Tips and tricks from a yogi’s search for silence
I lay tossing and turning in bed one night, a condition I remedied in the tried and true way: I reached for my phone and tapped open Facebook. And then I took a good hard look at my own life situation (1 am; squinting and scrolling) and thumbed over to “deactivate.”
That was 2015, two years after I began teaching yoga full-time. I was deep into the quest for a calm, clear mind and noticed that no matter how intentionally I approached social media, I inevitably felt distracted when I came out. Quitting Facebook was a symbol of my commitment to myself to spend less time with technology, increase my ability to focus, and explore a new perspective on life. It was the beginning of a two year long digital detox — a deep cleaning, if you will.
By the start of 2018, I was 30 years old, living in Washington DC, and able to run my business of teaching private clients with only half an hour of daily internet access. I had enormous amounts of free time and energy. I taught myself to play the guitar, read numerous books cover to cover, went out for long nature walks, and practiced five hours of yoga daily. My mind was crystal clear.
Today, I live in Manhattan, check my email several times daily, and have rejoined social media but still keep time for long walks and four hours of daily yoga practice. The return to the digital world had been as much a journey as the detox itself — some lessons were learned the hard way. Here are some tips, tricks, and teasers to ease your way into your own digital detox adventure.
How to Digital Detox: Tips
Fundamentally, a digital detox is a rewiring of our habitual reliance on our phones and computers. And like breaking any habit, this is inordinately challenging. I found it helpful to take small steps: first turning off my phone at night, then slowly pushing back the time that I turn it on in the morning, then slowly turning the phone off earlier and earlier in the evenings.
It takes just a minute to turn the phone back on, but you’ll be surprised how long that minute feels when you really just need to take a quick peek at your news feed. The minute that it takes for the phone or computer to turn on is exactly the minute that you need to ask yourself: do I really want to scroll around right now? If you need to do something important, then you will wait one minute for the power to come on. If you’re just bored, you’ll have a minute to think of something else to do. Like:
In breaking our desires to know more, do more, chat more, it helps to tap into a force even more powerful than the internet: nature.
Disconnecting with technology helps us reconnect with nature, and vice versa: immersing ourselves in nature fulfills usin a way that technology and urban environments cannot. Being in nature also helps toimprove our attention and mood, and with the time you’re saving through the digital detox, you can explore your local parks and trails. Perks: you’ll feel happier, while getting physically fitter.
Get an alarm clock
One of the hardest habits to break is waking up to your phone’s alarm and then resisting the urge to take a quick, squinty, one-eyed look at your email, and your instagram, and your facebook, and your twitter, just in case something really important happened overnight. But! waiting a few minutes or even an hour before looking at screens will help you wake up in a clearer, more positive mindset.
I recommend getting an old fashioned alarm clock for your bedroom. Or, if you insist, you can ask Alexa to wake you up. That way, the first thing you see in the morning is the reality of your bedroom. And those first fifteen minutes of the day that you used to spend in bed with your news feeds? You can use that for meditation, or yoga, or breakfast, or just enjoying the peace and warmth of your bed.
Shifts in Perspective: Tricks
The need to digitally detox is older than wifi. Humans have always been addicted to technology; it’s part of what makes us human. Primatologists loosely define humans as the tool-wielding apes. When Jane Goodall first observed chimpanzees using tools in 1960, her advisor, Louis Leakey replied: “Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans”. According to humans that study humans, tools make us human.
So as we try to break our dependence on our latest tools, which are presumably more seductive than stone flints, we have to keep in mind that we are fighting not only our own lifetime of habits but also our evolutionary drive to love technology.
One of the most transformative perspective shifts during my digital detox was the realization that the phone is a tool. That is to say, my phone is a portal to chatting with friends rather than a friendship itself.
Sometimes, we habitually pick up technology (social media in particular) when we are feeling lonely, sad, disappointed, or any other host of emotions that are best supported by friendship, introspection, or creative expression. In these cases, the phone should be a tool that allows us to speak with a true friend, or write ourselves a note, or record ourselves playing music, rather than a way to kill time.
In other cases, we pick up the phone for a valid reason: to send an email or use the camera or some other “smart” feature, and because we see fresh texts or notifications, we get distracted. Once we have used the tool in the capacity it was needed, we can learn to put the tool downand continue with our original course of action rather than get vacuumed back into the digital world. This, like any other learning process, takes time and consistent effort. It’s helpful to keep in mind your reasons for spending less time with tech.
The Low-Tech Life: Teasers
Why are we detoxing again? Oh, yeah: because it feels amazing.
When we are less connected to the digital world, we can sometimes feel anxious about everything we are missing out on, and we can also rely on technology to fill time when we feel tired, bored, or lonely. But studies, and experience, show that media is not the best way for us to recover our energy.
When I had limited my daily tech time down to less than two hours daily, I found far more enjoyment in my work and relaxation. I could work without the audible interruption of incoming texts and emails, which made me more efficient, meaning that I had to work for less time and could play for more time. I would go for long walks without my phone, and because I had no pressure to take photographs or post stories, I could fully immerse myself in experiencing nature. It felt very fulfilling.
Rediscovering the Body
As soon as we look down into our screens, we begin to engage with an intangible reality where our bodies get left behind in the mind’s work and pleasures. Breathing becomes shallow, the spine slumps forward, and energy from the body is directed into the ever-quickening pace of mental efforts and distractions. The effect is a disconnection between body and mind that grows over time, but the converse is also true: once we start to decrease our time in the digital world, we naturally start to reconnect with the physical world. Suddenly, when we are distracted, we are more likely to get up and do something else or go somewhere else rather than just click over to another tab and continue tapping and scrolling. There is no gift more valuable than feeling good in your own body.
The digital world is particularly engaging on a neurological level: there are a variety of salient stimuli popping up without warning. This is like candy for the brain, which is delighted to figure things out and chase after the newest, shiniest stimuli. Sometimes the alerts are positive (new followers on Instagram!) and other times, negative (boss needs something done immediately). In terms of behavioral psychology, this is random reinforcement, which is the most addictive kind of stimuli. We never know what’s going to happen, or when, or whether it will be a pleasant experience.
As we disconnect from the digital world, we still deal with this sort of random stimuli, especially if we are in an urban environment. But even if we are keeping our eyes out for traffic and getting excited about the fall fashions in shop windows, the stimuli we encounter is nowhere near as intense as the digital world. That means we have more time to relax between alerts. This downtime allows our attention span, which is to regrow itself.
The more consistent we are with digital detox, even if it’s just for a couple hours before and after sleeping, the more miraculous the effects on our attention spans. My mind felt far less “noisy”, and I found myself reading countless books cover to cover in a way that reminded me of my childhood.
Real Life Connections
Perspectives shift through habituating to a lower-tech life. Because you have time to look around and enjoy the two or three minute long waits in your life, you begin to notice how much time others spend on their phones. There are so many realms of communication to keep track of, that people who are plugged-in seem less cognizant of their environments, which can translate to seeming rude to real life interpersonal interactions. Your digital detox may make you more beloved to the people you see.
Give your friends and family a heads up
Speaking of beloveds, as you begin your digital detox, let your loved ones know your intention. I did not do this, and was surprised how many people took my digital absence personally, which made it difficult for me to reconnect with them when I returned to social media. Tell them that you’ll be thinking of them (even when you aren’t double tapping their posts) and whenever you are on your phone, send them a note, even if they haven’t sent you anything. After all, that’s one of the best reasons to use technology: connecting with those you love.
Wishing you peace, love, and luck!