I’d rather be the one that smiled, than the one that looked away. I started chatting to a stranger in the coffee shop the other day (I can thank Mum for my chatty nature!). He was a slightly older American guy going about his business, we were both short of internet for whatever reason so the coffee shop was the perfect make shift office. After we had been chatting for a while he said that he assumed previously that I was Australian – because 1) people always think I am because of my weird ‘global accent’ and 2) London people are way more “stand off-ish” so I couldn’t be British. I am British, but not stand off-ish (or as far as I know I’m not!) By opening up to a stranger I discovered not only had we both just moved into the same neighbourhood, we actually worked for the same company at some point and both lived in New York. I had a wonderful long, interesting conversation which included ACTUAL interaction with another human, not just digital “social” interaction. I realised something as small as this was actually part of a bigger picture.
All too often we avoid actual conversations in lieu of screen time. This for me is something completely the opposite to our nature as humans (although I’m guilty as charged of doing the very same thing!). I saw a quote one day that said that:
“It’s the first time in history that we’re documenting our lives (through the likes of social media) more than actually living our lives.”
How sad is that? It’s so important to never underestimate the importance of actual human interaction.
Patanjali’s famous definition of yoga brings about the the idea of consciousness by describing the idea of yoga as “Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah”(B.K.S Iyengar, 2002) which roughly translated is the cessation of the fluctuations in consciousness. The idea that regular practice of yoga in all it’s forms (meditation, pranayama, asana), can bring about the conscious, uncluttered mind. Patanjali famously uses the phrase “atha yoga anushasanum” in the sutras 1.1. Not only relevant to yoga and yoga teachers he demonstrates the need to be present. The need for now. Not as you are reading. Not in the future. Right here, right now. For me, this a matter of global importance. Living in the here and now. Interacting with the here and now – not the digitally edited. We have everything to gain from the presence of ourselves and others.
The Need to Be Present
Taking Patanjali’s “atha yoga anushasanum” (the here and now). Now combining that with his teaching of yoga as a way to maintain continued consciousness through life. The question then begs does social media allow for this? Take the case of myself on my yoga teacher training (YTT) course. It just so happened that my YTT took place in Sri Lanka, for a month (oh the horrors!) The course is so intensive that we didn’t actually get to see a lot of Sri Lanka. However, Sri Lanka, in all its natural beauty, natural light, exotic colours and utterly inspiring surroundings it made for the perfect “content” making trip. As a blogger and ‘Instagrammer’ my mind is constantly thinking about what content I can create for my channels. How can use my surroundings to post beautiful pictures? Easily done in Sri Lanka. What’s not so easily done? Being able to switch off from that external influence and the ‘need’ to constantly create content for future use. The 24 hour world that the internet and thereafter social media has created means my mind doesn’t switch off – even when I’m supposed to be fully immersed and ‘present’ in my yoga course.
Even outside of the yoga training it extends further into social tendencies. Like for instance, at dinner with my friends. Sometimes I notice that I actively take myself out of the conversation at the table in order to post at a particular time that I know yields a greater social media response. Here, I’m certainly not being present, one could argue I’m actually being rude, and definitely not being in the now. Here I’m not just enjoying my dinner with friends, my mind is elsewhere. I constantly try to remind myself of the need to be conscious, and to live in the present moment.
Social Media as an Addiction
What has become very apparent with the use of social media channels is their addiction! A report from ‘Psychology Today’ by Susan Weinschent p.H.D. called “Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google” describes this addiction. She states how the chemical Dopamine is the culprit. The release of the chemical Dopamine in the brain “causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases your general level of arousal and your goal-directed behaviour. This system propels you to action and the liking system makes you feel satisfied and therefore pause your seeking. If your seeking isn’t turned off at least for a little while, then you start to run in an endless loop.” (Weinschent, p.H.D, 2012) Therefore, it becomes harder to stop looking at your phone as you constantly seek out this instant gratification. This addiction means the user is constantly checking and updating their channels for that release of dopamine. It’s an endless circle.
