You know how when you do a push-up, you modify your form to reap similar benefits? Well, consider intermittent silence to be the modified push-up of meditation. Intermittent silence is a short burst of time spent in silence—as few as 10 minutes, the amount of time research has shown is required for meditation to benefit the mind and body. And according to certified meditation and mindfulness teacher Laurasia Mattingly, even without setting an intention or being focused on your breathing, intermittent silence can bring about many of the same benefits as meditation.
Below, Mattingly and Krishna Bhatta, MD, a urologist and founder of meditation app Relaxx, explain more about how intermittent silence works, how it’s different from a more traditional meditation practice, and the benefits to giving it a try.
How to practice intermittent silence
First, both experts say that simply not speaking isn’t enough to qualify as an intermittent silence session—after all, you can respond to emails and watch Netflix without talking. So, practicing intermittent silence requires quieting your mind, too, which means that for 10 minutes, you’re stopping anything that requires active brain power. “You don’t have to focus on any intention, your breath, or anything else. You’re simply just sitting in silence,” says Dr. Bhatta, in his explanation of how intermittent silence differs from what many think of as a traditional mediation session.
While Dr. Bhatta practices intermittent silence with his eyes closed, Mattingly says this isn’t necessarily a must. “You can practice intermittent silence while you make a cup of coffee, for example,” she says. The key is to spend that time focusing solely on the experience of making that cup of coffee—the sight, smell, and taste of it—not making it while also having a conversation with your partner or scrolling Instagram.
Whether or not you choose to sit in silence with your eyes closed, though, the experts agree that the goal is to silence the chatter in your mind. That means spending 10 minutes of your day not emailing, not texting, not receiving or sending information in any way.
What are the benefits of intermittent silence?
For one thing, intermittent silence gives the brain time to rest. “The synapses in your brain are always working and always firing,” says Dr. Bhatta “Just like when your body is continually working, your brain gets tired. If you don’t take breaks, it will become exhausted.” That, he says, can lead to feeling anxious or on edge.
“When you take just 10 minutes to be in silence and focus on your surroundings, it connects you more to the present moment.” —Laurasia Mattingly, meditation teacher
Mattingly agrees. “When you take just 10 minutes to be in silence and focus on the sounds of nature, the city, or whatever your surroundings sound like, it connects you more to the present moment,” she says. “Often, the mind is so focused on the past or the future, and that’s when symptoms of anxiety and depression start to rise. But intermittent silence is a time to focus just on the present, taking us out of those negative thought patterns.”
It’s for this very reason that Dr. Bhatta says it can be helpful to practice intermittent silence when feelings of stress, anxiety, and even anger start to surface. “If you get an email that makes you feel angry, for example, it can be helpful to take it as an opportunity to [pause] and not respond in the moment,” he says. “Chances are, when you do reply to the email [after taking a beat], it will be different than if you responded in the moment.”
So, if guided meditations aren’t for you, no big deal. But keep in mind that if there’s something everyone can benefit from, it’s a little more peace and quiet. Even if it’s just 10 minutes’ worth.
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