Q: What is the best way to practice silence? How long should I practice it for, and how should I structure my time? Does “silence” always mean not speaking at all?
A: In yoga, the practice of silence, or inner quietude, is called mauna. Mauna comes from the word muni—a saint or a sage—so it means cultivating the quality of being a sage, or doing that which transforms us into being a saintly person. As we silence our mind and silence our senses, that automatically leads to the silencing of our vital organs and our nervous system. Anything that we need to do to silence our mind, silence our senses, is called practicing silence. It is different for each of us, as we all have our own unique things to deal with and work on.
The first step is to speak as little as possible. If possible, don’t speak at all. But if you have responsibilities, continue to do them; just do them in a purposeful and peaceful manner so as to cultivate a quiet mind during this practice. Complete silence is only possible in samadhi. Before that it is the practice of silence, not the state of silence.
Complete silence is only possible in samadhi. Before that it is the practice of silence, not the state of silence.
Start with a short silence practice: 36 hours is manageable, but if you try to do too much without being prepared—a three-day or weeklong or 10-day practice—and if during that time you only do meditation, meditation, meditation all day long, and no books are allowed, it can create a great deal of unrest, and it’s not worth it.
That is why it is important to create a structure for your silence period, one that includes time for meditation, for contemplation and reflection, for hatha and exercise, and for reading spiritual books.
Have meditation be your anchor point throughout the day. Meditate every four or five hours—before going to bed, after waking up, and another two or three times in between. Meditation is the highest practice of silence. While you are in meditation, you have only one object to think about—your pranic pulsation, your mantra, or whatever you use as your point of focus. This quiets your mind.
Once in the morning and once in the evening, for 10 or 20 minutes, reflect on who you are. Disidentify with the part of yourself that you don’t respect, the useless aspect of yourself. For the time being acknowledge (though do not necessarily identify with) the good aspect, the positive aspect, the constructive aspect of yourself—that which is noble and worthy within you. Based on that, reflect on life and everything that is happening inside you and outside you. This will help silence your mind.
Then observe your own inner restlessness. How restless are you? What things are coming forward and demanding that you attend to them? Those thoughts and the objects pertaining to those thoughts have made a very important place for themselves in your life. You have given too much value to them, and the worst part is not that you have given them too much value, but rather that you have given them the power to hijack you, kidnap you. Why is that?
Is it because you don’t have much patience? Is it because you are anxious? Is it because some other mental spices have been added, like hatred, or revenge, or some very strong dislike? What is there that is so strongly grabbing your mind? Pay attention to that.
Along with your meditation and reflection, take time to do your hatha practice. Also take a quiet walk to enjoy the peacefulness and silence of nature.
Then pick up your favorite spiritual book, like the Yoga Sutra, or the Bhagavad Gita, or Living with the Himalayan Masters. Select a passage that is important to you, and use this passage for further contemplation and self-reflection.
When you end your silence, try to come out of it gradually, rather than jumping straight into your regular life. And notice what it is that pulls you out first.
That is how to practice your silence.