A couple of years ago, I was watching the TV show Family Feud with a group of friends and family. I had grown up watching Richard Dawson on the original show, and our group was having a good old time yelling out answers to the survey questions. Then came this one: “Things you do first thing in the morning.” The No. 1 response was “check phone.” We had a good laugh at that one. “No way,” I remember saying. “That can’t be right.” I don’t recall what percentage of folks said “check phone,” but I do remember thinking (a bit self-righteously, I might add), “I can’t imagine ever doing that.”
I was wrong. The first thing I do in the morning is check my phone. It took a few years for me to catch up, I guess. I tracked my screen time last week (including listening to music and Red Sox games), and it was 45 hours. I was stunned. I’m a yoga and Pilates teacher. I practice being present, both in and out of the yoga room. I keep my phone on silent, so it doesn’t ring, buzz, beep or interrupt a conversation. I take active steps to interact mindfully with screens, and still spent almost two full days of my week plugged in. That was just the phone, and didn’t include time spent on the laptop.
I’m addicted to technology.
Perhaps your story is similar. Perhaps it is different. For most of us, it is a job requirement. Technology has made our lives easier, more efficient and more productive, right? Whether you agree with that or not, technology is here to stay. Tech has forever and irrevocably changed our society. Why should we care?
I’ll go out on a limb here and say technology isn’t just changing society. It’s changing what it means to be human. Here, my friends, is where yoga comes in. The practice of yoga connects us to the reality of being human. In yoga we come face to face with the realities of body, mind and breath. The more comfortable we are in our own skin, the better tools we have to manage information overload. The more we connect with our own selves, the more we can connect with each other. As I mentioned in an earlier column: It’s hard to love your neighbor when your back hurts.
Science has something to say about technology in our lives, too. Screen time is affecting the function of the pineal gland, an organ in the middle of the brain. It is what has been called “the third eye.” In the 1600s, Rene Descartes, the French philosopher, called it “the seat of the soul.” It is also associated with the “sixth chakra” in the Eastern spiritual system. This little gland produces melatonin, a hormone that is intimately involved in our sleep/wake cycles, bone density, immune system function, sexual development, mental health, even aging. All this tech, all this screen time, has been shown to decrease melatonin levels, and increase levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”).
When the function of the pineal gland is out of balance, our lives are out of balance. Our thoughts are out of balance. Our brains are stuck in a constant state of “fight or flight.” The next text message, the next email, the next status update, have our nervous systems stuck in high gear. The compression and release of yoga poses helps restore balance to the nervous system. The compression and release of the yoga poses helps to maintain a healthy pineal gland.
Most importantly, when we practice yoga we learn to control our thoughts. We learn it on the mat, and we translate it into our lives. We learn that no matter what is swirling around us, no matter what YouTube video cascade is flashing before us, we have the power to choose our thoughts. This is the practice, the process, of yoga. We learn what to pay attention to, and what to ignore. Your most powerful weapon against stress is your ability to choose one thought over another.
Ready to give it a go? Join me for a yoga class anytime. I’ll practice with you. I always think of the yoga studio as a school, where we learn how awesome and amazing we are. Together.
Let me leave you with this little tidbit that I got from the Family Feud. How did I get it? Why, I used Google, course. The question is: “Things that are rolled out.” The survey said: Red Carpet: 40. Dough: 35. Yoga Mat: 10. Sleeping Bag: 5. Let’s get “Yoga Mat” to the top of that survey.
(Mike Morris is the owner of Hot House NH Yoga & Pilates.)