Disconnect to Re-connect

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Through decades of yoga, meditation, movement, supporting others, and research, I have become increasingly aware of the power of self-awareness, self-compassion and self-reflection on living with integrity. I often use the word integrity to define one of the intentions of yoga, in that for me they are both the practice of aligning your head (visions/goals) with your heart (values/intentions) and your actions, words or way of showing up in your body and life. The practice of bringing together the various dimensions of the “self” in order that who I am being in my life is in alignment with my values, intentions and in service to those around me. The practice of excavating what I can perceive as the “most authentic” version of myself in each moment. A large part of this practice is mindfulness or intimacy.

I wrestle daily with how to navigate technology and social media while practicing yoga. I am also interested in how as a society we have become so virtually connected, and yet many struggle with feelings of isolation and disconnection. The more we slouch over computers and smart phones, the further our posture has collapsed causing us to constantly seek outside while disconnecting from our intuition and each other. I have realized that while yoga was something I began as a teenager in the late 90’s on a rectangular piece of rubber, it is offers so much more as far as maintaining integrity in my words and actions and intimacy with myself and others. Through intimacy and integrity I can practice gratitude, kindness, generosity, acceptance and compassion. This article offers some insights, theory, research and suggestions on how to integrate mindfulness and technology.

 

Connection 2.0: Dropping In

 

 

The postures welcomed me back into a body I had learned to mistrust, dislike and abandon. They were a tool that allowed me to get out of my head; its judgements, inner criticism, expectations and fears, and into my body where I could feel myself as part of the interconnected web. At a time in my life where I felt lost and confused, constantly seeking outwards for approval and validation and chasing an indoctrinated idea of “the good life”, the poses, breath and movement grounded me back into my body in the here and now. I remember why I started practicing yoga. The first reason was actually coincidental. My sisters were going so curiously I tagged along. The second occured after about 80mins of breathing, postures, chanting and then lying on my back in a pose called savasana (corpse pose). The instructor guided me through an experience, similar to being tucked in. I felt safe. I relaxed deeply and for the first time since I was a kid, I felt comfortable and at peace in my body. My mind was not clear, rather I was just less invested in my personal narratives.  I felt home. This only lasted a short time, but knowing where my shore is; that I can come back to this sense of being at peace with myself and everything around me, has been a light in the fog through some turbulent waters over the last 20 years. Its important to be able to hear your own signal through all of the noise  and I still return to my breath and movement daily to recalibrate and stay in alignment. You can try this check in process here for a simple but powerful way to drop in, and connect with the body via sensation. Listen and allow.

 

The State of my Union

I slowly began to realize after years of practicing yoga that the process we engage within the pose (including my mediation seat) was the point, versus the quest for a perfect pose that I could contort my body into. Who I was being, what stories and ideas I was investing in, what unconscious emotions and feelings I was running from, and how I was doing the poses was the actual practice. Layer by layer we dissect and non-judgementally observe; how we do anything is how we do everything.  It did not matter if it was a “good practice” validated by my ease, strength or flexibility. In fact my quest for such states was a form of the clinging (raga) and repulsion (dvesha), over-identification and  (Asmita) and my fear of letting go (abhinevesha) in which these practices were used to dissolve. All that mattered was that I showed up; sad, angry, hung-over, embarrassed, ashamed, depressed, angry, sad, stiff, distracted, excited or inspired.  This realization slowly dissolved my need to do #yogaeverydamnday on my mat and into a curiosity about how I could practice yoga in my everyday life, becoming more at peace with myself and of service to others; motivated more by love than fear.

If I could somehow apply half the attention to my personal relationships as I do to my alignment in triangle pose, or my quest for handstand, then perhaps my parenting, marriage, and work would not be such an unconscious cycle of reactivity. If I could learn to be with my experiences in a way that allowed me not to take everything so personally, then perhaps I would not react, project and deflect so strongly. If I could learn to acknowledge and accept my difficult thoughts and emotions; my humanness, then perhaps I would be more compassionate and empathetic to those around me whom are also suffering and in need of love and compassion. If I could learn to trust myself, then perhaps I would not hustle, chase and cling so hard for acceptance from others­—I would not trade my intuition, authenticity and integrity for “likes” and “followers”.

