It was 1 AM, and the noise wouldn’t stop. It crept into our bedroom — the tapping of a hammer against a pipe in a rhythmic but disjointed pattern, just loud enough to prevent us from falling asleep. For the third time, I went downstairs to pinpoint the source and again found no answers.
Desperate to do something, I shut off the main water valve. By some miracle, the rattling ceased. Relief. A plumber came the next morning, diagnosed the problem, and fixed it.
That persistent rattling reminded me of the noise that now permeates our minds. It’s not a pounding drum-banging noise, just a soft rattle caused by the constant drip of crisis and vitriol. No valve will turn it off, and no plumber can fix it.
For some, meditation has provided a path to quiet their minds. But for others, like me, it has only dialed up the angst. My last and final go at it ended when I chucked a pair of headphones at the wall and deleted the app from my phone. Twenty minutes a day for six months, and all it did was mimic the effect of a caffeine IV drip.
Fortunately, other options exist. Over the last few years, I’ve been experimenting with tools to quiet my mind, and have experienced some success. The past few months, however, have demanded additional weaponry to silence the disquiet.
These three techniques, spaced out during your morning, afternoon, and evening, provide you a brief but welcomed respite from the outside chatter, giving your brain a chance to unwind and find calm.
Even if you already follow a reliable practice — meditation or otherwise — it’s helpful to stockpile a suite of options for times when you need additional relaxation firepower.
Morning: Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra is an ancient Indian relaxation technique, said to be as old as Yoga itself. Each session lasts 20–30 minutes and is best done with a guide, either live or virtual.
Think of it as a conscious awareness of the deep sleep state. There is some evidence that entering the yoga nidric state can mimic the same delta wave brain activity as deep non-REM sleep, a benefit that initially drew me to the practice.
Years ago, when I struggled with insomnia, I’d stumble out of bed, lethargic, heavy-eyed, and irritable. If you’ve ever been sleep deprived for weeks on end, you know the feeling.
Before starting my day, I’d do thirty minutes of Yoga Nidra to refresh my soul. It was my savior during those dark times — the only thing that brought me relief from sleep deprivation. These days, I use it to quiet my mind.
After losing myself in the social media shit show or fretting over the declining state of affairs, a Yoga Nidra session lets me forget about the outside world for a while.
It takes some practice to reap the full benefits, but even as a beginner, you’ll still enjoy the relaxation and rejuvenation. To begin your journey, I recommend this guided session on YouTube but feel free to find one that suits you best.
Afternoon: Coordination practice
Intense focus on one activity is one way to quiet your mind, but maintaining that focus is challenging. Our minds drift too easily. Even reading a book or going for a walk won’t always allow your brain a respite from the noise.
In contrast, activities that require hand-eye, hand-hand, or hand-feet coordination require more intense concentration, robbing your brain of space to focus on anything else.
In my experience, playing a musical instrument has proven most effective. It’s also a proven stress reducer. When you focus on coordinating your hands and identifying the resulting sounds, it’s nearly impossible for your mind to latch onto anything else.
If playing music doesn’t excite you, some physical activities such as juggling, swimming, Tai Chi, and dribbling a basketball work well too.
If none of those options work for you, take out a few blank pieces of paper and spend ten minutes trying to draw a perfect circle. It’s difficult but remotely possible to do freehand. Coordinating your hand, shoulder, writing instrument, eyes, and touch consumes too much brainpower for your mind to wander. Each circle takes only two or three seconds, so you need to do a lot of them.
Evening: Adagio music therapy
Music therapy has been shown to help patients recover after surgery and improve the spirits of people experiencing mood disorders. Growing research confirms what we know anecdotally — music affects our state of mind.
But what about music to quiet our minds? I’ve experimented with everything from classical music, binaural beats, pop music, jazz, and functional music. After tinkering with various combinations and durations, I’ve found these classical compositions played consecutively, work best to quiet my mind:
Adagio for Strings, Opus 11a, composed by Samuel Barber
Adagio in G minor by Albinoni, arranged by Giazotto
If you have an extra five minutes, you can add:
Adagio Cantabile from Piano Sonata Number 8 Opus 13, composed by Beethoven
Sit in a reclining chair, if possible, and close your eyes. Focus your mind on each note of the melody as it plays. Adagio is a fancy word for a slow tempo, and that slowness allows your mind to grasp the melody and tune-out all the other thoughts fighting for recognition.
When you hear a long note, try to hold onto it while it plays, even extending it a second or two after it stops. Feel your body lengthen as the pitch rises and contract as it lowers. These techniques are remarkably effective at marshaling your brain’s resources and distracting you from the outside world.
Unlike the rattling sound from a faulty water pipe, there’s no permanent solution to quiet our noisy world. But we can temporarily shut off the valve and buy ourselves some rejuvenation.
You don’t need to do all these activities every day, nor in the order I specified. If you’re really pressed for time and can only do one thing, I suggest Yoga Nidra, provided you have the space to lie down, and adagio music therapy if you don’t.
Barry Davret writes about life, relationships, and lessons on growing older. His words are in Forge by Medium, Elemental by Medium, Business Insider, and more.
Image courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio.