Inspired living

How to break your technology addiction

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Do you have a smart phone, a tablet and a computer? Do you find yourself watching TV while checking Facebook and email? Are your family members always on their iPads? You are not alone. The number of Australians addicted to technology and social media is increasing every day — so how do you make sure you keep a healthy balance? By turning to ancient yoga practices and learning to focus on one thing at a time, you can stop the technology overload.

A world connected

The statistics on just how consumed we are by our latest devices and social media are scary. Surveys have found that a staggering 48 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds check Facebook when they wake up, 28 per cent logging on before they even get out of bed. This is not only changing the relationships in our lives but affecting our health, wellbeing and levels of stress.

Technology was meant to make our lives easier. Having access to everything, all the time, was supposed to mean more time at home away from the office as well as flexible working hours. Instead, it’s just meant more is demanded of us more of the time. Studies have found that the more technology you own, the more you multitask and the more social media accounts you have, meaning the more you have to multitask — and it goes on and on.

The other alarming thing about our current state of gadget addiction is that when we do switch off some of us feel so disconnected from the world we experience “technology anxiety”. People are finding it really difficult not to work and feel pressure to always be “on”: answering emails on their smartphones from home or on weekends; checking commercial competitors’ sites to ensure they’re always one step ahead.

So how does this busy-ness manifest in our lives? Perhaps there’s no better place to see the effect technology is having on us both physically and spiritually than in a yoga class — often the place we turn to so we can reconnect with ourselves. Yoga teachers are at the coalface of what this is really doing to our health and wellbeing, including Sydney-based teacher, Idit Hefer Tamir.

“I definitely think people are more stressed,” observes Tamir. “You can see people rush into class and then rush out of class, not even having the patience to let the teacher say their final words. People often forget to switch their phone off and I’ve even had people leave their phones next to their mats. It’s almost as if it’s become an extension of their limbs and they feel amputated when it’s not next to them or within reach.”

People often forget to switch their phone off and I’ve even had people leave their phones next to their mats.

With our constant need to feel connected, we are, of course, unable to tune in to our own bodies. You can begin to feel a general sense of anxiety — a constant fight-or-flight state of mind. Your mind finds it hard to focus on one thing and you jump between tasks. You actually become less productive, unable to complete one thing without “just quickly” doing something else.

“For many people, the first thing they do when they wake up is switch on their phones and check their emails,” agrees Tamir. “They don’t give themselves a few moments to wake up gently, to reflect on how they would like their day to be, what choices they would like to make, or just breathe.”

If you’re feeling disconnected, anxious or just concerned that work or social media is playing too big a role in your life, perhaps it’s time to break your addiction to your phone and reconnect with yourself.

“I know this has been my habit for a long time and how hard it was to stop it,” says Tamir. “To wake up, breathe, have a cup of tea and start the day with visualising how I would want it to be — a bit like a morning prayer; finding the sacredness in the day that we have woken up to rather than immediately stressing out.”

Prioritise and schedule

Creating a schedule and prioritising is a must in today’s world. You can’t manage work, technology, family life and your own personal development without putting some kind of priorities into place and actually mapping out a schedule to achieve everything. It may seem extreme to some — creating a schedule for all aspects of your life — but if you are feeling any sense of disconnection or anxiety at the demands on your time, a schedule will help.

Start by taking a proper look at your day-to-day life and all the things you need to achieve in a day. Write down everything — including the integral parts of your life such as shopping or cooking which we so often forget to schedule. Think about the time it takes to get places, the sports classes for the kids, the last-minute changes and activities that pop up. Be honest and try to work through your day, then your week, methodically. Once you’ve got a realistic list of everything that demands your attention during the day, start to look at how to schedule it all.

When you begin to look at all your commitments and demands on a weekly basis, you’ll see that often your time is taken up with non-urgent and non-important tasks. As Stephen Covey’s massively successful Seven Habits of Highly Effective People outlines, we must divide our time into four areas (or quadrants): Important and Urgent; Important and Not Urgent; Not Important and Urgent; Not Important and Not Urgent. Effective, proactive people spend most of their time in Quadrant II — Important and Not Urgent. Where do you spend most of your time?

As well as scheduling your time, the best way to stay connected with yourself and your wellbeing is to ensure you are doing only one task at a time — as much as possible. We are the generation of multi-taskers and often we do not feel like we are achieving anything if we do not have four things on the go at once. Stick to what your schedule says you should be doing at that time — and don’t deviate. If it says you should be working, work. But if it says it’s your downtime or family time, turn the phone off.

