The Science of Sitting Still


How I learned to pause movement and find peace

We live in a world that is always on the go.


We are constantly bombarded with stimulation, and it can be difficult to find a moment of peace. But there is value in doing nothing.

In our fast-paced world, the art of sitting still may seem like a lost cause, but there are actually many benefits to slowing down and taking a moment to breathe.

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In this article, we’ll explore the science of sitting still and how I was able to change my life for the better.

“In an age of movement, nothing is more critical than stillness.” — Pico Iyer

Read also: Smart people don’t rush things: they quietly do these things instead

Rapid Recharge

By taking a break from the hustle and bustle, we give our minds and bodies the chance to recharge.

When we sit still, our bodies naturally begin to relax. We may not realize it, but the simple act of sitting down can help to reduce stress levels and promote feelings of calm.

When we’re feeling stressed, our bodies are in a state of “fight or flight.”

This means that our heart rate and blood pressure are elevated, and we’re more likely to breathe quickly and shallowly. A study published in 2006 in the Heart journal, showed that even 2-minutes of silence dramatically lowered blood pressure.

In contrast, when we’re calm and relaxed, our heart rate and blood pressure decrease, and we tend to breathe more slowly and deeply.

This “rest and digest” state is crucial for good health, as it allows our bodies to repair and regenerate.

One of the best ways to promote relaxation is to practice stillness. When we’re still, we’re less likely to dwell on past events or worry about future ones. Instead, we’re able to simply be present in the moment and appreciate the things around us.

Instant Therapist

The ability to sit still is often seen as a sign of self-control.

After all, it requires the body to remain virtually motionless for a short or extended period of time. However, there are actually many benefits to sitting still.

For one, it helps to promote calm centeredness. When the body is in constant motion, it sends a message to the brain that something is wrong and that the individual needs to be on alert.

However, when the body is still, it sends a message of safety and relaxation. As a result, individuals who are able to sit still often find that they are better able to focus and feel more relaxed overall.

In addition, sitting still can also help to improve breathing and reduce stress levels.

Stillness is an instant therapist.

I’m not saying that sitting still replaces traditional therapy. It does not. However, a good therapist is not always within reach 100% of the time. Yet, you can “still yourself” almost anytime or anywhere.

The next time you find yourself feeling antsy, try taking a moment to sit down and be still. You may be surprised at how much better you feel afterward.

Environmental Bonding

Sitting still can also help us to connect with our surroundings and appreciate the beauty of the present moment.

The world is a busy place.

There’s always something to do, somewhere to be, and someone to see. In our hectic lives, it’s easy to forget to just stop and appreciate the world around us. But there are actually many benefits to taking a moment to sit still and simply observe the world around us.

For one thing, it can help us to feel more connected to nature and the world at large.

“Men do not mirror themselves in running water, they mirror themselves in still water. Only what is still can still the stillness of other things.” — Zhuangzi

When we never slow down, we tend to view the world as an impersonal place that exists outside of us. But when we take the time to slow down and really look at our surroundings, we start to see the world as a living, breathing thing that we’re a part of.

We begin to understand our interconnectedness with all life, and we feel a deep sense of connection and belonging. Additionally, sitting still can also help us to feel more connected with ourselves.

Promote Peace

One of the biggest benefits of sitting still is that it can help promote peace of mind.

When we remain constantly in motion, our minds are also constantly racing, thinking about everything that needs to be done. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress.

But when we take the time to sit still and clear our minds, we give ourselves a chance to relax and de-stress. In fact, studies have shown that regular stillness can help reduce anxiety and improve overall mental health.

2016 research published in The New York Academy of Sciences points out:

Mind wandering and mindfulness are often described as divergent mental states with opposing effects on cognitive performance and mental health. Spontaneous mind wandering is typically associated with self-reflective states that contribute to negative processing of the past, worrying/fantasizing about the future, and disruption of primary task performance. On the other hand, mindful awareness is frequently described as a focus on present sensory input without cognitive elaboration or emotional reactivity, and is associated with improved task performance and decreased stress-related symptomology.

Mental Resilience

When it comes to achieving clarity and mental toughness, sitting still can be a powerful tool.

In our fast-paced world, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We’re constantly bombarded with stimulation, and our minds are always speedrunning from one task to the next.

But when we take a moment to sit still and quiet our minds, we give ourselves a chance to hit the reset button. By clearing our minds of all the clutter, we can better focus on what’s important.

This allows us to see things more clearly and make better decisions.

A 2021 study found that silence alone promoted better focus and concentration when performing high-effort mental tasks. Combined with stillness, the results are perhaps even greater.

Furthermore, sitting still requires a certain amount of discipline and mental toughness. It can be difficult to stay focused when there’s no external stimulus to keep our attention span alive.

But if we can learn to sit still and remain calm in the midst of chaos, we’ll be better equipped to handle whatever life throws our way.

How To Sit Still

When you find yourself feeling frazzled, take a deep breath and allow yourself to do nothing. You may just find that it was exactly what you needed.

Give Yourself Permission

Sitting still is something that can be difficult for a lot of people, myself included.

For me, the biggest barrier to sitting still was giving myself permission to do so. I had to force myself to sit outside and do nothing for a few minutes. Once I did that, it was easier to relax and let go of all the thoughts racing through my head.

Let Go Of Expectations

The other day, as I relaxed in a chair on my porch, I was trying to clear my mind, but all sorts of intrusive thoughts kept creeping in. I began to feel frustrated and antsy — like I was wasting my time.

Then I remembered an epiphany I once had:

You don’t have to meditate, pray, or figure out a way to empty your mind. Just sit there and do nothing. Don’t make a big deal of it. Don’t expect miracles, inspiration, or huge life changes. Just go do nothing. Sit there and look around. Or close your eyes. Don’t worry about your breathing or your thoughts. Watch a tree. Watch a bug. Or listen to the rain. It doesn’t really matter.

That simple advice has stuck with me over the years, and it’s helped me to find stillness in the midst of chaos.

Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed by thoughts or emotions, I just remind myself to sit still and do nothing. And in those moments of stillness, I find some peace and clarity.

Start Small

It’s easy to think that in order to reap the benefits of stillness, you need to dedicate hours of your day to sitting in silence.

Read also: 10 habits that made me sharper & smarter (must read)

However, that simply isn’t the case.

In fact, one of the best ways to start your meditation practice is by starting small with what I like to call “micro stillness.” Micro stillness is all about taking brief moments throughout your day to focus on your breath and still your mind.

You can do it anywhere and doesn’t require any special equipment or training. All you need is a few minutes and a willingness to not do anything else.

So how do you do it? Let me explain one of my simple practices.

The first step is to find a comfortable place to sit or lie down (you can also do it standing up, if necessary). Once you’re settled, simply close your eyes and begin focusing on your breath.

Pay attention to the way your chest rises and falls with each inhalation and exhalation.

If your mind begins to wander, simply redirect your attention back to your breath. You may also want to count each breath, letting your mind rest on the number as you exhale.

For example, inhale for a count of four, then do exhale for a count of four. Continue counting until you reach ten, then start over again at one.

Remember, you don’t need to close your eyes, focus on your breath, or sit in a yoga pose. You can simply sit on a park bench and watch the leaves of a tree flowing in the wind.

Keep stillness simple.

Contributed by Christopher Kokoski

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