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  • Andy Steele

Sound affects: The science of silence

Back in the early days of when my wife first introduced me to yoga, I went to a yoga nidra class where at the end there was a silence. My instinct at the time was that everyone else had left the room and I was just there asleep by myself so I woke up very quickly. It's for this reason that I always try to give everyone a heads-up that there is a silence at the end. But why have the silence at all?

Silence stimulates the growth of brain cells linked to memory

An interesting 2013 study found that when mice were played a piece of Mozart followed by silence, there was sudden growth of neurons in a seahorse-shaped region of the brain called the Hippocampus, which is commonly associated with short and long-term memory as well as our imagination. The hippocampus is also usually one of the first areas of the brain attacked by Alzeimer's.

A year later a subsequent study showed that patients suffering from Amnesia showed that memory recall improved between 14 to 49%. Even healthy patients saw their recall boosted by up to 30%.

Mindfulness and silence can help tackle insomnia

A 2015 study found that regularly practising mindfulness and finding silence during the day can improve sleep quality and lessen the effects of insomnia.

Silence can boost our cognitive abilities

A process referred to as ART (Attention Restoration Therapy) focuses on restoring our ability to focus using nature; essentially taking ourselves away from noisy environments gives us a chance to relax. Again, we see silence used in a way which has cognitive benefits to our brain.

Silence gives us a chance to notice that we feel relaxed

Cortisol is the body's response to tackling stress. It's a hormone which prepares us for battle. A little in the right situation can keep us alive, but too much of it can lead to severe health issues such as cardio-vascular disease. In 2020, researchers used music therapy to help children undergoing treatment for Leukaemia. Their research found that the response to the music had a direct reduction in Cortisol.

Silence at the end of the soundbath effectively tells your brain that I have finished and be prepared for new stimulus. It also crucially gives you time to notice how you feel afterwards. It would be very easy for me to tell you at this point that you feel relaxed, but it's a suggestive state and I find that notion of telling you how to feel improper. If your body is a car then you are the driver; there is no space for someone in the back telling you how to feel, think or behave. That time is there for you to make your own conclusions about how you feel in the moment and/or ask a question which could gain you an insight into something that matters to you. You have a few more neurons in the area of your brain linked to imagination to help you!

These are just a few reasons why we have that silence at the end of a soundbath, but also I will sometimes deliberately create a gap during the soundbath. One of the reasons I do this is because I've found that attendees will often move about during this silence. They might roll onto their side; stretch out an arm or leg or just sigh very deeply. That physical reaction gives me a clue that there has been a release within that individual. They have noticed how they feel in that moment and reacted to make themselves more comfortable. I can't ever recall that happening during a peak in the soundbath; it only ever happens in the gaps, no matter what time of day or whoever is in the room. As those gaps and the reactions to the gaps accumulate, then I can be more hopeful that by the time we get to the end; you will feel better for the experience of attending.

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