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Struggling with the Sound of Silence?

Last weekend I went to a day spa with my daughter and my niece. It was quite busy but not in a riotous packed- like- sardines- into- the- sauna busy but there was noise. So as we lay on the heated beds and wanting to chill after a day of humpfing boxes and building Ikea furniture I was keen to relax. So I applied Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) practices to send myself off to another plane. ”How can you sleep?” I was asked. “ I wasn’t sleeping. “ I replied. In fact, Yoga Nidra and other relaxation techniques we practice in yoga send you somewhere between wakefulness and sleep. You get to a place where you are quiet inside and feel …well…still! And yet totally aware of everything that is going on in the background. Difficult to explain to someone what this yogic sleep, or deep sense of relaxation feels like. Its kind of like you are in a trance with your eyes closed. Like your body and mind have been cocooned in bubble wrap. Fully aware of everything that is going on around you but immune to it…not involved. And it has taken me years and years to get to this place. Because, and this may come as a surprise, but I struggle to be still…and I struggle with silence. I struggle with peace. I struggle to just do nothing…the whole kit, bang and caboodle…Not great starting place for a yogi but hey, that’s why I practice yoga, because I need to. Read on….

I was brought up in a noisy flat. There were 7 of us on an average weekday, three adults and four kids and with 10 years between youngest (me) and oldest child there was always noise and it soon became 7 adults which is a lot for a flat albeit the flat had an upstairs to escape to.. Dad always had the radio blaring, each of us had radios and record players in the bedrooms, there was no such thing as earphones back in the day, and then there was the telly. And its fair to say we all liked music and we all liked the sound of our own voices. And it was unheard of to walk up the stairs to tell someone dinner was ready, you just stood at the bottom and yelled. Loudly. Over the other noise…So, that’s what I attribute my struggle with quiet to. My siblings are the same I am told by their partners. Always has to be a radio, music or telly on even if you are not listening to it…. its just noise…. someone there. Keeping the silence at bay.

And bizarrely enough when I moved out, got married and had a family of my own, on the rare occasion that I would have our house to myself,  I used to relish the prospect of hubby taking our three kids out…Savour the opportunity to have the prospect of total silence. No telly….no toys smashing about…no thumping footsteps up and down the stairs, in and out of the garden…no nothing. The prospect of bliss. The thought of being by myself was just so exciting and I would look forward to that front door closing and being totally on my own……for about 5 minutes…and then the novelty wore off and I would put the radio on, or music, or hoover, or bake and then I would be watching the clock til they all came back with their noise and chatter. And I like nothing more than to fill my house with visitors and now our family has started producing little people its even better….and dogs. We have replaced our three children with canines. They bark.  

And I have a loud voice. Partly because I have partial hearing (one of my ears doesn’t work at all so I’m 50% behind most of you) so I do speak louder. And in our office its all headphones to make calls and have online meetings which make me louder still to the annoyance of my colleagues. So, I am surrounded by noise at every turn. In the car. In my shed and in my yoga practice. In the latter, and those of you who practice with me know this, I like to play music. Soft mantra chanting, not Aretha Franklin, you understand.  

But all this simply meant that when I took up a yoga practice the one bit I struggled with was the silence. “Yoga Citta Vrtti Nirodaha” as Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutra.” Yoga is the quietening of the mind’s fluctuations”. Whit????? I would mull that one over as I fidgeted, wriggled and sighed my way through Savasana and as for meditation! Well, just not going to happen is it mate? I thought I would never get the gist of it all – this peace…this stillness…this silence..But you will be glad to hear that, like all fairy tales, I did. Eventually.

I came to yoga, like most of you reading this probably did…for the physical stuff…the asana…the touch your toes (yeah, why are we obsessed with the toe-touching thing? A question for another day) wrap-your-legs-around-your-waist stuff. But the whole point of the bendy, stretchy part of yoga is to make the body physically capable of sitting in a meditation posture for long periods of time. When your legs, back, ankles, shoulders blah, blah are niggling you that’s all your mind can focus on. Like having toothache. But when the body becomes quiet and still, the mind follows. Try it. Sit. In a chair if you can’t sit on the floor…notice your body…if anything is grumbling it will shout out to you…so move it, prop it, pad it, support it…until it stops talking to you…then watch your breath….simple…breath coming in…breath going out….nothing more…nothing less…just sitting…and breathing….for as long as you can…1 minute, 2 minutes, an hour….up to you. Bu don’t expect anything. If you WANT something to happen it most likely won’t….that will set you up to fail. Just see what happens. And you might struggle for the first few times. But don’t get frustrated. Don’t batter yourself emotionally. Just walk away and then, when you feel its right, come back to it. It will come right one day. Trust me on this.

The Law of Detachment is part of our yoga practice. The Bhagavad Gita states,

“Yoga is perfect evenness of mind. Seek refuge in the attitude of detachment and you will amass the wealth of spiritual awareness. Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do. When consciousness is unified, however, all vain anxiety is left behind. There is no cause for worry, whether things go well or ill. Therefore, devote yourself to the disciplines of yoga, for yoga is skill in action.”

Deep, eh? And although most of us interpret this attachment as holding onto physical “stuff” (possessions), for me it’s the attachment to noise and to the need to be “doing” and busy and productive, and as a result part of my yoga is learning and striving to let go. This might resonate with you too.

So its all a bit of a journey. And its not an easy one. Those of you reading this who know me, know where I am on that journey (not very far!!!) But by simply recognising that you do need to take time out..to step off the hamster wheel….to not be available to anyone but yourself, is part of that journey. And that’s why I am taking the big step to go on my journey this autumn. Want to know more? Watch this space.