It’s a noisy world. From the raucous booms of fireworks that send dogs and the noise-sensitive running for shelter to the daily buzz of traffic and cell phones, it’s becoming impossible to escape the sounds of living.
In 1972, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that sound was an official pollutant. In the forty years since, our world has only gotten louder, and some suggest we now live in “Decibel Hell.” That’s bad news for humans, who can experience hearing loss, tinnitus, sleep disturbances, stress, attention deficits, and cardiovascular disease due to overstimulation. And it’s bad news for animals, too.
Consider marine mammals, for example. Many rely on echolocation for navigation, communication, mating, and finding food. Human-created noises disrupt their habitats drastically. Accordingly, the International Ocean Noise Coalition works tirelessly to draw attention to the impact of ship traffic, military sonar, and blasting by the oil and gas industry.
Animals on land are also under acoustic siege, thanks to the noise of our cars, explosives used in oil extraction, and general ambient noise. Because of the noise caused by humans, animals can’t hear the sounds of approaching predators, decipher calls from potential mates, or locate their young ones. Even the noise we create in search of fun and enjoyment can cause the opposite for animals, as we invade national parks.
Embracing Silence as a Yogic Practice
Many spiritual seekers look to meditation to turn down noise in the mind. What if this practice could extend beyond the inside of our heads?
Practicing mauna (Sanskrit: मौनम्) might be the answer. Sometimes referred to as “silent yoga,” this practice asks us to cease speaking in order to connect to something larger than our egoic selves. “Only through mauna can we enter into the guha or secret cavern of the heart in which the entire universe dwells in its true [luminousness],” offers The American Institute of Vedic Studies.
Silence need not be stillness, though. Mahatma Gandhi observed a day of silence every Monday, even during his freedom-fighting years. He wasn’t meditating the whole day, though. Nope—he’d use the day to catch up on work.
How to Practice Mauna
With visions of black bears and eagles in mind, I headed out for a week-long silent retreat in Yosemite National Park with Dr. Deepak Chopra founder of the Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity that researches wellbeing and promotes humanitarianism. With writing deadlines looming and a new audiobook launching, I packed not only my softest yoga clothing, but also a hefty to-do list.
Although most participants observed silence the entire duration of the retreat, I took a Gandhi-inspired approach. I’d commit to being silent from when I woke up to noon, and again from 7 p.m. until I fell asleep. The results were life-changing long after the retreat ended.
Committing to periods of silence during each day increased my focus, allowed spaciousness for creative projects, and seemingly cured me of the incessant need to check my email every 15 minutes. I brought silent yoga home with me.
Silent Until Noon
Seek natural silence: I started each morning with a 15-minute natural silence meditation listening to the birds and squirrels in our yard.
Keep devices off: I left my phone off each day until noon. Ditto for the radio, TV, and anything that pings, chimes, or makes noise. I also turned off audio alerts on all devices—except for my husband’s special ringtone.
Avoid appliances: I committed to not using the hairdryer, juicer, vacuum, or other noise-making devices until the afternoon.
Schedule wisely: I scheduled all my calls and Zoom meetings between noon and 6 p.m.
Wear headphones: I started using headphones inside the house and avoiding the speakerphone feature so others around me didn’t have second-hand noise.
Close windows: We started closing the windows when our television was on so we wouldn’t bother outdoor animals.
Minimize traffic: We grouped orders to a single “Amazon Day” each week to minimize truck deliveries to our habitat.
Walk gently: I traded my hard-soled shoes for soft-soled slippers to minimize clomping noises for the benefit of my feline roommates. And I started keeping my treading to sidewalks to keep vibrations down for wildlife.
Travel quietly: I made a commitment to use my car audio only on long trips; otherwise, I would try to keep it off. I also chose center parking spots rather than ones on the edge of grassy areas to minimize sound and exhaust fumes for animals living in nearby green space.
Cease earthshaking: I begged my husband to put away the leaf blower and get out the rake. I started looking at ways to create sound-buffering bush borders between the road and our yard.
Wind-down well: My favorite change was ending each day with a 15-minute meditation with my cats, tuning into their gentle purring.
Sleep in stillness: I invested in noise-canceling headphones for sleeping.
If some days I slip up, I’m gentle with myself. Most days, silent-ish is enough.
Want more tips for embracing quiet? Read Seeing a Spiritual Sky.