Silence and slow time
Silence is one of yoga’s overlooked benefits, yet why are so many of us afraid of it? by Gregory Ormson
It was the day before my wedding and I was overstressed. The ongoing ear-full of windy chatter and push notifications were oppressive. While noise and compulsive talking has become a normal aspect of our world, that day it reached a saturation point.
I needed to escape the commotion and I found it when I dived into the deep end of a hotel pool. Nestled below, under water-pressure but released from the press of social roles, I took solace. Water had finally silenced elevator music, noise, and chatter.
Silence … it doesn’t seem like such a tall countercultural order, but it is. Think of the last time you were in a group of people when you were all silent together. It happens rarely. Quiet is so unnerving that some people actually feel unnatural in silence. Isn’t it odd that a quiet outdoor setting has become, for some, a scary venue. This is why I believe silence is one of yoga’s overlooked benefits.
In yoga classes, there is usually only one voice, the teacher. Other yogis are present and encouraged to breathe through the nose. Mobile phones are put on hold and the artefacts of our professional lives are left outside the container: costumes, jewellery, and shoes are put away.
Certainly, social talk is welcome before and after class, and that is good. But during class, everyone is relieved from the expectations to speak or to appear happy or witty or social. In class, everyone is invited to give in to the refreshing and sometimes uncomfortable lull of not talking. Tongues fired by Red Bull are put on silent.
On occasion, I’ve experienced a two-minute Savasana in the middle of class and then again silence during a repeat Savasana at the end of class. It’s an unexpected rest but good pedagogy. The field of teaching talks about this with the term pacing. It’s important to build in time for the mind and body to digest what it has experienced.
Savasana looks unimpressive to the fitness crowd. It seems easy as people lie on their backs while at ease physically. But looks can’t tell us how the silence may impact the human being in that moment.
This quiet may be the most important 120 seconds in a busy day because the tide of quietness washes the noisy cacophony of daily commerce by giving our ears a break. Those two minutes are anything but business as usual. They are the sweet inarticulate hush of spiritual space opened by silence.
When I moved to Hawaii, I learned to enjoy free diving. Free divers thrive on ease and quiet and go below without air tanks. It requires putting one’s body at ease before the dive, and that is accomplished by meditation and breathing exercises before divers enter the water.
When I was learning to free dive, I was agitated by the slow pace and that we were spending so much time onshore in breath work and mental preparation. I wanted to get in the Pacific and go down to swim with dolphins and octopuses. But I learned in time that one must be truly quiet and at ease before entering the water. It became a most important life lesson, and one I’ve applied in yoga.
Both free diving and yoga require a closed mouth, both require stillness and concentration, both require training, and both give relief from an ongoing windy and vociferous cacophony that is often gibberish.
Silence in my practice is important, even if it’s brief. I see it as the pregnant pause, for in the community of quiet, I come to new understandings and I lean into it just as I do when stretching in ease swimming down to the muted fathoms.
I’ve noticed that the yoga world can be noisy. Some might like it loud with rock music, drums, and lots of words. That is a viable choice…but not for me. I look forward to Savasana. Sometimes I follow a guided visualisation to a deeper silence where my small self brushes up to the all-encompassing Self. In those quiet moments, through a deep inhale, and a long, slow exhale, my body remembers how I was at ease in the deep end of the hotel pool and diving in the stunning blue of the Pacific.
Eventually, we must rise and go back to the world’s commerce because we need to communicate. But when we’ve learned to employ silence and slow time, we might be refreshed in order to be at ease in the midst of many voices coming our way.
Talking’s soft-pedalled sister, silence, is necessary. She holds out silence and slow time as a countercultural music of ease and calm. Dive into silence and remain at ease. Your Self, and your peace, is quietly waiting for you.
Gregory Ormson teaches yoga for motorcyclists in Arizona and leads Yoga-Breath, Breath of Life workshops accompanied by his bhakti-style band, Sat Song. He also maintains a writers website where he blogs on yoga, music, motorcycling, and landscapes (gregoryormson.com)
I lay, in peace, in one piece, in the only perfect moment of stillness I own. Meditation (courtesy of Michelle Lipper)