“I recently opened a studio,” Idit Hefer Tamir tells. “This was a huge transition from being a teacher at a few different studios and never having to take work home to suddenly having my own business, and I found it extremely challenging to shut down. I was constantly thinking about what else I could do to improve and I could see it was especially hard for me to be focused when I was with my three-year-old son: I was constantly drawn to my iPhone to just do one more thing, and just do one more thing, and just do one more thing.

“So, after reflecting on how I might change this in my life, I decided that my yoga practice that day would be to spend the two hours I had with my son that morning focusing just on him — without sending emails or SMSing or calling anyone and to JUST be with him. Of course, this was not as easy as it may sound but was definitely a yogic practice — it was harder than practising a headstand or revolve triangle!

“I would play with him for 10 minutes and think, ‘I will just send this one email,’ and realise it and, of course, not follow it. I’d then play with him for another 15 minutes and a thought would sneak in and I’d think, ‘I will just SMS this teacher,’ but I would stop myself, and this is how it went for two hours! Even though I was not able yet to stay with him for the two hours without my mind wandering, it was a good start. Since then, it’s become easier and easier to follow.”

Reconnecting with yoga

As Tamir’s experience with her son shows, practising yoga and incorporating its principles into the rest of your life can help you switch off and just be. But it’s not just about going to a class to stretch or doing a few sun salutations in the morning (although this will help, too). It’s the philosophy behind the practice of yoga and, in particular, the practice of pratyahara, translated as the withdrawal of the senses and a one-pointed focus, that can significantly increase your overall wellbeing and enjoyment of life and help you switch off that phone.

The key part of yoga that will make a real difference in your life is your intention. It’s not only the intention you hold during your practice but that which you take into the rest of your life that will transform your wellbeing. Ask yourself, what is it I want to get from my practice? What is it I want to get from the rest of my life? And when it all comes down to it, what is it I want to get from the various technologies in my life?

“A lot of us come to yoga to get stronger or to stretch or to heal from something,” adds Tamir, “and stay because it touches our heart and spirit. We suddenly realise that the asana practice, linked with the awareness to the breath, develops our awareness of the present moment, of little details, of where we hold our traumas and our patterns and how we can release them. As we acknowledge this we realise just how important our intention is, the intention that we bring to our practice, and then continue into the rest of our life.”

So when you wake in the morning, before you switch the TV on for the latest news or turn to your email inbox to check on the world, ask yourself what is your intention today? What is it you would like to achieve? Take a moment to connect with your body; pause and breathe, before you launch into social media.

Set that intention, hold to it throughout the day and use the yoga philosophy of “one-pointed focus” to keep on track. If you find yourself feeling particularly overloaded with demands on all your senses, try to find just five minutes to sit down quietly and withdraw from your surroundings. You can do this at work in a quiet corner or, even better, step outside if you can and sit in nature.

There are several breathing practices you can try, including brahmari, or the humming bee breath. This pratyahara has a very calming effect and can reduce the fight-or-flight response, lower blood pressure, calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety, anger and insomnia.

Start in any cross-legged position in which the body can be relaxed and the spine is erect. Begin inhaling through both nostrils, then start creating a long humming sound while you exhale. Start with a four-second nasal inhale while making the sound, then exhale for six seconds through both nostrils. Practise this for about five minutes.

You can also try nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) or even just going into child’s pose or downward dog to help reconnect with your body, reconnect with your breath, connect to the earth and be present in the moment.

Live in the moment

Finally, by living more in the present moment you can begin to transfer your intention from your yoga practice into the rest of your life. The biggest challenge with always being connected online and digitally is not being connected with the moment. Turn your attention to what you are doing right now and then try to look, taste, hear and feel everything you do.

Be more present. When you are cooking, don’t think about work or that email you sent to your boss earlier that day. Really see what you are cooking — smell it, feel it, think about how it is going to nourish your family. It’s important to not only switch off the physical devices like your phone, laptop and TV but also switch off your mind’s connection to them.

By tuning into your present, you can tune out of the technology overload so many of us are feeling.


Amy Taylor-Kabbaz

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz is a journalist with more than 15 years' experience, specialising in health, mindfulness and motherhood. She is also the best-selling author of Happy Mama: The Guide to Finding Yourself Again, and is the creator of the website Happy Mama.