Change of Screenery

May 20, 2015


Nearly two months have gone by since my last newsletter, which goes against the one-newsletter-a-month mantra I try to keep, but I needed a spring break from the computer screen so I packed my bags and took one (to Southeast Asia) and the change of ‘screenery’ worked wonders for me.

It takes quite a lot of discipline these days to avoid digital overload.  Like anything, first it takes awareness.  You need to be aware of your mechanical e-mail checking, aware of how much time you spend looking down at your smart phone, aware of how your mood is affected by staring at a monitor (perhaps most notably one displaying an array of Facebook statuses).  I’m well aware that these things, done in excess, don’t make me feel great, steal my focus and clutter my mind.  And so I endeavor to spend as little time as possible dwelling in the digital world and more time doing things that help to clear my mind (the same way those lovely bank holidays do). Do you feel the same?

The problem is I like writing and rely on my computer for it because my hand-writing is illegible and my hands move too slow for my thoughts when clutching a pen.  I also like sharing my writing and so my newsletter and blog provide a ready-to-share canvas.  I love photography and editing my photos, therefore my iPhone can be a true and convenient companion.  And all of this is why my intention to have a totally disconnected holiday didn’t really happen, despite staying in an eco-hotel that wasn’t supposed to have Wifi (hmph!).

But I’ve decided that spending time on my computer and iPhone isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just needs to be moderated strictly.  On a beach holiday, I found it quite easy to forget about my phone and the Internet.  Sun and screens don’t mix (unless we’re talking about sunscreen of course – ha!) so the phone stayed in the hotel room ignored until the late evening before I was ready to go to bed.  I spent about 15 minutes every evening having a quick check for any important emails, flagging thoughtful ones to read later, and quickly deleting all the spam.  I uploaded a few photos to Instagram, and shared them with my mom in the U.S. so she could experience the kind of distant travel she may never get to (or want to really in that intense heat!) do.  The rest of the time I was reading a physical book, jotting down thoughts and notes for my newsletter and blog in a real notebook and focusing my gaze on the ocean.  I managed to choose one book and read the whole thing, which was just the soul food I craved.  In short, I felt fantastic and wondered how much this digital technology was actually adding to my life and detracting from my mental wellbeing.

The other day I shared these sentiments with a close friend who found her computer time was also getting her down and we decided on these three moderation guidelines to help keep us happy and healthy:

1) No smart phones in bed (because this should be a place where you rest your mind)

2) Limit Facebook sessions to 5 minutes tops (because beyond that you’re just wasting time and probably starting to think negatively about how far you’ve come in life compared to others based on images and updates you wouldn’t otherwise know about)

3) Only have one window/tab open at a time (because even though the Internet gives us access to more information, more music, more things to buy, we shouldn’t be greedy)

Generally, every opportunity I have NOT to be on my computer, I’m taking it.  And when I feel the urge to write, I set aside time for that (with plenty of breaks for yoga, moving, breathing, stretching, etc.)  I know it’s tempting to click on every appealing link, to check email every day but I find myself asking, how much do we really gain by having access to more information than we have the time/capacity to consume?

So this month I am asking you to ask the question – how happy is being connected making me?  Which aspects can I keep and which can I limit?  What fulfilling activities can I do without my phone/computer? How did I used to fill my time before Wifi existed?  I bet you anything those activities probably made you happy and you’re not doing them so much anymore.  Am I right?

So I came back from my holiday with these thoughts and also to a lot of media about a recent advertising campaign in the UK by Protein World that poses the question: ‘Are you beach body ready?’ in order to sell products in its Weight Loss Collection.  The posters feature an unhappy woman in her bikini standing in such a way that makes her look both self conscious AND like she is scrutinizing your body.  Oh man, not this again…

The campaign, needless to say, has made women (most of us feminists) furious.  While they argue they are trying to promote the benefits of a healthy body, what they are doing is perpetuating the myth that one has to look a certain way to be accepted in places where tighter, more revealing clothing may show off more of your body.   They are very likely encouraging women and girls to not even bother seeing the sun this summer, to obsess over and feel bad about how they look and possibly to even succumb to their marketing angle and purchase these short-term solutions to weight loss that don’t get to the core of the issue.

I was, however, not shocked to see a campaign ask this question.  Growing up in the States in a beach town with a seashell mobile in my bedroom like the one in the image above, I was asked this question every June when the weather started turning hot.  I have a very petite older sister to whom I was always comparing my belly, my hips, my legs and arms, and always discovering I was bigger.  I remember at the innocent age of 11 I was wearing t-shirts over my bathing suit in shame of my rounder tummy.  Despite being a country with a large amount of obesity, the America I know is a nation obsessed with appearance and fixated on staying skinny – there’s a lot of pressure to look ‘perfect’.  What I loved about moving to Britain was that there seemed to be less judgement and more acceptance for all shapes and sizes, until I met a few people who proclaimed themselves ‘fattists’ (people against overweight people basically) and I had to scratch my head. Excuse me, what?

It may seem strange that someone who has dedicated her life and her career to staying healthy and fit and helping others do the same feels so appalled by an ad promoting weight loss. And that’s because a skinny body or ‘beach ready’ body does not make it a healthy one (especially if said weight loss is achieved by taking pills).  I had to laugh when I read an article in Stylist that basically said: if you’ve got sunscreen, a book and some ice cream, THAT is beach body ready.  And boy are they right!  Here in the UK, we associate the beach with holiday time.  This is a time to break away from your normal routine of curling up on the sofa and eating in front of the TV on cold rainy weekends, hopefully a time to break away from negative thought patterns that may have had you reaching for not-so-heathy food during stressful times and then feeling too sluggish to exercise.  Getting somewhere hot, being in the fresh air, moving more, reading more (away from your computer), living more – these are the things that make you feel great and as a result, can also change your appearance on the outside.  But there is no perfect body because we are are naturally built differently. So I say don’t stress about looking good in a bikini, your beach holiday will help you feel better inside and out and hopefully make you care less about what other people think!

This ad reminded me of a lot of the ads we see for yoga, which is why I wanted to highlight it.  It’s the same kind of marketing that keeps people outside of the studio – bendy, skinny types contorting themselves into pretzel shapes or doing handstands on the beach in their two-piece.  Being trim and flexible is NOT a prerequisite to practicing yoga but it may be a very pleasant side-effect.

As a yoga teacher who began practicing with a bad back and very tight hamstrings,  I feel it’s my responsibility to make sure everyone feels welcome in the yoga environment.  That’s why I am leading a workshop next weekend on Women’s Yoga.  I’ve been wanting to do this for some time in order to share what I have learned about modifying one’s yoga practice to help heal ourselves and lessen the symptoms of PMT (for example), but most importantly to be accepting of how you feel and look at anytime. Yoga is not about standing on your head and looking good in Lycra – who wants to do that when they’re menstruating?  Certainly not me and you know what?  That makes total sense.  Yoga is an art you can learn to heal your body and mind.  For women, it can be so powerful as to help balance your hormones, regulate your menstrual cycle and increase your fertility.  And it can even be there for you during those times when you want to wear comfy bottoms and hug a hot water bottle on the sofa.  I’m going to show you how.

So let me know what you discover about taking screen breaks – I wonder too if I can keep to those guidelines I set.

Happy digital detoxing!

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