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The importance of stillness

Stillness can be defined as the absence of movement and sound. But does such a place exist? In a world full of chaos and a mind

constantly whirling, finding such a realm is no easy task. The globe, and the mind, will continue to turn, because that is their job. But if you want more ease and joy in your life, it is your job to find a still, quiet place in the centre of that ever-moving, constantly changing landscape. Yogic practices don’t make the stormy world, or your thoughts, go away. Rather they lead us to connect with our centre, the eye of the storm. Finding that refuge deep inside you and feeling it regularly allows you to access a part of yourself that cannot be battered by the cyclone outside. As we identify more with this hub as our home, rather than identifying with the external world, we become more skilful at dealing with the inevitable challenges we face.

The power of a pause

“It all comes through learning to pause for a moment, learning not to just impulsively do the same thing again and again. It’s
a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filling up the space. By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness.

“The result is that we cease to cause harm. We begin to know ourselves thoroughly and to respect ourselves.” ~ Pema Chödrön

Fundamental restlessness

If you’ve ever tried to sit and close your eyes for a moment to meditate, or just take a break, you may have felt that fundamental restlessness Chödrön is talking about.

According to yoga, it is giving us a glimpse of prana, or life force, moving through us. We feel that through sensation — by pausing, slowing things down, concentrating and ceasing our own movement and sound. Sitting in silence is not something stationary, rigid, stiff or stuck. It’s dynamic, ever-changing and always in motion. Because as energy moves through the manifest world, it does so in flow, like an electrical current charging through its pathways. When we feel this, we understand our restlessness is not something to be concerned about or fix. It’s the very thing keeping us alive so we can experience the essence of life, discover why we are here and understand who and what we are.

Beyond the monkey mind

Once we accept our intrinsic restlessness, we start to notice the similar agitation of the mind. Space in meditation allows us to observe the “monkey mind”, or its tendency to jump around, from thought to thought. We perceive how messy and muddled our mind really is, and by sitting with it, just like spending time with a friend we are getting to know, we become familiar with the patterns of its eternal restiveness. We see our mind and the world around us more clearly. This is why regular, consistent time in practice is so important. It doesn’t need to be heroic; it could be just a few minutes every day. But taking the time to watch our mind’s madness may be the very key to sanity. As we see this separation between ourselves and our thoughts, we identify less with the mind, and more with that part of us observing it all. In this way we start to identify with the ocean of our being, rather than the waves of our thoughts.


Shenpa is a Buddhist idea that each and every one of us will get triggered by others. We don’t know when or how, but what we do know with certainty is that we will. As a result, fear, aversion, panic, hatred, jealousy, greed, resentment, a desire to run, will all follow. Despite the bad press we give them, negative feelings are not a bad thing. They can be profound teachers, shining a light on the parts of us in darkness, if we desire growth and healing. Patanjali refers to a similar concept in the second pada of the Yoga Sutras, when he introduces the kleshas, or afflictions. Because we are so attached to the ego, he says, rather than anchoring to the deeper part of ourselves, we bounce around between rightness, judgement, aversion, attachment and fear. In the moment we are triggered, we have two options: to pause, feel and respond consciously; or to react directly to the trigger, which is what we usually do. And that generally doesn’t go so well.

Breaking the pattern

When we pause and sit with the darker parts of ourselves, allowing emotional responses to rise (as they inevitably will), we see where we are still stuck. The pause allows an opportunity for self-knowledge. We receive insight as to what needs to be resolved and healed. Pain and discomfort are part of the human condition, and instead of avoiding it, a moment of stillness allows us to face that head on. Chödrön refers to this as “leaning into the needle” instead of continually backing away, seeking comfort, numbing ourselves or running as fast and far as we can. Only once we recognise our patterns can we choose to do something different, break the bonds of them and finally be free.


Without regular time for stillness, the mind will keep getting stirred up and dictating our actions. Just like a glass of muddy water scooped out of a pond, if you let it sit, with time and patience the silt settles and we see things as they are. This gives us clarity where

we had none previously, and confidence in what to do next. Conversely, if we never allow any space to let the dust settle, we will walk around meeting each other like glasses of muddy water. When we are unable to see things clearly, we are unable to see one another clearly, we are confused and anxious and our relationships suffer. No wonder there is so much miscommunication and misunderstanding between us all in this busy time we live in, none of us with the time to let our dust settle. And yet is there anything more important than doing so? Is there anything more important than seeing the people we love and things we experience with complete clarity?

The more we connect with ourselves — the good, bad and ugly parts — the more fully we can relate to others. That window we take to disconnect from the external world in solitude may be the very thing that allows us to connect to the world around us more effusively.