 

 

Facebookasana, Twitterasana & Instagramasana: The Yoga of social media

While the use of social media, especially Instagram fed into many of my unconscious and malevolent qualities, it has also given me a very powerful lens through which I can bring light to these shadow qualities. Social media became another posture where I could unconsciously feed my insecurity, fear and narcissism or proactively engage and reflect with the state of my union.

I can honestly say there were times I shared clips of practices or pics of fancy poses in order to get attention, under the guise of inspiration. I also noticed how competitive, jealous and insecure I would feel as a result of scrolling through people’s feeds. Comparing my worst to everybody’s highlight reels, typically never brings out my best self. I can remember times where I felt so inspired and creative in my work only to be derailed by competitiveness and FOMO.

“There is some very powerful self-reflection that can come as a result of taking a meditation or yoga selfie. Seriously what is that about?  Like many addictions, “likes”, “shares”, “comments” and “followers” can fill a void temporarily, but like gluing food to your body when you are hungry, in the realm of hungry ghosts we are never truly satisfied”.

Once I became more aware of my feelings, thoughts, emotions and reactivity through yoga, and mindfulness, I also started to reflect on various questions in both the poses and my life like:

  • Why do I disconnect from and or abandon parts of myself?
  • Why was it so hard to just be me, in this moment with my experiences?
  • How long ago and where had I become so competitive, controlling, and insecure?
  • And, when I do get distracted, check out, fall, numb or hide (because we are human and life is messy) how do I find my way back home without so much shame?
  • Who is this panel of assholes in my head who criticize judge and control, where did they come from and what do they want?

“We can’t forget that the fundamental lesson of this yogic path is that difficult and even painful feelings are our opportunity to wake up to a more genuine way of living. We can always love more and more deeply. Yogic ethics rely heavily on awareness practice, because if we can’t return to this live moment, we are caught up in our theoretical understanding of the situation or in hope or fear. What is appropriate in one context may not be appropriate in another. Ethics are always a dialogue between our cultural background, our ability to open to present experience, and our individual ethical conscience. It’s amazing how our ethical conscience changes over time. Usually we can bring only a certain percentage of awareness to a situation, and then the unconscious ideals of the culture and our own past conditioning come in as a default position” Michael Stone 

 

 

The human operating system and social survival: why we trade our authenticity for acceptance

Before getting into the specific practices for mindfully engaging social media and technology I wanted to offer a little insight on how we are wired. If we understand how our brain works, we become more empowered, compassionate and proactive in our behaviour.

In addition to having an operating system that is designed to survive, avoid pain and seek pleasure, humans are also wired for social acceptance and connection. Our need to be “liked” by others is wired to the same survival instincts as if we were about to be eaten by a bear. There are many reasons why social survival; acceptance and attachment, are important. Most of these reasons have to do with protection and caretaking and are developed early in life. Infants need attachment in order to survive. Part of our survival depends on being liked and cared for by others and our brain and physiology develops as a result.

As we continue to grow parental attachment is slowly replaced by peer influences, cultural ideals, “shoulds”, and “ought to’s”.  I remember as a child how important it was to feel like I fit in and was accepted by others. The playground, school, parties and social environments all created inner tensions and anxieties around being accepted.

Ride the DeLorean in to the future and as an adult engaging in social media, writing and public speaking I feel many of these same insecurities. Becoming aware of these feelings, thoughts and emotions has allowed me to be more proactive in managing them.  About 20% of the time instead of lashing out, over compensating or shrinking, I can choose a response that is more in alignment with who I want to be and how I want to show up for people in my life. Over the past few years I have been educated on the way the brain and the body work and offered many effective tools such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, self-reflection, self-compassion and cognitive behavioural therapy, which have allowed me to navigate these inner struggles I experience as a result of an often-unconscious drive to be liked, and accepted.

