Most of us have probably heard of the phrase “digital detox”: a dedicated time out from the computerised technology that defines our modern age. This can be anything from a holiday with no internet access, to a silent retreat such as a Vipassana meditation centre, or some may even go so far as to leave behind anything electrical by setting up camp in the woods, rising and setting with the sun.
We use metaphorical phrases such as “consumer,” “addiction,” and “detox” to refer to our relationship with technology and how it can negatively impact our sense of wellbeing to the point where we need to run away to live in a cave, but what about the literal effect the overuse of digital technology has on our digestion?
Studies have shown that the “blue light” of the smart phone, laptop, computer and TV screens induces a production of stress hormones in the brain and body. This has become widely recognised as provoking sleep problems with wide-spread advice now recommending that we avoid looking at our phones at least an hour before bedtime. But it is not only sleep that these stress hormones effect, they also interfere with the the way we digest food, absorb nourishment, and repair our cells.
Stress hormones kick the autonomic nervous system into the sympathetic “fight and flight” mode and away from the parasympathetic state of “rest and digest”. Essentially, when the body is responding to stress, it is not concerned about optimal digestive activity and instead redirects the blood supply from the internal organs, towards the arms, legs and head in order to find a way to run away, or combat the incoming threat. See this video.
Furthermore, even though we don’t feel stressed thanks to the dopamine hit of the blue light, and feel relatively relaxed as we watch our funny cat videos, there is a subconscious stimulation that also increases the body’s inflammatory markers.
So despite the incoming stimulation not being a foodstuff, or even a tangible physical entity, it is still a sensory reception which the body has to process, and essentially “digest”, absorb, and spend energy doing so. We all know when we’ve overindulged on ice cream, an overconsumption of screen-time is also a burden on the gut.
Not only that, the way we strain our eyes, crick our necks and scroll our thumbs also repetitively weaken the vagus nerve, and good vagal tone is essential for optimal digestion and gut-brain communication. Gluttony, intoxication and addiction, with headaches, nausea and bowel bother, are no longer only concepts related to over-eating, drinking, but now also to simply being over stimulated by blue lights and social media distractions.
Of course, like all food and even gut bacteria, digital technology is not inherently “bad”, it is often incredibly fascinating, useful, exciting and certainly a means of relaxation! But it is so full of excessive information at the tip of our fingertips – how could our 10 little fleshy digits ever keep up! Often we go online for one thing and end up down a rabbit whole trying to gobble up all the information and stimulation we can, as though it’s a bag of chocolate buttons – impossible to put down! It is just about moderation, or bramacharya, in yogic terms (See this article for more on that concept). Taking a moment to step back just allows us to find some stillness in the whirlwind of the world wide web, asses our “hunger”, and choose the appropriate digital dish.
Personally, I have certainly observed that my body and mind mind both benefit from a screen-break but, like most of us, I don’t get the opportunity to go to extreme lengths, or particularly want to leave my life behind. Since lockdown, many of us have had to resort to more time online to keep in contact with our tribe, fulfil work duties, participate in educational activities and even keep ourselves amused. The digitisation of life is difficult to escape without strict rules and discipline imposed by one’s self, yet waiting until breaking point to make modern life more manageable is also best avoided.
So, to take back control in a reasonable way and deal with a tad of internet overwhelm, for the last 2 weeks I decided to dedicate one day of the week to being screen-free. Due to the Christian cultural ritual of Sunday being the rest day in England, the country I live in, and therefore the day least likely to be filled with imminent emails to attend to, I have now committed to “Screen-free Sunday”. I would love to invite you all to partake in this weekly self-care ritual – or whatever day works for you. Perhaps even half a day, or even an hour, if your lifestyle will not allow any longer.
Consider it a regular “fast”, which may be even more effective for you than current dietary fads of “intermittent fasting” and all its variations. Some people benefit from a break from food, some from technology, some from alcohol, or whatever it is to let your body just rest and repair.
Now, during lockdown, we are learning that we don’t need to have everything all at once. In fact, a lot of people are reporting that simplifying and slowing down their daily life has been a welcome relief despite the capitalist hold on our consumption that we’re used to and social obligations all over the place, online and IRL.
We have all been conditioned into searching for our “life goals” on instagram, communicate with all our friends, families, colleagues, potential love interests, and keep up to date with the latest news and research. Well what about that beautiful sense of awe and wonder? Daydreams? What about discovering information, or a whole new world, in a book or newspaper? What if you could just see what is really in front of you, instead of a millions of mirages of the internet’s choosing? What if you could just feel for a moment, and not think without having to numb your mind with media?
Best of all, you can still have an incredibly productive day, leave the screens and just get on with everything else. You will feel more relaxed but probably get more done! Less choice, less distraction, more focus, and more action!
Tips for a serene screen-free Sunday:
- Lose the guilt. You deserve to take the time out. You are not ignoring people, or obligations, but resting in order to come back to communications with a better attitude and calmer frame of mind, and probably better digestion!
- Do some exercise for an endorphin/serotonin rush to alleviate the dopamine withdrawal symptoms.
- Sleep – you may notice you are more sleep without screen stimulation, so give in and catch up!
- Yoga – connect body and mind and enjoy feeling, and sensing your body as you are able to stay in the present more.
- Cook good food, and taste it, with your eyes, nose and mouth! Without distraction of the TV.
- Listen to the radio! It doesn’t have to be a complete electronic detox if you don’t want it to, just screen free! Or you can listen to the beautiful birds or eavesdrop on the outside world.
- Make notes. If things you must attend to online come to your attention – write them all down so you can keep your mind nice and spacious. Plenty of time to look it up later.
- Self care and beauty – look at yourself! Those toe nails may need some attention!
- Meditate, without a device to guide you. Simply observe your sensory reality.
- Walk mindfully – explore your surroundings without being plugged in.
- Look and listen to what you can actually see in real life!
- Sunning / palming – these are Bates Method, or Eye Yoga, techniques to relax your eyes and nourish them with the sun’s light and warmth. Join me in this Monday’s LIVE yoga class for a demo.
For screen on days, come and find me! You can learn yoga sequences to take away for later, and in the 4-part Yoga for Gut Health and Healing course, I have even drawn each sequence for you to print out if you have the means. You can even just listen to the instructions and keep your eyes screen free.
I am not also teaching a Deep Flow yin-yasa class with You Seek Yoga – a new online platform. Plenty of opportunity to listen and not look as we flow through deep yogic postures into a restful restorative state.