Here’s something that will make the introverts in the audience ironically whoop and holler: talking less can lead to more freedom in your life.
Intuitively, we know this. The moments when we feel free — most at peace and in awe — are usually accompanied by silence, even for the most loquacious.
But throughout centuries, we’ve failed to capture in words what it’s like to feel extreme bliss and soul-soaking freedom. It’s why you get frustrated when you can’t recreate an indescribable sunset or articulate the personal epiphany that changed the course of your life.
What if we just called this feeling like it is? Silent.
Yogis already have a name and technique for this: mouna. In Sanskrit, mouna means two things: “silence” and “measurement.” Conserving your speech and choosing your words carefully. You say only what matters, and you recognize when silence is the best choice.
In other words, by quieting our outward expression, by simply choosing our language carefully, we can increase the intimacy of knowing our own hearts.
This is part of pratyahara, the “withdrawal of the senses,” which is the fifth step of eight in Patanjali’s Eight Limb Path.
But practicing silence and “withdrawing our senses” in today’s modern world isn’t easy. Unless you go on a yoga or meditation retreat, you can’t afford the opportunity to not talk or not be stimulated by the sensory demands of your life. How will the family get fed? The dog quiet down? The work get done?
Shortly after we wake, we begin communicating with our speech, our written words, our bodies. We give away our prana — meaning, our vital storehouse of energy — easily and willingly all day long, sometimes to whomever will listen.
According to the ancient yogis, the more vital life force you send out, the more difficult it becomes to access the spirit within. It’s why you feel exhausted at the end of a big debate, conversation or presentation. Communication takes a lot of energy. The tricky part is, we don’t see the energy exchange; we feel its after effects.
How to intentionally seek silence
By practicing yoga, we attempt to control our prana, redirecting it for spiritual connection rather than allowing our energy to dissipate and drain needlessly. This discipline leads to calmer minds, which lead to quieter meditations which leads to finding the silent bliss within which leads to freedom.
It’s not enough to seek the comforts of silence through intention. You’ve got to literally be silent to light up the inner pathway to peace. What ways can you choose to be silent today? I’ve got a few suggestions.
- For 10 minutes after you wake, perhaps while the whole house is sleeping.
- For 10 minutes before you go to bed. If you make this a family rule, you’re giving others the gifts of silence, too.
- While driving. No music, no calls, just attention to the road.
- When you enter the practice room at your yoga studio and perhaps even after practice. Let your teacher know you’re practicing silence so things don’t get awkward.
- While eating. Ashrams and retreat centers often have this rule, and it’s probably one of the most difficult for the majority of us to do in social situations (and it’s nearly impossible for those with misophonia, like me.) Try being silent the next time you eat alone, and avoid distractions such as TV, computers, books and phones — nothing except you and your food.
- During meditation (well, obviously.)
Part of practicing silence for us today means not reaching for the smartphone when you’re waiting around at the stop light or in the grocery store. Just as you aren’t speaking, so too you’re not taking in the noise of whatever’s in your email or on Facebook.
For us yoga teachers, that means more time being silent, allowing students to listen to their inner guide. It means music without lyrics if your goal is to promote connection to spirit (what other goal is there?), and even no music during savasana (a personal favorite.)
You cannot access what you need to hear if you do not listen to your silence.
And if you do not venture into silence, you will never truly feel free.
Asana Practice: Supported Fish Pose, Salamba Matsyasana
Restorative yoga poses are incredible for opening the body gently so that the mind can quiet and silence can be sought. I enjoy this simple version of Supported Fish Pose, which only requires one, possibly two, yoga blocks.
- Place the block two-thirds up your yoga mat and lay down so that the bottoms of the shoulder blades come to the bottom edge of the block. The back of the heart should feel fully supported, and your neck and tops of the shoulders should have freedom to relax to the ground. The height of the block is up to you, although I recommend ensuring that the long side of the block spans across the back. If it’s too much strain on the neck for the head to tilt back, place another block underneath the head.
- Bring your legs together and gently reach through the toes. Then release the effort in the legs. Relax the arms by your sides, palms face up. Alternatively, for more of a shoulder opener, cactus the arms with palms face up.
- Stay for 3-5 minutes, or as you find that you can tolerate the pose. Breathe into the chest and sink all effort on your exhales, deepening your relaxation and your connection to silence.
- To come out of the pose, draw your knees in and your feet flat on the ground. Roll onto one side off the block(s) and slowly press yourself up to seated.