Workout of the Day

Can You Get Quiet?


When is the last time you were truly quiet? I don’t mean in a quiet room working on the computer or reading, or in the car driving to work without the radio on. I mean truly quiet, free from diversion or distraction, free from externally directed action, alone with just yourself and with your attention not spread to anything else -- no TV, no cell phone, no book, no busying tasks like driving or brushing your teeth -- just quiet.

Perhaps one of the hardest things to do in our modern world is get quiet. It’s not that there aren’t places or opportunities for it. All of us can find 5 minutes in our day to get quiet -- alone in your car before walking into work, at home before the rest of the house wakes or after they’ve gone to sleep, alone in your office, in nature. The problem is, every time we find ourselves with an opportunity for quiet, we immediately turn to a diversion -- we pick up our phone to check emails or social media, we start doing dishes, we turn on the TV, we start worrying about the past and the future. We’ve become rather bad at being quiet, and have lost sight of its value.

This, I believe, is part of why yoga and similarly quiet and meditative practices have risen in popularity. They, in many ways, force you to be quiet. They force you to focus on breathing, simple movement, and being alone with yourself. There is no amping up, no ego-driven distraction, just moving and breathing and being.

This is a conversation that has been largely nonexistent in the fitness community. There have been and are certainly some who are talking about it, but our world is far more concerned with and puts far more value on other things. But this has led, I believe, to an unbalanced perspective of physical and mental health and fitness and well-being. We put all our stock in yin with no accompanying yang. We’ve trained ourselves to get amped to set PRs, trained ourselves to be “on,” driven, ready, to muster the intensity that yields the best results in the weight room; but when the training is over, we’re stuck in the “on” position. We don’t know how to come down, to turn off the intensity, to create stillness or quiet or rest. We’re entirely untrained in this practice, and it’s taking a toll.

I’ve talked before about the importance of parasympathetic function (here) in the recovery effort. The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is our “quiet” function -- our rest and recover mode. It is opposed by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), our fight or flight mode. Both are necessary and valuable. The problem is when we get “stuck” on one side. Without the ability to get quiet, all of our training efforts begin to overburden and outweigh our recovery capacity. In turn, our training capacities diminish, and we land somewhere in the middle, incapable of mustering much in the way of either intensity or quiet. We tend to put all of our value and effort on the SNS side, but without the other end of the spectrum, we’re a dysfunctional mess.

Like anything else, this takes training. In the same way that you cannot expect to show up to the gym on day one and be a top performer, you cannot expect to suddenly have the capacity to “turn on” your PSNS at the snap of your fingers. Years of practice in diversion and stress and noise and busy-ness pushes you in the other direction. This is where the practice of quiet comes into play. It’s not that we need to be completely still and quiet to get parasympathetic, but this is our training for turning down. It is “intensity” on the parasympathetic end. And with some practice, it helps us understand what it feels like to downregulate, to turn down stress and noise and get ourselves into a state of rest and recovery.

Here’s your assignment: one quiet minute per day. Turn off your phone, the TV or radio, put down the book, stop whatever task or diversion seems to be calling your name, and be completely still and quiet. Breathe deep, and take the minute to be with yourself and keep your mind blank and your attention free. We all have one minute, we just need to make it happen. This is your training. Treat it as such.

Getting quiet may not be as sexy as getting hyped for a PR back squat, but it’s one of the best tools in our toolbox of athletic and all-around improvement (and, little secret: it’ll probably help your back squat too).
One quiet minute per day -- are you up to the challenge?

- PS


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