Take a Breath


The weeks and months around New Year's is a time of making resolutions, trying to form new habits, and seeing recommendations along those lines. Hardly any seem to suggest we do less, simplify our days, or embrace quiet. Perhaps that could be a filter on seasonal resolutions and recommendations.

I confess that I am not given, generally, to making or offering resolutions. Partly because I believe that taking on new ways of managing our days can start at any point in the year, and also since so few resolutions stick. More importantly, my focus is on shifting how we make sense of the world, and less on looking for cognitive shortcuts.

On the other hand, shortcuts sometimes have something going for them.

Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim on Unsplash

Take the example of meditation. Learning how to effectively meditate can take a great deal of time, and even after that investment can require a large chunk of time daily to gain its benefits, such as reduced stress. For someone who is feeling stressed because of the time pressures of life and work, trying to practice meditation might contribute to stress rather than alleviating it.

On the other hand, new research has shown that simply listening to slow or meditative music for a few minutes can lead to significantly lower blood pressure, slower breathing, and heart rate. Perhaps the most surprising finding is that a two-minute silence following the music had the most significant effect of all. The period of silence drops blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing most of all, more than the music itself.

So, I am offering a shortcut to relaxation, one that only requires a five or ten-minute investment, and which sidesteps yet-another-challenge to improve ourselves. A way to simply silence the mind by listening to music, followed by two minutes of silence. Try it.

I recommend a few tracks that are particularly effective for me:

  • Immunity, by Jon Hopkins, and anything else of his (About 9 minutes, but worth it.)
  • The Pearl by Harold Budd (3:14). The entire album is hypnotic.
  • Turquoise Hexagon Sun by Boards of Canada (5:07). The musician Brian Eno produced.

I'm a believer in more silence, across the board. We should all cultivate more silence, in its many forms, such as intentionally deciding to spend time listening to others, and restraining the urge to broadcast. As Diane Green, cofounder of VMware, puts it,

Quiet time increases the likelihood of asking the right questions.

So give the slow-music-plus-two-minutes-of-silence trick a try. I suggest early in the morning, but it works at any time. We need to slow down, calm our minds, ignite our curiosity, and ask the right questions.

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