Over the past several years I have lived and worked in a variety of different cultural structures. From the hustle and bustle of high-level office environments to the quiet and stillness of ashrams and retreat centers, I’ve stayed in a full range of different paced societal rhythms. Yet, despite all of the extreme living conditions I have found myself in, none have been as challenging to find my balance as the historically inspiring and sparkling city of San Francisco. I have been curiously awed by the interesting dance of living a mindful and present life in a high-tech, fast paced, urban world. In order to not only survive, but to flourish, I have had to implement many of the mindfulness and meditative tools I acquired and put them into action.
The most recent technique I have put into practice is instilling regular and significant chunks of time in my schedule for phone and electronic free zones. Some of you may have heard of “electronic fasting,” where you go for a month or two without using the phone or internet. It is an extraordinary method to reset your system and help you become more mindful and present with the beauty all around you. However, many of us do not have the opportunity to regularly deactivate for such long periods of time from the electronic world. Thus, scheduling in “No-Phone Zones” into your schedule where you are able to completely unplug from the electronic messaging system is a much more favorable option.
Why would you do this you might ask? Some of you believe that you don’t have time to step away from your commitments or your family. However, this time is not just important for your emotional well-being, but is also important for strengthening your autoimmune responses which keep you a healthy and active family member and coworker. Our mind has a powerful effect on the body’s response systems. When our mind is constantly tied to electronic messaging devices, many of us begin to develop a ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ response so that we are continually waiting or checking our phones, emails, and social media, expecting some form of communication or new information. This anticipation leads to held tension in our bodies and stimulates our sympathetic nervous system, increasing our cortisol levels and secreting other hormones in our body. In small amounts these chemicals are helpful, as they help us to have a quick response time to events or to respond in the state of an emergency. However, when this stress response is permanently turned on there is a toxicity level that eventually develops, leading to all types of more serious physical and emotional disturbances.
Even if you are engaging in relaxing activities like meditation, leisurely strolls through the park, or dinner with friends, unless you have found a way to turn off the mind’s natural inclination to want to check your phone or messages you are still stimulating that stress response and creating unnecessary tension and chemical secretions in your body. Our parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and relax” part of our body that is the naturally built in to counterbalance stress, cannot turn on while our sympathetic nervous system is activated. So, if you are meditating but constantly listening out for your phone to ring, you are not giving yourself a fair chance to truly heal and restore your body. Over long periods of time this increased stress response will take its toll on your adrenals and your nervous system, leading to fatigue and other physical and mental imbalances.
So what’s the solution to living in an over stimulated urban city like San Francisco? Well, one suggestion would be to schedule into your busy lives these “electronic free” time zones.
I recommend for those that feel they are way too busy for this to start small. Try three hours a week to start and then a good solid window of three to four hours at least one day out of your weekend. This longer period of communication detox really gives your body and mind much needed time to simply be present with where you are and relax. You will find that afterwards, your ability to focus and the energy you have when you do rejoin the digital/electronic world will have increased immensely. For myself, I found my “will power” wasn’t strong enough to simply not check my phone. The patterning was so deeply ingrained that I had to either not bring my phone with me during these windows or turn my phone on airplane mode, telling my system that checking or expecting incoming messages was not even an option. You can play with this de-stress technique as you wish. The key is to really allow your body to unwind and let go of the tension it’s holding in anticipation of a message or incoming information.
In this way we can work to find a happy medium between the world of the mind and the heart and keep the body balanced while we grow and expand in our personal and professional lives. So remember: phones off, thumbs down, breath deep and take some time to just feel the world under your feet.