With Labor Day here and stores already pummeling us with Halloween gear, these last few official weeks of summer are an opportunity to relax, renew and fortify your mind to reap the wellness benefits of peace and quiet — before the cacophony of holiday-related, nonstop busyness that the rest of the year can bring.
We chat with experts about the power of silence and tips on where to find it:
It’s a noisy planet. So much so that research calls noise pollution a “modern plague” and a threat to our health and well-being. “Noisy, chaotic environments increase stress levels, and chronic stress has been shown to... suppress immunity, increase risk of heart disease and diabetes, while also increasing inflammation,” says Dr. Brent Bauer, director of research at the Mayo Clinic’s Integrative Medicine Program.
Spending time in a tranquil environment can repair some of the damage, and may even aid cell regeneration.
In researching the effects of silence on mice, “We found beneficial effects” on the brain, says scientist Imke Kirste, a researcher on a report titled in part, “Is silence golden?” The upshot of her findings is something that we need to be reminded of again and again: avoid that which causes stress.
And for many of us, that’s endless noise of one kind or another.
Just finding a sliver of solitude is not enough.
“What happens in a silent environment is probably a more important question. In other words, if I go to a quiet place and ruminate about past mistakes or future worries, I am probably not much better off. But if I use the quiet environment to help set a different focus for my mind – to become mindful, focused on the moment, meditative – I can then begin to experience the relaxation response, the reverse of the stress response,” says Bauer, who suggests engaging in meditation, guided imagery, yoga, tai chi, etc. “These mind-body practices have scientific evidence suggesting that, as part of a wellness lifestyle, they can improve... general well-being in a myriad of ways.”
Once you start, there might be no turning back.
The Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is located northeast of Big Sur, away from city sights and sounds and it doesn’t have Wi-Fi, to better enhance its practices and programs that revolve around finding moments of silence in a loud and chaotic world.
“The babble of constant communication that surrounds us needs a strong, silent container in which to dissipate…,” says Susan O'Connell, former president of the San Francisco Zen Center, which includes Tassajara as one of its temples. “Most people, when they get a taste of this silence, realize how essential it is.”
Silence is golden: Tips for finding it in the Golden State and beyond
Look for a dark destination
“Usually dark places are also silent places. In looking for relative quiet in California you want to go off the beaten path. Search for areas a little less traveled,” says Dan White, author of “Under the Stars: How America Fell in Love with Camping, adding, for example, if you’re in Yosemite, get away from most visitors and into the backcountry or head to less touristy California destinations such as Stanislaus National Forest and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Other recommendations include Washington state’s Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park and International Dark Sky Park: Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico, Cedar Breaks Certified International Dark Sky Park in Utah and other parks that are Dark Sky Certified.
Research your campsite
“If people are looking for silence, you absolutely need to backpack into the spot. It makes a lot of sense to go onto Google Earth and see if there is infrastructure and highways near the camping area. You can even figure out if there are plane flyovers if you do your homework,” says White. “When you’re trying to camp silently the biggest threat isn’t necessarily mechanized noise or even other campers. It’s what’s going on over your head that makes the biggest impact.”
Get away from your smartphone ...
“These days, one strong component of silence is being unreachable in terms of your cellphone and Wi-Fi. For me that’s an incredibly important part of silence,” says White. “You can have a silent campground camping experience, but if your cellphone is going off and you’re getting message icons all the time, it’s almost as if you’re in work mode and it almost invalidates the silence.”
… and connect with others
When you pry yourself away from your smartphone and social media, interact with the real, live people in your life by spending time with them without the cyber-distractions.
Immerse yourself In shinrin-yoku
In California we’re blessed with a wealth of outdoor space, and a contemplative walk in the woods has been shown to have immune-boosting properties. The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku. You’ll see it on Instagram as oh-so-trendy “forest bathing” and you can give it a try at twice-a-month sessions at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanical Garden. You can also find out more at the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine.
Need help? Search for a silent retreat or workshop
Monasteries, such as Redwoods Monastery in Whitethorn, Ca. often host silent retreats. (Amenities may seem bare bones to those accustomed to more luxe accommodations, but that is kind of the point.) Silent retreats are offered all over the world. Some other locations in the U.S. that host silent retreats include: Spirit Rock in Woodacre, Ca, Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in San Francisco, Esalen in Big Sur, the Omega Institute in New York and Kripalu Yoga Center in Massachusetts.
Try noise-canceling headphones
Can’t find or aren’t near a quiet sanctuary in L.A., but you need silence stat? Try noise-canceling headphones that shut it all away. We like the Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones II, bose.com, on sale now at $299.95.