More often than not social media promotes the idea of mindless scanning. Browsing channels and its fellow users, not necessarily even reading the caption that might accompany such images. Not only is the user not present, but also decreasing their attention span day by day. One could argue a yogi posting about their yoga practice and one that gives such attention to their social media channels may ironically be doing the very opposite of what yoga allows one to achieve. Through meditation and our practices we learn of the need to be present. How can one be present and ‘inward gazing’ when they are constantly feeling the need to fuel this dopamine so highly effected by the external environment? Or is yoga helping the yogi’s cause by providing them grounding in their turbulent social media fuelled business regardless of external influences? Something to think about, not only for the yogi’s!
Social Media as a Force for Information Overload
The unrelenting checking, scanning and refreshing of feeds that comes with social media promotes even more of what the yogi’s term the “monkey mind”. The constant chitter chatter of information, millions of thoughts going through our brain from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep. It’s not uncommon for many people to check their phones the second they wake up – usually one might have a phone alarm clock. Immediately the brain is bombarded with messages and thoughts. “What am I doing today?” “What shall I have for breakfast?” . Checking social media plies yet more messages into our already jammed packed and information overloaded brains. Not only does the brain have to take in all of this new (often let’s face it drivel) information and process it, but the constant ‘need’ to post creates even more clutter for our minds to think about.
Luckily practices like mediation and pranayama (breathing methods) allow us to press the pause button on all the chitter chatter. When your mind has space to breathe, you can access your greater potential. You can focus on the here and now. You can be present. This is also why some could argue the best time to meditate is first thing when you wake up in the morning. Without any external input of messages sent to the brain. On our yoga course we spent an hour and half on meditation and pranayama every morning. I made a conscious effort to not check my phone before this. I certainly felt that I was able to reach stillness and consciousness far sooner than I would than if I had looked at my phone. Quantum physics has proven that more consciousness equates to a more optimal state of living. Hence, even the act of meditation (for even a small amount of time) can have a positive effect on our lives.
The Need for Instant Gratification
Not only in social media but in the developed world we have become more akin to having everything at a touch of button. You want take away, “click” it’s there. New clothes, you got it. Simon Sinek posted an extremely revealing YouTube on “Millennials in the Workplace”. In summary he puts forward the idea of the so called “Millenials” and how they are obsessed with the ideal of instant gratification. He shows how being born into a world of being able to have whatever you want in a short expanse of time gives rise to problems later on in life. For instance, at home your parents solve your problems, your toy breaks, they buy you a new one. The internet allows for instant solutions to your perceived problems, you want something you can go and get it with ease. Social media exacerbates this further still, you want that dopamine hit, it’s there. What Sinek alludes to however is that in later life, for instance in jobs and relationships, we can’t short cut to resolutions for this. Life is learning. We grow. Yoga teaches the student to be a yogi for life. There’s no short cut way to being better at yoga. Millenials must test their patience by sticking with their practice rather than seeking single goal orientated short term gain like mastering the most challenging asana. Yoga is so much more than just the postures. Social media can lead one to focus acutely on merely the posture and health benefits.
Social Media as a Force of Bad or Good?
Social media can be seen as a force for both bad and good in our society. Whether it be in society in general or specifically relating to yoga, it is clear that there needs to be some sort of balance in the use of social media. In an increasingly 24 hour world that we live in one must be able to ‘switch off’ from external distractions. Namely in this case of social media and the ‘need to create content’. Social media as a force for business gain does not look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon, so it is up to us to try and control that external factor. It it up to us as individuals and businesses to manage its effect on our lives and use it for the greater good. Don’t worry I too get the irony about posting about this on my blog and social media platforms!
Let’s Be Social
The world is a wonderful place full of extraordinary and wonderful people. Not only across the world, but right in front of you. Probably even the table next to you right now. If we looked up from our screens every so often we’d have a chance to notice that. Smile. Open up the chance for interaction; the benefit far outweighs the risk. Wonderful things happen when we come together. As humans. Face to face. Let’s actually have face time with people, for humanity, it’s in our nature.
My coffee shop friend Dave is actually going to come to one of my yoga classes soon, and I’ll be sure to welcome him with a smile and some friendly English conversation!
Sending health & happiness,