I have had innumerable conversations with clients, colleagues, and my own self (I, too, have vulnerable days) about social media.
For those of us who are active content creators, social media is a fast, inexpensive, and effective way of getting the message out and connecting with our audiences. Smartphones have added more flexibility to our work lives, and social media can be an incredible tool. You can capture anything and everything in real time and share it widely in a matter of seconds.
But having an intentional boundary in place is the only way to avoid stress and social media fatigue. If you don’t learn to pause, life in the digital age with its constant pings from notifications can be overwhelmingly challenging. I know of people who have felt depressed after spending excessive amounts of time on social media.
You might be wondering what Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras have to do with modern-day living and the use of social media?
Well, everything. The enduring relevance of the Yoga Sutras can give you a fresh perspective on living a balanced life. Through the five Yamas, or social restraints and moral codes of yoga we find basic guidelines for living a life of personal fulfillment that will also benefit society:
1. Ahimsa: Non-violence or avoiding thoughts or actions that might harm others. Being indifferent to your loved ones or your community is an act of violence. To not be able to stop scrolling your phone will do you damage and negatively impact your health – that is violence. To yell at a child or pet because you feel burnt out…that’s definitely violence. To practice ahimsa, I think we all have to parent ourselves a bit.
In my home, we have a rule: no phones at the dining table or when we eat/drink. No phones in our bedroom. You want to be present with the people and in the moment. You want to appreciate and relish the effort that goes into making a meal. It’s a privilege to be able to cook, eat, digest, and enjoy a meal as a family. You want to pay attention to how any beverage or meal makes you feel. Sure, I share an occasional photo of what’s on my plate. But that’s before we start to eat. I will take the picture and put the phone away.
Mindfulness lowers frustrations and stress. In the beginning, my husband resisted putting the phone away, especially during football season. But he slowly started to understand that mindless scrolling or TV-watching is exhausting our nervous system. It takes courage and strength and discipline and support from others around us to disconnect. But we need to do that to nourish, replenish, and recover.
2. Asteya: Non-stealing. Asteya goes beyond not stealing material possessions; it is also about not stealing from others and yourself. Practice asteya by being mindful of your consumption of social media and how that interferes with your mental health and your family time. Do you create posts, share, and then wait with bated breath for “likes” and “comments?” Then you scroll down your phone and refresh your feed in the hope that your engagement would have gone up in those few seconds. If you are having a terrible day, sometimes, you make up stories inside your head (with no proof whatsoever) that people don’t like you and that’s why they don’t engage with your post. Don’t steal away your mental peace. Don’t steal your self-esteem and confidence by relying constantly on outside validation.
3. Satya: Truthfulness in words, thoughts, and actions. Practice satya by defining why you are on social media. As an author, coach, and speaker I am on social media to educate, empower, inform, and connect. My clients, editors, and community of like-minded people are on social media.
By the same token, I am also connected to friends and family there though they aren’t my driving force. At first that would limit me: I don’t always want to share my process with those in my personal circle. There is work-me, and personal-me. I had to pause and figure out my purpose.
“Satya” (living your truth) is an important principle. I love talking about writing, wellness, and women’s voices on social media. If my content doesn’t echo with people, they are free to unfollow – even if they are related to me. But I refuse to change my truth for other people’s convenience.
4. Aparigraha: Non-possessiveness of material goods and people. Practice aparigraha by letting go of expectations and attachments. Use social media for the joy of connectivity that it brings in your life.
Forget the lurkers. You can also call them the familiar stalkers. These are people who swear they are never on Facebook or Instagram. They never hesitate to chide social media platforms and social networking. They pretend to be elitist. Social media is beneath them. But the minute you share a story on Instagram or Facebook, they are amongst the first to see what you share. But when you meet in person or chat over the phone, they pretend they have no clue about what you have been up to.
“I have been so busy,” is the common lie uttered by most lurkers. Drop your expectations of such people and of any support from them. We don’t know the motivation behind other people’s behavior, but we do have control over our thoughts.
5. Brahmacharya: Celibacy, conservation of energy, or moderation. Within the context of the digital age, you can incorporate brahmacharya into your life by carving out time for rest and recuperation. Have a schedule in place to use social media, so you don’t feel stressed or pressured about being constantly available. Maybe use an app like Freedom that will help you schedule your focused time. Practice abstaining social media use once a week. Disconnect to reconnect. Do find ways to relax and recharge so that you have the energy to do things that are important to you, and you have time for people who matter.
The Yoga Sutras don’t label you or your behavior as “good” or “bad.” They are not manuals that will teach you how to use social media. But they are beautiful teachings that help us understand our mind and what drives our motivations. They remind us that we will continue to suffer if we don’t learn to pause and pay attention to the moment. They also remind us that we can achieve increased levels of appreciation, satisfaction, joy, and well-being. Applying the Yamas to your daily life might take some time. But with practice without any ego or attachment, it’s certainly attainable.
“It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed.” ~ Patañjali, Yoga Sutras