Dominica Fisher
November 2, 2022

What Is Silent Meditation?

Q&A with Dominica Fisher, Director of Meditative and Creative Exploration

1. What's silent meditation? Are there any other names for it?

In silent meditation there is no immediate outside guidance or music. There are many different types of silent meditation and words to describe them. One common type of silent meditation from India is called Vipassana, which means to see things as they are.

2. If you can, give a bit of background on the history of the practice and its main uses/benefits as traditionally practiced.

There are many types of meditation all which have their own histories and take many years to fully understand. Google is a marvelous thing for this type of knowledge - I can however, comment on how all meditation is incredibly beneficial and how silent meditation in particular has been helpful in my own practice. Meditation has been proven to expand mind capabilities by growing grey matter, also there are many health benefits of meditation because it takes a person from the flight or flight sympathetic nervous system, which we seem to live in most of our waking lives, to the 'rest, digest and repair’ parasympathetic nervous system. Instead of spending your days in a state of worry and concern, flooding your system with corrosive stress hormones, you learn to momentarily put that stress down and allow the system to rest, digest or repair. In my personal journey silent meditation has led to deep introspection in turn allowing me to understand my motives behind my reactions as well as the knowledge I can reset my train of thought in any environment.

3. Can you explain what the name means, for people who might wonder "Isn't all meditation silent?”

Silent Meditation is without any music or guides. It’s all about tuning into the moment of what is. In guided meditations, you are the silent participant while a trained meditation teacher leads you; this can be in person or previously recorded meditations. There are many types of guided meditations, Chakra, Breath, Connecting with Spirit, and Manifesting to name a few. There are also Shamanic Journeys that involve drums, flutes, or rattles that put the meditator in a type of trance through repetitive sound. There are even sound baths that are performed with singing bowls, chimes and gongs to name a few that create a vibration/frequency which the body resonates with.

In silent meditation there is no music to fall into, no voice to tell you what to think about and no sound vibration to zone you out. You are the driver of the experience in silent meditation. The powerful of silent meditation lies in understanding you have control of your perception of any moment.

4. Are there any key differences between this approach and other common meditation approaches?

Yes as mentioned above the biggest difference between silent meditation and others are that you must take ownership of where your thoughts go, the payoff is control of perception in any moment. With practice (mediation is a practice) you control what thought comes to the forefront.

5. Will this approach to meditation be a good fit for everyone? Or are there potential downsides?

Meditation is a practice that most can benefit from but, there as with everything there are no cure-alls.  Silent meditation is not hard and anyone can try it. It is most effective when one has basic knowledge in types of breath, body scanning meditations and or the practice of Vipassana to be able to anchor the mind when it wanders. These things do not take long to understand, if you’re interested in silent meditation first go do a guided meditation that focuses breath, then one that focuses on scanning of body parts and then try to incorporate this knowledge on your own.

The potential downside of trying this type of meditation without prior guidance or study is that you’ll end up more stressed than when you started.

7. How can you tell if it's not working for you?

Meditation is a practice. Some days you will be able to quiet the mind and disconnect from all the chatter, other times you mind may be more active, and others you may drift into sleep, all are correct. If you give yourself the time and intention to meditate - you’re doing it.

8. Offer step-by-step guidance for how to try silent meditation. Include things like length of time, breath count, etc. where applicable.

When starting out with silent meditation set your timer to 5 min and as you continue your practice you can increase your meditation time.  

The most important phrase in silent meditation is “Isn’t that Interesting.” With this phrase the wandering mind acknowledges you heard it and you go back to the focus you were working on. Noticing thought can also be the practice in itself.

Here are some more great tools to focus the mind:

Breath, (this is not about watching the breath go in and out) Breath is about practicing different types of breath and how long can you sustain controlling the breath. - the mind will wander. Without judgement you say to your mind “Isn’t that interesting.” And then continue on focusing on the type of breath you’re working on.

Here are some types of breath you can try at home:

Box Breath (4 part breath)

Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count 4. Exhale for a count of 4. Hold nothing for a count of 4. Repeat at least 3 times. You can start to increase the count if 4 counts seems too small.

Purpose/Impact - Bringing body from a sympathetic state (fight or flight) into a parasympathetic state (rest, digest and repair)

Hara (Basic Belly Breathing)

Inhale - belly expands, Exhale – belly relaxes.

Purpose/Impact  – Focus in the mind

Digra (3 part breath)

Start with inhaling into the belly, then the rib cage, then the collar bones and reverse on the exhale

Purpose/Impact  Calms the mind, releases muscle tension, reduces stress/anxiety, increases oxygen supply and keeps lungs healthy

Sitali (Cooling Breath)

Start with mouth slightly open and if able to curl the tongue into a U shape. Inhale as if through a straw, close mouth to exhale through nose.

Purpose/Impact  – Cools the body and the mind

Body Scanning -  To imagine without judgement the space in specific parts of your body.

Start with the space in between your eyes and work your way down. Many times body parts will ‘call’ to you to give them attention, follow this impulse - there is no right way to scan. For example as you’re imagining the space in your nose, the crown of your head may tingle - just follow these cues naturally and make your way throughout the body.

If nothing is calling to you just make your way down systematically. Say you’re at your nose, then move to your lips then to your chin, your neck and so on -  there is no right way. This is about focusing your mind and giving your body attention.

Here’s an easy list (don’t worry about getting it right)

Focus on the space in between your eyes

The crown of your head

The back of your head

Your neck, Shoulders, Arms, Hands, Chest, Belly, Pelvis, Thighs, Shins, Ankles, Feet

As you can see from above, you can be as specific as you’d like (nose, lips, etc) or as general as you’d like.

Putting it all together - As you increase your timer, you can incorporate all three; breath, scanning, and “Isn’t that Interesting.” Start with breath and give yourself a certain amount of rounds of breath you’ll go through (5 is a great option), then move to body scanning, then move to simply noticing what arises - maybe you start to explore where you hold tension, can you release it? Etc. - Be curious about yourself, but never judgmental - the response is always, “Isn’t that Interesting."

Purpose/Impact  – Calms the body and the mind; refocuses; setup for sleep

9. Can a meditation coach/teacher help you practice this, or other meditation approaches?

Yes definitely. A couch/teacher can help by giving instructions beforehand on what to think about and tools for when the mind wanders (ps. all minds wander)  Together you can work in 5 min increments and build all the way up to 30 minutes and maybe beyond. In other meditation approaches your teacher/guide not only tells you before on what to expect but is also a voice throughout the meditation for your mind to grab hold of and bring it back from wandering thoughts.

10. Can you offer any tips on finding someone? (A few links to helpful meditation resources or ways to find a teacher)

  • My teacher is wonderful who also offers certification in meditation - Rajni Tripathi -
  • There are great talks and how to’s on Silent Meditation in the Insight Timer App.
  • Lastly, I offer private meditation over zoom or FaceTime or in person at BIAN Chicago.

11. If meditation isn't helping with mental health issues, might it be better to reach out to a therapist?

Absolutely! Always explore your options if you feel like you’re still in need of relief. Many times, meditation is used in conjunction with therapy. No 'one way' is right for everyone, and more often that not practices are combined to create an ecosystem of personal wellness - the keys are: open-mindedness, listening to intuition and understanding that wellness is a journey that last your entire lifetime.

Members can join Dominica at the club regularly with an array of silent meditation classes that she holds.

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