Interact for Health

City Silence helps people slow down, keep their minds healthy

(Feb 1st, 2016)

On a brisk January morning in downtown Cincinnati, drivers hurry to their destinations and pedestrians hasten along the sidewalk, scarves tightened against the subfreezing temperatures.

But the bustle of the city seems far away for a group of people inside the Contemporary Arts Center at 6th and Walnut. They sit -- some on the plush couches, some on the floor -- without speaking and simply experience themselves and the world around them.

This is City Silence -- simply sitting together silently in public spaces. It’s a type of mindfulness that can improve people’s mental and emotional well-being.

“It’s just a way of slowing down, being in a community, connecting with people you might not otherwise connect with,” says City Silence founder Stacy Sims. “And that seems to be a more civilized way.”

The 2013 Greater Cincinnati Community Health Status Survey found that only about half of Greater Cincinnati adults felt calm and peaceful all or most of the time. Mindfulness can help with that.

“Short periods of daily meditation can help with stress, anxiety, blood pressure, inflammation and obesity,” says Meriden Peters, Interact for Health Program Officer.

But starting meditation can be intimidating. Programs such as City Silence help bring simple meditation practices to the community, Peters says.

There’s really no wrong way to do City Silence, Sims says. Participants might start by noticing the rush of cold air striking their faces as the outside doors slide open. Or they might feel the texture of the carpet beneath their fingertips or hear the whoosh of elevator doors opening. They might focus on their breathing or different parts of their body. They might sit, stand or lie on the floor, for an hour or just a few minutes, whatever they are most comfortable doing. Thoughts may come and go.

“I just wanted to make it as simple as possible,” Sims said. “There are no barriers. It’s sitting. (People) can just sit for a while.”

Kelsey Nihiser, assistant educator and facilitator for City Silence at the CAC, agrees.

“It always sounds daunting at first, sitting with your breath, in stillness, for an hour,” she says. “It never feels like an hour and I tend to lose track of where I am. Afterward I feel more prepared to process my day.”

City Silence participants say the practice helps them relax, focus and keep their minds healthy.

“It’s calming and energizing,” Mary Curran-Hackett says. “I feel centered the entire day when I give myself time to sit quietly.”

In the spring, City Silence will return to Washington Park and expand to local universities and the main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. To learn more about the program and to find a place to take part, please visit www.citysilence.org.