Step Away from your Smartphone! What I learned from a two week ‘electronic cleanse’

I just swallowed a well-needed dose of my own medicine!

Each year when I host my international retreats I ask that all of my students abstain from using their electronic devices for the length of the retreat. This usually ensues first in shocked horror at such an outlandish request. People say; “But how will I stay in touch with my family?” or  “What if someone needs me?”. I respond – there are still landlines y’all!  Or then there’s “I just need to make sure everything’s going ok at work.” I calmly assure them – Trust that it will be. Let yourself be where you came to be doing what you came to do: retreat from your everyday and have a well deserved break.

Secondly it’s followed by a case of validation withdrawal; “OMG but I just have to know what everyone is up to (or how my kids are, how my husband, mother, cat are coping without me). They’re fine. They are living their lives and going about their business and if they really need you there’s always that antiquated landline they can reach you on, remember the good old days?

Or “But this place is so incredible, I want to show everyone how amazing it is. Can you take a picture of me doing a handstand in front of that palm tree?!”. The amazingness isn’t going away, the image of you yoga-posing in tropical paradise will be just as jealousy-inducing for your friends to see on the day you leave the retreat.

The practice of letting go of the need to immediately share your experience will mean that instead of spending your week – that’s meant to be ALL ABOUT YOU – in tropical paradise staring at a tiny screen to promote your amazing life with exotic sunsets and new yoga moves, you will have actually experienced BEING in the moment, how novel! It’s often quite scary this being in the moment business, because it brings you up close and personal with all the things that you usually avoid, some of which you may have been avoiding for years. Like Simon and Garfunkel said…Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to walk with you again…

A yoga retreat is the perfect place for facing yourself, pure, undistracted, good, bad or ugly. Allowing yourself to just BE is the recipe for self discovery and transformation. It is a beautiful thing to watch unfold and what makes me incredibly grateful that I am lucky enough to do the work that I do.

Along with actually getting back in touch with who you really are, as an added bonus of being fully present, you will create some real-life deep connections with ACTUAL people face-to-face, and occasionally heart-to-heart (instead of screen-to-screen) and in the process detoxify yourself from what is in my opinion (and experience!) one of the most toxic addictions of the modern age, the scourge of social media.

My purpose in offering people the opportunity to electronically disconnect comes from my own personal experiences with it. I am not preaching to be holier than thou, I am just as ingrained in the obsession of online voyeurism as the next aspiring instagram star.

I love and use social media as an effective business promotion tool but more recently, I have fallen into the horrible habit of both judging the quality of my life against what I see (artificially algorithmically) posted to my newsfeed from other people’s profiles and on the amount of followers/likers I get to my business accounts or anything that I post. BAD YOGI!

The impact of my social media stalkerism means that, though I was a late and begrudging adopter, I have wasted not just days but weeks of my life since joining facebook and more recently instagram, perusing the musings of people that – in reality – often mean very little to me in my everyday life. Yes, some of it is inspirational, some of it is important, funny, or educational. But most of it is pure time evaporation. My hope is that this doesn’t turn in to years of wasted time.

On Christmas eve 2014 I instated upon myself a social media ban until the 1st of January 2015. My last time signing off from the electronic world was in Bali this May and in the intervening months I’d developed some baaaad habits. Like checking my phone first thing when I wake up – before even meditating – BAD YOGI again!

In my 10 days of electronic freedom I remembered what it was like to have NOTHING to do.  And worked through the anxiety this initially gave me and eventually ended up remembering that it’s a perfectly healthy thing, blissful even! I noticed friends attend to their phones while we were in mid conversation, prioritising the ping of an electronic device more than interaction with an actual human physically present with you. I went to sleep more easily and woke up naturally. I found significantly less resistance to sitting for even just a few minutes to start my day with some clarifying breath. After a few days of craving to ‘be a part of’ the lives of others from my electronic persona I realised that my life goes on regardless of what anyone else is up to, and regardless of whether I ‘shared’ the ins and outs of each day. I started using the time I was previously investing in electronic media to look after myself. I read. A book. An actual paper one. Basically, I found freedom.

The funny thing about social media is that it artificially inflates your ego. You think everyone depends on you for their entertainment/news/jealousy inducing updates. Your ego wants people to ‘like’ it. Hey, everyone likes being liked. And if you’re running an awesome online business then maybe people do depend on you, but there’s always room to make a little space for yourself. People are craving space, time out. Why else is yoga the fastest growing pastime globally?

Well there are lots of reasons actually! But one of them is that as humans we are desperate for validation and connection. But a lasting feeling of self worth and achievement can’t be found in a new instagram filter or ironic hashtag. It comes from spending that slightly scary and uncomfortable time with yourself and finding out what’s really ticking down there, deep inside.

Once you’ve identified what that is, the next step is being courageous enough to step up and share your true self with the world. Ironically, that might even be through the platforms of social media J

Until you get to that stage though, I encourage you to step away from the smart phone! Even just for a day as a trial and realise, like I did, that being electronically free opens up not only physical time but mental space and gives you permission to live life on your own terms, without feeling not good enough if you don’t nail your photo a day, or capture that full lotus handstand press. It frees you up to be fully present with yourself or whomever you choose to spend time with.

If you’re keen to give it a try you can join me for a week –long electronic cleanse in tropical paradise complete with Yoga, surfing and Auyrveda this April in Sri Lanka! If that’s a little too much to contemplate, try a long weekend in Kangaroo Valley this March 6-9.

And remember – Be Wild, Be Wise, Be Well!

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