21st Century Yogi
ocial media is part of our 21st century world. My feeds are filled with photos of beautiful yogis doing extreme poses in epic locations. They usually include reflective quotes, and sometimes longer dialogues of deeply vulnerable personal topics shared for all to see. As a yoga teacher and retreat owner, I want and need to reach as many fellow humans as possible to share this beautiful path of self healing. Yet, I can’t help but be both impressed and concerned by the way in which I have to do this.
I am impressed that these people can be so open, vulnerable, and confident to share so much. Many of these posts include stories and affirmations that are exactly what some other person needed to read in that moment. In that sense this is a new way of reaching out to connect and share knowledge in this digital age. Yet I’m also concerned. In the yogic tradition of the Gurukula system, aspiring yogis would spend 20+ years with their guru to learn from their every action, word and even breath. Today we can just follow our favorite yoga icon and download their wisdom into our phone and minds as often as we check our feed.
Aside from questioning the long-term value of learning from our ‘teacher’ through sporadic posts, I am even more concerned by the potential impact this can have on the teachers. Some are so completely connected to their social media feeds that every thought and experience must be captured to be posted. As a yoga teacher who speaks of being in the present moment, connecting to our inner Self, and releasing the distractions of the mind - I fear:
- How can I be a “yogi” in the present moment if I am to constantly report my every movement and thought?
- Can I enjoy this beautiful moment without needing to take a photo for the sole purpose of posting it?
- Are the distractions of my mind synonymous with the distractions of the feed?
- Can we be 21st century yogis who are constantly connected?
I recently spent a week in Oaxaca City, Mexico with my husband Zach and his amazing band from Guatemala, the Remolacha Beets. I vowed to give myself a screen-free week. Even though I do not often post on social media (in part because of my above concerns), I do have a constant flow of important emails filling my inboxes. Over the past ten years I’ve started four different social enterprises and there is always something requiring my attention. And I admit - I am guilty of becoming trapped in the mindless scanning of various feeds. Given all the time I spend connected, I wanted to try going cold turkey. So, I set up an automatic reply in my email, told my amazing coworkers at Kula, Seven Springs, JUSTA and Global Just Designs that I would be away, set up secondary contacts, finished everything necessary that was soon due and prepared myself to disconnect.
On the first day of the trip, I did disconnect - and then my addiction became so apparent: I found myself wanting to pick up my phone for the latest update or important email like running my tongue over a sore tooth, but I had left my phone at the house for that very reason. I sat with friends at a beautiful café and tried to be present As we finished eating they all picked up their phones one by one. I would have too if I had mine. I knew this, but to feel the addiction it is different. The connection is like a drug, and I was in withdrawal.
Later that day as we visited a friend I didn’t have to ask for their wifi password. As I sat while others ran errands or checked their feeds I noticed that sitting on their coffee table was a book: “The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains” by Nicholas Carr. Whether coincidence or synchronicity, I eagerly started to read it:
“The more we use the Web, the more we train our brain to be distracted—to process information very quickly and very efficiently but without sustained attention. That helps explain why many of us find it hard to concentrate even when we’re away from our computers. Our brains become adept at forgetting, inept at remembering. Our growing dependence on the Web’s information stores may in fact be the product of a self-perpetuating, self-amplifying loop. As our use of the Web makes it harder for us to lock information into our biological memory, we’re forced to rely more and more on the Net’s capacious and easily searchable artificial memory, even if it makes us shallower thinkers.”
He then goes on to say: “The computer screen bulldozes our doubts with its bounties and conveniences. It is so much our servant that it would seem churlish to notice that it is also our master.”
This last quote stunned me and made me think of one of my favorite quotes: “The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.” This concept is so important to discuss, as we often allow our mind to be our decision maker rather than our listening to the whisper of our heart, soul, and higher Self. As Charlie Chaplin says in his Self-Love poem: “As I began to love myself I recognized that my mind can disturb me and it can make me sick, but as I began to drop into my heart, I found my mind was a powerful ally.”
And so as we come into the age of the internet, is the computer now becoming a master over our mind - which can be a master over our Self? These philosophical but very real inquisitions can get overwhelming.
Carr’s thesis is that the computer definitely has a cognitive impact on our way of processing information: “Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts—the faster, the better.” He later simplifies this by bluntly saying that with dependency on the internet, “we risk emptying our minds of their riches.”
So, back to my Oaxaca disconnection experiment on myself - even with all this reading and realizations, guess what happened?
I couldn’t quit cold turkey. I received urgent and important emails and messages that I had to reply to. I had to complete certain necessary documents with my signature to turn in. I had to reply to my worried mother that I was ok, just trying to take some time away from the screen. It didn’t take a lot of my time, but I broke my no computer/phone self policy. I was disappointed in myself.
I began to think about ways I could re-imagine my relationship with the internet that would be more compatible with my reality. As a 21st century yogi, I also manage four conscious businesses with missions to spread awareness and light in the world. This is in fact.an important part of my practice. If I stepped away 100% that would impede my passion and purpose.
Why should I have to 100% turn off my screen to feel that I am succeeding in being a yogi in the present moment? Isn’t yoga about the balance? Isn’t it about taking our personal centered practice into the world of chaos to find an equilibrium? This is the real test for us. For some, turning off the computer may be the easier solution. Yet, the more difficult one is finding a balance with the screen - to use it to connect and share…and then stop.
We hear that the challenges of meditation are to ‘quiet the mind’. Yet, it’s not so much to quiet the thoughts but rather to not attach to the thousands of thoughts that the mind can run away with. In meditation, it’s ok to have a thought about your past lover, but notice if your mind then replays the 100 stories associated with that thought. Allowing the thought to arise and pass without attachment: that is the balance. In the same way, the challenge is to use the internet for our needs and offerings without being carried away by the infinite distractions in the tangled world wide web. If we are able to practice using our mind as a dutiful and sacred servant, rather than a master, we can also learn to treat internet in the same way. It’s not that the use of the internet is bad; it’s the attachment to it.
So, my new challenge is to use the internet for my connection needs, openly share my thoughts on social media, and then stop. As a 21st century Yogi we can’t renounce modern methods of communication. So it becomes our challenge to maintain our balance and connection - staying present amidst the chaos and noise on our screens and in our heads.
Since a young age, Jessi has studied dance and creative movement. Since her first RYT200 teacher training in 2008, Jessi has led retreats and workshops throughout the States, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Costa Rica. She completed her RYT500 hour certification in 2012 and now leads teacher trainings in places she most enjoys to share.
Jessi teaches a Vinyasa based practice to combine elements of dance and natural movement with traditional yogic sequencing. She incorporates attention to rhythm of the breath, and allows for organic movement to flow in each pose. She is grateful for the journey of yogic creativity and loves to share this movement of bliss with others along the way.
To learn more about Jessi and see her upcoming yoga teacher trainings and retreats, click here.