Can you remember a time when you were more intentional with your use of technology? Can you recall the joys of the internet cafe, singing up for 30 minutes of online action and getting all your emails to read and send while you grabbed a cup of coffee? I have fond memories of my first email account being born in an internet cafe on the East Coast of Australia. For anyone who has travelled the internet cafe was a hub to meet other people, connect to friends and family back home in a more precious, mindful and likely more efficient manner. It's hard to believe that the majority of our communication can now be done with our friend the smartphone! With the birth of social media, and the endless algorithms it easy to start spending more time with your smartphone and devices than anyone else. While they are fantastic to maintain connections to people all over the world it can be hard to use these tools mindfully. How can we do a simple digital detox the yogi way?
What is Pratyahara and how can it help us to detox from technology?
Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. In Sanskrit, Pratyahara means to draw towards the opposite. Pratyahara is the ability to withdraw from our senses (taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing) to focus on concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana) and enlightenment (Samadhi). Withdrawing our senses from the external world also allows us to remove the negative influences in our lives and turn the focus inwards. Pratyahara cultivates an ability to be less distracted by unhealthy habits and to be more present. This process allows us to observe our minds and start to control our conscious thought patterns. The presence of technology and our reliance on it is a big obstacle to practicing Pratyahara. Using digital technology more consciously can help us to guide attention and be more grounded. The idea of a digital detox may sound like a gimmick but it can be so helpful to take time to reflect on your usage of technology, withdraw from it and energise yourself in other ways. Practicing Pratyahara with a digital detox can help to quieten the mind and balance our energy.
5 steps for a digital detox
Step 1: Reflect on your use of technology
Take a piece of paper and write down all the formats of technology that you use each day and what you are using them for. Create a list of the ways you communicate, find information and news and look for ideas and inspiration. You can also add thoughts on how each type of communication makes you feel. Do the constant notifications on Whatsapp groups make you feel anxious, does sitting for over an hour on a Zoom call induce feelings of lethargy, does the endless scrolling on Facebook make you feel like you are missing out. When you have a list read it out loud or even better share it with a friend or relative. Being honest with yourself about your use of external stimuli is really the first step to making a change. Not all use of technology is unhealthy but this activity might identify habits that you would like to be healthier.
Step 2: Set an intention
Set acceptable behaviours for your use of technology and some habits that you would like to change. Create ground rules for how you would love your relationship with technology to look. This might mean that you are happy to pick up the phone to speak to friends and loved ones but that you don't want to look at your Whatsapp or social media for a few days. Think of times when you would like to be present for yourself and others. This could mean saying goodbye to your smartphone as a dinner companion or using an alarm clock instead of your phone to wake you up in the morning. Set realistic ground rules that will challenge you, allow you to have time away from your devices and at the same time make you feel great when you stick to them. Hopefully, you can maintain some of these new healthier habits at the end of the detox.
Step 3: Choose your boundaries
No time will be perfect as communication and connection are engrained in our daily lives. If you are noticing that using technology is impacting your emotional wellbeing then maybe the time for a detox is now. If this is your first digital detox then start small. Being more intentional for one day will have great benefits. If you know that being totally offline will increase anxiety and you have valid reasons to be in regular contact with loved ones then find a time to communicate that allows you to have some contact-free time. You might be able to incorporate a few hours of detox instead of a whole day. If you do intend to switch off a method of communication then let your loved ones know ahead of time how and when they can get hold of you if they need you.
Step 4: Find focus and flow
Think about going back to old skool methods for some of the things that you use technology for. This could be paperback books instead of a digital reader or buying a local newspaper instead of reading the news online. You may even be able to find a book share in your neighbourhood, and if there isn't one think about starting one. We all have a book on the shelf that we enjoyed reading and will not read again and better to give it a second life. If you use your smartphone for music, switch on the radio or find some old CDs in the drawer, or even better make some music of your own. Try to find something that helps you concentrate and achieve a state of flow on one activity.
Step 5: Be the observer
Anytime during your detox that you feel an urge to open the laptop, smartphone or start scrolling ask yourself why. What is it that you are searching for? More often than not we use technology in place of other needs that could be met with more enriching practices. If you are bored then why not read a book or go for a walk. If you feel like you need a connection with people then write a letter or check to see how your neighbour is by sticking your head over the fence. The world is full of opportunities to engage with ourselves or other beings but we need to lift our heads away from our smartphones and take our fingers off our keyboards to do that. This is a great time to try a simple meditation practice, a body scan in Savasana or some breathwork. Five minutes of being still and connecting to your breath will be so much more calming than the dopamine hit from a device.
By following these simple steps for a digital detox we can create healthy boundaries with technology, find focus and concentration in healthy activities and be intentional with how we connect to ourselves and others. Why not give it a try? Take time to withdraw from the external stimuli and feel that sense of control return.
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