Being quiet and still can be counter to what our fast paced society encourages and often rewards. The more you do and achieve, the more you accomplish, the more successes and accolades, the better. Multitasking is still often viewed as a strength (though brain science has shown that you aren’t as productive as you think).
Moving with intensity and drive also comes laced with internal (and sometimes external) emotional reactions to what your brain is instructing you to do. If you can’t complete what you “should” be doing, then what? Often people experience a shame response when driven by their “should’s.” And they can beat themselves up.
Of course, it’s not just about being still if you are carrying tension and worries from the day. The trick is to learn to be still while quieting your mind and fully relaxing your body. Deep breathing, focusing on your breath, a candle flame or an internal point of attention and/or progressive muscle relaxation can work in tandem to provide some of the following health benefits.
- Help to see more clearly, able to observe our thoughts and feelings without engaging in an emotional response.
- Rewire the neural brain circuitry, trading old patterned responses for new.
- Improve the skill of being in the moment to take attention away from future worries.
- Relieve the physical and mental impact of chronic stress by cortisol reduction.
- Improve communication in your relationships.
- Increase overall resilience.
Rick Hanson, PhD, describes the “fundamental resting space” of the human brain to be peaceful, happy and loving. The brain is reactive around fear which for many fast moving humans, is triggered by failing to accomplish goals or to-do lists (perfectionism), which can feel threatening. Is it possible we perceive danger when none truly exists? Are you reacting or responding?
Learning to be still and relax the body and mind can be not only a grounding opportunity for your busy day but train your brain to be calm and flexible rather than tense and rigid in thinking. If you do it consistently enough, don’t be surprised if you notice less of a need to keep moving and doing at the pace you have been.
Try this stillness practice:
- Sit down in a quiet place.
- Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes.
- Breathe slowly. Follow the breath in and out, noticing how it fills your lungs.
- Notice your body. Scan from head to toe, progressively and intentionally relaxing each muscle.
- Be kind to your mind as it wanders. It will and this is ok. Gently redirect it back, waving away critical self talk.
Set a goal to do this daily but please do not beat yourself up if you are unsuccessful. Begin a few days a week then try to increase. If you can work through the discomfort of doing nothing and self criticism, you may even find yourself looking forward to this practice.
The payoff can be a step towards inner peace and improved relationships as others also start to experience you differently. If you continue to struggle with taking time to slow down and be still, you might consider digging a little into your history to understand what drives your beliefs and behavior. Sometimes there are old wounds and roots to be untangled with a little TLC.2