pranayama the hardest practice--it's so hard to shut those voices up! Well, apparently this is a very popular topic--the challenge of silence--and this guy's publicist is working overtime to promote his new book about it...

At least I think this is the guy I was listening to--I know, shameful lack of citation--on NPR the other day. George Prochnik was discussing In Pursuit of Silence, and was making some interesting observations about humans and their need for constant noise. He noted that pretty much every other animal on the planet tries to keep quiet, either to avoid being eaten or to avoid being detected while sneaking up on the former in hopes of eating. Just about the only exception is noise in service of reproduction...

What is it with us humans--top of the food chain, with no predators? big brains in need of constant stimulation? not enough attention as children? too much attention from parents and not enough from the rest of the world? scared of being alone? too many listening devices?

I do okay with quiet (which technically includes the hum of a dehumidifier, the gurgle of the fish tank, occasional scolding from a vocal cat), which is such a relief when I'm the only one at home. But, unless I have the voice of a teacher in my ear, I have a hard time concentrating on my yoga practice without music. I really have trouble meditating. Prochnik suggests controlled background noise can have a focusing effect for kids with ADHD, but I see it working for many of my students and, certainly, for me.

Which makes me a little wistful. I try to cultivate quiet calm, when I can (background noise that I control...with two little boys, yeah, right!). I'd like to think that I'm part of a group that can forgo constant external stimulus, but maybe I'm not (or just barely).

Or maybe quiet has always been hard. Maybe there's a reason yoga was originally restricted to the Brahmin caste; it was thought the average householder couldn't handle it. Maybe it's always been noisy, it's just the kinds (and volume) of noises has changed. Humans have always been the "look at me" animal on the planet...and, for the most part, aren't worried about being lunch.

Something to think about--when you're not trying to not think.

(Overheard at the Milwaukee zoo, "Hey sweetheart, get a load of this...")


Anonymous said...

Just started reading your blog a couple of days ago. Glad to have found it.

Interesting topic. I don’t think our desire for audio stimulation is necessarily a bad thing. Music speaks to our souls in ways that words can’t. That connection can inspire us and open our emotional channels for release of pain or joy. I believe that almost every religious practice involves some sort of singing or music signifying that music helps us to orient our hearts to connect with the Divine.

I think when choosing music for a yoga practice, a seasoned practitioner probably has a sense of what will best suit that day's session. That being said, that are many times that I eliminate the sounds that I can control. I can easily feel over-stimulated by noise (I have 2 little boys too) and so it is satisfying to have a quiet practice with ambient sound. I join a group for a 6am personal practice where we don’t play music and really don’t talk much. The part I love the most about the experience is hearing everyone’s breathing and thus reminding me to breathe. So again, sound is enhancing my practice. I need silence during meditation or else I ‘m just sitting quietly listening to music--although sometimes I do that because I enjoy it.

Tiffany @ Moving Meditation said...

I struggle with silence sometimes too (I almost always practice yoga with music), and I struggle BIG TIME with meditation. I think I'm actually afraid of it some days! I'm going to try using Deva Premal's new Mantras for Precarious Times while I meditate and see if it focuses me better.

yogayoga said...

One word: Open space.

It's a doosy!! (i.e. bitch) Meeting yourself can be (and for me has been) not the most pleasant of endeavors. I've heard, and experience has shown, that you see yourself, for most of us, for the first time, on the mat and the cushion. Often that's where I've learned that person I want to be is not exactly the person I am. Coming to terms with that and learning to embrace that is a whole other story.

But without the silence we would never know who we truly are and everything we can be: full of infinite potential, grace, wisdom, compassion and love.

Or so I've been told. :-)


Jenny said...

I think the silence that is more important, is the inner silence. If it helps to meditate or do yoga with music, then it's better to do that than to not meditate or do yoga. Doing it completely silently is really impossible. There will always be car noises, birds, wind, etc. Real mastery would be feeling completely silent and at peace on the inside in the middle of some natural disaster or inner city rush hour.

That having been said, I find that music doesn't help me. I do better having a guiding voice (real or recorded) pointing the way for me. Maybe that's a step down from being able to do yoga to gentle music?

Hi Brenda, I found your blog which amazes me! Sorry we haven't been able to keep the farm yoga sessions going, and hello!
Do you have some good DVD/CD suggestions for Yoga routines?

YogaforCynics said...

"us humans--top of the food chain, with no predators"

Except ourselves, that is...

Gotta admit, I have trouble focusing on anything without music (have some Jimi Hendrix playing as I write this). Then, I think that's basically my coping strategy for dealing with undiagnosed ADD. If I had actual silence, I might be okay. But, since, in the world we live in, there's always unexpected noise off somewhere, I need something to block it out.

I'd say the reason yoga was restricted to the Brahmin caste was for the same reason certain activities are restricted to certain classes, races, or genders in any society--to uphold the distinctions so people don't start getting the idea that maybe we're not all so different--particularly important in a society like India's where one class is labeled "untouchable."