Silence for Health
Silence is under-rated in our stimulation-rich, things-to-do, must-never-get-bored, society. The ceaseless attentional demands of modern life put a significant burden on the prefrontal cortex of the brain, where we organise thinking, decision-making and problem-solving. Over time, of course, our attentional resources become depleted. As a result, we become mentally fatigued, and may struggle to focus, solve problems or come up with new ideas.
But the brain can restore its cognitive resources when we lower levels of sensory input—during silence, for instance.
Silence can regenerate brain tissue. Researchers have found that only two hours of silence a day can generate to new cells in the hippocampus, a key brain region associated with learning, memory and emotion. These findings suggest that silence could be therapeutic for conditions like depression and Alzheimer’s, which are associated with decreased rates of neuron regeneration in the hippocampus.
Silence does something tangible to our sense of self. When there is little input to process from outside, we have an opportunity to process our inner lives. As the 'noisy' part of our thinking is only the thinnest veneer of our mental processes, training in quietude (such as meditation or mindful movement) enables access to aspects of mind which are deeper, bigger, wiser.
Reference: Kirste, Imke & Nicola, Zeina & Kronenberg, Golo & Walker, Tara & Liu, Robert & Kempermann, Gerd (2013). Is silence golden? Effects of auditory stimuli and their absence on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Brain structure & function.