I began teaching yoga classes at a local fitness club in 1997. I had not spent much time in a gym since high school and the fitness club’s equipment and amenities were far better than I had anticipated. There were rows of gleaming weights, treadmills, exercise bikes and lots of machines. What surprised me was how audibly and visually overwhelmed I felt. On top of the bright lights, clanking weights and whirring treadmills, there was loud music echoing off the walls and rows of televisions hanging from the ceiling. It was a relief to go to the relatively quieter and calmer room where the yoga classes were held.
Since then I have become increasingly aware of how much noise and visual activity we have around us. My car dealership has a huge television in the waiting room. Airports have monitors hanging from the ceilings usually showing CNN. I may be getting older and more sensitive or just cranky, but the music in many of the clothing stores seems to be getting louder. I left one recently because I could feel the floor vibrating beneath my feet and my clothes shook in time with the bass.
This constant and often intrusive stimulation is different than a little background music that sets a mood and can be ignored or using music with a strong beat to accompany an exercise routine. These are sounds and images we do not choose and are hard to block out; they make it difficult to think our own thoughts and to concentrate.
Finding times and places to enjoy peace and quiet seems to be increasingly elusive. We have all seen pictures of people sitting on porches just watching the world go by. In some ways this seems rather quaint in our busy society today. With cell phones, Blackberries and a host of small mobile gadgets, we can be and are often expected to be accessible anywhere at anytime.
Interestingly, when some people are given a few minutes of peace and quiet, they do not know what to do with themselves. Every yoga class at our studio ends with final relaxation which is about five to ten minutes where everyone lies down and relaxes. I often see people in the first few classes fidgeting impatiently and some have admitted they feel uncomfortable being idle. It is so simple to go through an entire day without a moment of silence or time to reflect that unoccupied time can be unsettling. After a few weeks of adjustment, most people look forward to the end of the class where they can just let go.
In the last few years, I have had many requests for more inwardly focused classes. In fact one person suggested more silent classes specifically because there is so much noise in our lives. Her email resulted in the Silent Practice short course. The Learn to Meditate short course and the Movement, Breath, and Meditation classes soon followed. All of these classes allow people to turn away from outside distractions so they have a calm, quiet time for themselves.
Thinking back on the past week, did you have any time to be alone with your thoughts? Is it possible for you to enjoy a little uninterrupted time without distractions? Are you willing to try?