I have also become aware that “choosing my behaviour” is only possible when I am aware of my unconscious patterns and not in survival mode. I have realized the importance of un-plugging, support, self-care, and silence in order to re-connect to my heart. As both a child and teen there was always an opportunity for me to find refuge and connection through nature,movement (until I heard from a few male adult figures that I was fat and uncoordinated) family, or creative time alone with my imagination to escape the added pressure of “fitting in”. The equivalent of “hey mom and dad look what I can do”  has now turned into “hey thousands of friends and followers (whom I may or may not have met) look at how flexible, beautiful, intelligent and successful I am”. Or, “look at how much of a conscious parent and partner I am” (the irony of interrupting an intimate personal moment to capture a picture and share it with thousands is just…)

 

Some Theory on motivation, attachment and self-image

According to humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, humans are intrinsically motivated to satisfy specific needs according to their importance on survival. At the bottom of the pyramid we find our most basic physiological needs and safety. Next comes our needs of love, belonging, acceptance and esteem. At the top of the pyramid is our need to self-actualize, or achieve our ultimate potential. Late in his life Maslow added an additional need above self-actualization he described as self-transcendence, or the need to be of service to something beyond the self. If a person is struggling to have their basic needs met, or lives in a constant state of fear, it becomes almost impossible to feel connected, self-actualize or reach the state of inter-being described in yoga.

Carl Rogers elaborated on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggesting that in order for people to self-actualize, they require supportive environments which offer unconditional acceptance and empathy. People need to feel supported, seen, heard and understood by others and our sense of self is largely contingent on this. According to Roger’s, two of the main variables which influence our self-concept are: early childhood experiences and evaluation/acceptance by others. If you don’t think that iPad and or smart phone in a child’s hands has a significant impact on development beyond entertainment think again.

Further to this, Bowlby’s attachment theory suggests that humans have an intrinsic motivation to maintain closeness and connection to their caregivers in order to increase the chance of survival through protection and having their basic needs met. In order to maintain this connection to attachment figures infants develop internal representations which allow them to predict what actions will be acceptable and increase closeness and which actions will cause rejection. These internal working models may cause dissociation from uncomfortable experiences and feelings like anger and sadness in order to maintain connection. We can see this similar pattern repeating throughout childhood and adolescents with peers, teachers and others. This pattern is also emphasized through various social media platforms where we learn that certain behaviors, words, and appearances generate more likes and followers.

 

Finally, in addition to attachment drives, we are also motivated to feel and behave in ways which are consistent with our ideal-self. Our ideal self can be described as, “who and how we want to be in our lives”. When our current self-image and ideal self are congruent we experience positive self-worth.  However, when we experience parts of ourselves, or our behavior to be incongruent or worse unacceptable we may experience dissonance and tension leading to distorted self-image, unconscious defense mechanisms and rejection of our experiences. Personally for me this showed up as a belief that I was weak and uncoordinated as a result of comments made about my 9 year old body by a male adjudicator at a dance recital, body shaming by kids and adults and comments made by teachers. While some of these negative feelings may motivate us to “be better” often they actually have the opposite effect. I have heard many people comment that seeing beautiful models, yogalebrities in flashy poses and other images inspires them. One question I am curious about is this motivation a result of fear or love. We also struggle under additional pressure as a result of an “ought to” self.  The “ought to” self can be described as “who and how others think we should be”. These “shoulds” taint our ideal and current self-image often leading to  more dissonance and shame.

 

 FOMO and Narcisism Gone Viral

I am not against social media as there are some great things about it such as: being able to share this information through a blog, or connect with friends and family whom I may not be able to see in the flesh as often as I would like, and there is the odd post, article, TEDtalk or meme that  inspires or makes me laugh (check out this I love speedos parody for example).

However, as a mom to three young children I have grown more concerned with how access to social media will affect their human instinctual drives for acceptance and belonging. If I made decisions on my self-worth based on influences of those around me with significantly less exposure to media, how will all of this additional exposure at such a formative stage of their life effect their mental health.

Research is showing staggering increases in mental health issues in children, teens and young adults including:  ADHD, depression, anxiety, narcissism and a specific issue pertaining to social media called FOMO (fear of missing out).

