Silence is essencial. We need silence just as much as we need air, as much as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with words and thought, there is no space for us.— Nhat Hanh
If you are thinking about learning to meditate, there are hundreds of methods to choose from. The task of researching a sea of choices is a mind-boggling experience. To simplify your selection process, know that it is no coincidence most medical studies on meditation are based on silent meditation.
There are two primary categories, directive (also known as concentrative) and nondirective. Both are beneficial according to a study completed at Harvard Medical School in 2013. The study found these meditation practices reduce stress and improve health.
Directive and nondirective meditation
In the directive (or concentrative) form, the goal is to keep the mind completely focused (usually on physical sensations of the present) and to maintain that focused attention. The nondirective form of meditation begins by bringing attention to a mantra (or sound which is used silently). As the mind drifts to thoughts and impressions, the attention is gently redirected. The nondirective method does not require concentration; it allows the body to settle naturally into a peaceful state.
A comparative study at the University of Oslo
While many meditation methods are proven to be beneficial, a Norwegian study at the University of Oslo 2014, compared the two primary categories, the directive, and nondirective methods. The study concludes that nondirective meditation offers additional benefits, by allowing us to process thoughts and emotions. The result was proven in brain imaging, showing elevated brain activity with nondirective meditation,
"Nondirective meditation techniques are practiced with a relaxed focus of attention that permits spontaneously occurring thoughts, images, sensations, memories, and emotions to emerge and pass freely, without any expectation that mind wandering should abate. These techniques are thought to facilitate mental processing of emotional experiences, thereby contributing to wellness and stress management." — A study from the University of Oslo,February 26, 2014
When I first learned to meditate at the age of 15, I never dreamed that meditation would become a health revolution. Now, over 18 million Americans practice meditation. Today, we find a high demand for meditation in the realm of health care. Meditation is recommended for stress reduction, heart health, brain health, anxiety, pain reduction, and to improve happiness and quality of life.
Recently, I taught a six-week program for stress management. The course offered a sampling of various relaxation methods including silent and guided meditation. Although attendees had little or no experience, the immediate relaxation offered by silent meditation was profound. Sessions followed with a variety of guided meditations styles. Those who were new to meditation felt at ease as a voice walked them through the entire practice session. Somehow, they said it seemed easier, like having training wheels on the first bike ride.
The goal of this particular session was to have participants find a meditation style that worked best for them. We tried side-by-side practice sessions, a test of sorts, silent meditation versus guided meditation. The result was revealing, silent meditation was unanimously chosen as the preferred method.
Although both methods were relaxing, the feedback was an 'aha' moment. Everyone agreed that silent meditation offered the deepest relaxation. A few participants were certain that I had doubled the timing for the silent meditation—thus explaining their deep relaxation response. They were surprised to hear that both meditations were timed exactly the same, just 10 minutes each. One participant commented on the guided version by saying, “Listening to the voice the entire time took away from my relaxation and overall experience” and, “Just when I started to relax, the voice would keep me from going to a deeper experience.”
Make some space for silence
What participants didn’t know, is that silence is good for your brain. We are bombarded with noise pollution, traffic, cell phones, news, and other distractions throughout the day. As a Western society, we have adapted to constant noise. Silence is something that our brain craves.
Silence allows the brain to go to the default mode network, the brain’s screensaver of sorts. It is the space of nondirective meditation, daydreaming, and silence. It is the space where our mind drifts gently and freely. This space allows us the time to process emotions and to be creative.
It's time, give your brain what it craves—allow time in your schedule for pockets of silence. Practice nondirective silent meditation daily. Offer yourself this small luxury, and you will rejuvenate your body, mind, and spirit, each and every day.
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