Do we really disconnect when we hang the ‘closed for holidays’ sign? Are we really pressing the work pause button when we embark on a trip to that destination that we have been waiting for months? The scientific inaccuracy of the possible answers motivated the appearance of silent retreats, a method of physical and mental disconnection whose impact on our stress and anxiety levels is much greater than that of a vacation.
Do we really disconnect and ‘recharge batteries’?
In reality, in many cases we only change one type of stress (work) for another (vacation) of which we are not fully aware. Going out, socializing, being with your partner or family 24/7, the urgent need to get the most out of the place you’ve decided to go to, in addition to the inevitable pressure of ‘working on vacation’, that is, all the time we spend checking emails and worrying about pending issues at the office. In the end, you arrive more stressed when you return to work than if you hadn’t taken your vacation.
Given the situation we are going through, perhaps it is time to change the classic sun and sand vacations for another type of experience more connected with the soul and the restoration of internal balance. We are talking about silent retreats, very much in vogue among important Silicon Valley executives such as Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter.
Far from being a new fad, however, these types of retreats are what made the Esalen Institute famous, a historic hippie hotel on the South Pacific coast of Big Sur, California, founded in 1962, and which inspired the end of the Mad Men series in which Don Draper leaves everything and secludes himself in a meditation center to meet again after his descent into hell.
The new trend of Vipassana meditation and its link with silent immersion programs has revived the interest of the world’s leading business leaders, who undergo silent retreats of between two and ten days on average to regain balance and rediscover their own inner voice.
Silence is the best medicine, and its effect on the brain is more important than we can imagine a priori. A German research group from the Research Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden has worked on experiments in mice to find out what impact silence has on brain and cognitive activity.
In the brains of mice that were left silent for two hours each day, new cells grew in the hippocampus, the region of the brain involved with memory, emotion and learning.
It is widely agreed that the main benefits of silent retreats in humans are:
1. It is a perfect mindfulness exercise
High-level executives and professionals are especially vulnerable to ‘mental noise’ in their day-to-day work. Their brain ends up multitasking and it’s easy for them to frequently find themselves thinking about several things at once. Lack of full concentration can lead to serious mistakes, and relearning to focus on what you are doing at any given moment is vital.
Silent retreats make you very aware of the present and apply purpose to everything you do in each moment, giving you a new appreciation of your actions and your dynamics, both physical and mental.
2. Put your mind in order
The desire to put ideas in order is precisely one of the main reasons why CEOs resort to these retreats. They need to disconnect from all environmental factors that condition their thoughts and decisions, isolate themselves from the overload of stimuli and information to which we are subjected at every moment. Silence is the only way to reconnect with your own thoughts and values, putting into perspective the true dimension of business and life in general.
3. Reduce stress and anxiety
A true disconnection with the world that usually surrounds you is demonstrated through silence that, even in small doses, reduces stress levels and stimulates resilience.
As a collateral benefit, memory improves ostensibly, since stress has a proven influence on the hippocampus due to the stimulation of cortisol production that modifies the structure of the brain and affects the individual’s intellectual performance.
In silent retreat centers, as expected, silence is mandatory. To achieve this (and respect it), there are a series of unbreakable rules and prohibitions, conditions that at first may be difficult to comply with but that, after overcoming the first withdrawal and checking the results on a day-to-day basis, create the desire to repeat:
- Electronic devices are not allowed, so you will not be able to consult social networks, check the mails in your inbox, listen to music…
- Reading is not allowed, as it is another way of distracting the mind from what it really should be, that is, meditation.
- You can’t write either, as it takes the mind away from internalization.
- The dress will be austere and the use of perfume is not allowed to avoid attracting the attention of others.
- Sexual abstinence is mandatory, just as you have to avoid physical contact with anyone, even if you have gone to the retreat with your partner.
- You can not smoke.
- The schedules of the program must be strictly followed.
- Meals are strictly controlled but fasting is discouraged, as hunger distracts the mind from meditation.