Narcissism refers to a grandiose or obsessive view of the self. Narcissists tend to lack empathy, do things only out of benefit or recognition for themselves, and may manipulate or trample others to get ahead.  This pre-occupation with the self, often leads to an excessive need for admiration and approval from others, which may also result in intimacy issues, depression, and substance abuse when adequate attention is not received. Rises in individualism and Social media platforms are correlated with increased levels of narcissism.

FOMO is short for fear of missing out and it is defined by an all-consuming anxious feeling that you are missing out on something that someone is doing or that others have things that you do not. FOMO motivates us to compare and compete with others, try to be all things to all people, leaves us feeling unsatisfied and unhappy with what we have and can also lead to compulsive behavior, materialism, greed, insecurity and depression. One of the biggest causes of FOMO is you guessed it, social media.

The Virtual Red Carpet

Personally, I have witnessed the effects that social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have had on my own experiences of anxiety, self-worth, competitiveness, and narcissism, which has led me to be extremely interested in how these platforms will influence the next generation. Whereas in my youth I had breaks from peer influence and pressures with only teen magazines and TV to perpetuate my insecurities and self-worth, today’s youth are being bombarded from all angles and all hours. Some of the research I have read about average time on devises and mental health are staggering. Many of today’s youth are struggling with “tech addiction”.  In addition, many babies and young children are watched through their parent’s smart phones in order to capture and share every intimate moment. While I love seeing these beautiful moments and understand the need to share them with loved ones near and far, I also wonder what message this sends to an infant or toddler at such a malleable age? Not only are they needing to impress and model their primary caregivers in a way that is “acceptable” and “likable”, but thousands of others as well. Think of how many devastating stories we have heard of the struggles child stars’ face and yet social media has created a virtual red carpet for many babies, toddlers, children and teens. The other day I was schooled by a young girl on the perfect selfie angle to bring out your best features. Again, in a culture where so many young people feel disconnected, isolated and suicidal, not being seen and heard free from the masks we wear, only serves to further alienate and perpetuates shame and lack.

 

Enlighten-up: Re-booting in 4  not so simple steps (#thismayworkforsomepeoplesomeofthetime)

Enlightenment means to bring light to because we can’t see in the dark. Just because you can’t see it does not mean it is not there. There is much research to support unconscious affect systems (emotions) cognition and motivation. Famous psychologist Carl Jung stated “until we allow the unconscious to be conscious it will rule our life”. Paraphrasing Mr. Jung, Buddha, Patanjali and many other great philosophers: until we are able to be with all of our experiences; the pleasant, unpleasant, scary and mundane, we will not be empowered in our choices and lives.

Part of our unconscious operating system is designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. We are not ignorant to our own behaviour, motivations and intentions on purpose, rather most of this happens under the radar of awareness.  Implicit or unconscious motivation serves many important evolutionary functions. We can choose our actions to the extent that we are aware of what’s happening or motivating them in the moment. Throw in some stress, trauma, and threat to survival and the human biology basically overrides choice.

 

Getting Curious

What is behind our need to capture every intimate moment and share every image?

Why am I so interested in what everybody else is doing?

If I am “using” social media addictively for validation, acceptance, connection, distraction etc. how can I interrupt this unconscious cycle?

What am I modelling for my children, when I am constantly on my device during nursing, playtime, cuddles and conversation or when I need to share every intimate detail of our lives?

 

My reaction to these questions, and maybe you can resonate with this goes something like this:

  • Defensiveness, deflection and denial. (“I am a mindful user”, “I am not addicted to social media”, “I don’t use it as much as you do”, “I know my intentions”)
  • Acknowledgement followed by shame (“I am such a shitty, pathetic person” “I am so embarrassed”)
  • Compassionate reflection (often requiring an extended period of time, safety, knowledge of human behaviour and the company of a non-judgmental listener).
  • Proactive strategies and tools that allow me practice behaviours that heal versus harm.

 

Self-Awareness: Metaphorically putting hot sauce on your smart phone

Self-awareness is the first step towards change.  I am excited to be collaborating on a few projects with clinical social worker and self-care advocate Deepika Mittra.  Deepika has recently written an e-book about how. She had this to say about awareness and social media, “Awareness is your personal key to understanding the effects technology and social media are having on your life. Once awareness is achieved, it’s time to talk about the small, easy steps you can take to start changing your behaviors for the better.”