Stillness as an anchor

Studying with Philippe Gaulier at theatre school in Paris, we were taught first and foremost to have a good “fixed point”, to find an anchor point on stage. He believed actors moved around all the time to hide their soul; they were afraid to show themselves completely in stillness and silence. “Your only job as an actor is to show your soul!” he would shout at us. “Stop hiding!” As always he was also teaching me about life outside the theatre. The better our fixed point, the better the relationship with the audience. In the same way, the more anchored we are in the self, the better connections we have with ourselves and others. The more we anchor to that steady, still part of ourselves, the more we can connect to, and ultimately show, our soul.

Practice of stillness


Pranayama allows us to become intimate with the breath. There is much to be learned from simply observing the pause, the stillness, at the top of the inhale and the end of the exhale, for example. What we touch in that moment of spaciousness can teach us much about the power of stillness and how it is directly connected to our life force.

Box breathing — watching the pause

Sitting with a tall spine, eyes closed, mouth closed, breathe in through the nostrils to a count of four, pause at the top of the inhale. If you can, hold for four, then exhale for a count of four and pause at the top. If you can, hold for four. Continue for a few minutes. Finish on an exhale. Pause and reflect.

Stillness from movement

In a similar way, it is very powerful to observe the space of stillness we can enter after a conscious physical practice: taking savasana at the end of a strong flow asana class, or the experience of looking out at the vista at the end of a hike up a mountain. It can take a great deal of physical and mental effort to reach a state of complete rest.

It is also powerful to notice how challenging it can be to stay in a long hold of a pose, how quickly we want to escape intense sensation. As we learn to sit with the intensity of a pose on the mat, so too do we harness our ability to sit with it off the mat.

As you practise these for at least 10 breaths each, try not to back out of sensation; rather focus on the breath.

Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2)

Step the feet wide. Heels in line. Toes on front foot pointing forward, back toes turned in. Lift the pelvic bones up. Climb the ribs up. Front knee over ankle, in line with toes. Reach the arms out so. Focus on your breath if the sensations get loud. Step forward and pause. Swap legs.

Chair pose (Uttkatasana)

Feet together or hip-width apart. Bend knees and reach arms up. Shift the shins back trying to set knees over ankles. Pick the frontal hip bones up. Take 10 breaths. Then bend knees, lowering the buttocks to the earth. Float toes off earth for the next pose.

Boat pose (Navasana)

Balancing on buttocks, toes floating off earth, spine tall, extend all four sides. Take shins parallel to the earth, or extend legs.

Forearm plank

Set hips above knees, forearms parallel on the earth. Tuck toes and extend legs. Walk feet so that heels are hip width and in line with buttocks and shoulders. Stay here or lift one leg to sky.


“Deepen your relationship with Om. How? By listening to the silence.” ~ Manorama D’Alvia

In the yoga lineage, it is believed that the goal of yoga is to hear the unstruck sound. By chanting “Om”, it is said, and noticing the silence before and after, we learn something about the unstruck sound. Sit with a tall spine, close your eyes and take a clearing breath. Take three Oms, listening to the silence before and after each Om. Sit in the stillness after.

Nada yoga

Nada yoga is the practice of listening in order to ultimately hear the nadam or deep inner sound. As we practice listening more intently to hear the more subtle sounds, over time we may increase our capacity to hear the most subtle, the silent. As we journey deeper, we connect with the nadam. What we learn is that in the absence of sound is an even richer soundscape.
In the external world we start to listen instead of waiting our turn to talk. Or perhaps we hear the things not said by those around us. Our intuition may grow as we foster an awareness to really hear another. Sitting with a tall spine and eyes closed; notice the sounds around you. Search as far as you can hear into the distance, and then listen to sounds closer
and closer. Try not to make meaning of any sounds. Hear them as vibration in space. After a few minutes, shift awareness to hearing internal sounds. Sit for five minutes in this way.


Recline on a bolster or lie on your back. As you relax each body part, listen to the sounds around you and then see if you can let the breath and listening more subtle. Drop into the internal sounds once more. In stillness and silence, feel who and what you are, that still part of yourself. The anchor. Stay for as long as you can.


Article featured in WellBeing Magazine 208

Rachael Coopes

Rachael Coopes

As a mama, writer, Play School presenter and yoga teacher, Rachael Coopes loves storytelling and yoga philosophy. A Certified 800-hour Jivamukti teacher with more than 1000 hours of training and a decade of teaching, she currently facilitates Yoga Teacher Training programs at BodyMindLife. She is eternally grateful to all her teachers.

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