Deepika has published an e-book on her website called, On Social Media & Technology: How to use it without being consumed by it. In this book, she shares some of her clinical insights on social media and technology. You can find her e-book free here

“While technology arms us with undeniable advantages when it comes to staying connected, that vibration in your pocket comes with a catch. Technology addiction is increasingly recognized in public circles, and issues related to it are rising to the surface with rapidly increasing frequency in my counselling sessions. Think about it – do you feel naked without your phone? Helpless? Ignorant? How many of us feel pulled in too many directions all at once? There are likely several things requiring our attention both of the digital and real-world variety, but lines can usually be drawn back to our reliance on technology all the same. As I’ve explored the realm of mental wellness and inner strength I’ve watched as the knots tied between ourselves, our devices, and our connection to the media have grown tighter and tighter. I’ve seen how it affects our relationships with our family, friends, and our work”. Deepika Mittra

 

Personally I have recently downloaded a few apps to my device that monitor the amount of time I spend on each social media app. One that I am currently using with my family is called Questado. This app allows myself and kids to see how much time they are actually spending on the device. The daily and weekly summaries provide a great perspective on how much and what time me are glued to our devices.

 

Compassionate inquiry

Once we are made aware of what we are doing or how we are otherwise unconsciously behaving we can use the human capacity for self-reflection and self-compassion to investigate why we are using in the first place.  As discussed in my previous blog about composting, most of our destructive behaviours are providing us with a pay off. If we can figure out the pay off we can create more positive habits. It is important that we approach self-reflection compassionately and without judgement. Research has shown compassion versus shaming to be a more effective approach to positive sustainable change and will power .

Free writing through journaling may bring some of our otherwise unconscious intentions, feelings and motivations to the surface. Engaging in the PEMS check in technique  discussed earlier before, during and after may allow us an opportunity to check in with how we are feeling as a result of using social media.

 

 Stopping the Wheel:reducing risk through limiting exposure

Once you become aware and practice compassionate inquiry you may then create some proactive strategies for conscious consumption. There are many apps which can limit the amount of time you spend on each app. For instance, if you find yourself to be suffering a lot of FOMO and spend more than 1 HR on Instagram per day you may want to do an experiment by limiting your use to under 1HR. If this hard limit makes you restless, bored or irritable you may have a technology addiction. Another strategy I have found helpful is providing myself that which I am seeking through self-care. If its connection I am craving, spending some time outdoors or with a good friend often provides me more pleasure than creeping peoples feeds.

 

Disconnect to Re-connect: Digital detox to bring you back into the real world.

 One of the first things I shared with Michael Stone after his 8-day silent retreat was that I forgot how good it felt to pee. We both laughed and while I was using humour I was also being completely honest. I had become so addicted to being busy and so distracted by noise that I had completely disconnected with the moment-to-moment experience of being awake and alive through my body. No joke here many yoga teachers and students can’t even practice yoga anymore without picking up their phones for a picture. The interesting thing is that we can’t actually experience satisfaction or pleasure unless we are present. Many people experience what is called pleasure anxiety, which is the inability to relax and feel pleasure due to a constant need to be doing or accomplishing something. The ironic thing here is that we chase external forms of entertainment such as social media to escape boredom, but this only strengthens our pleasure intolerance. This unconscious scrolling also leads to more comparison, competativeness, lack and often unconscious behaviours fuelled by inadequicies. Ordinary moment’s don’t seem to make the highlight reel. Sitting in silence for 8 days with no books or devices to distract, while it may not be necessary for most, did allow me to remember what it was like to BE  Awake in the world. The REALization of extraordinary in the mundane. If you close your eyes and think of a time when you felt the happiest, most joy or pleasure you may discover that these were often ordinary everyday moments made extraordinary through presence. Sensuality in real time and not mindless scrolling on social media. I talk about some of these experiments on a recent podcast with open up and OM here.

Extraordinary is often ordinary wrapped in presence. #BEology

 

 

As always if you want to have a realtime conversation feel free to contact me at, info@empoweredyoga.ca

 

Stay Rad,

MT