tech disconnect

By Jon Shoulders

Disengaging might yield a body of results

Let’s face it, technology has worked its way into nearly every aspect of our lives. Our jobs, our shopping, our entertainment, our exercise; all facets of our lives are becoming linked to, and even dependent on, the endless apps, alerts, notifications and reminders that emanate from the various screens at which we find ourselves perpetually glaring.

But exercise? That’s supposed to be a time when we’re more focused than ever on our own bodies and minds, right? Several local experts say our physical and mental well-being can be drastically improved if we take time to disconnect from technology while attempting to better ourselves through endeavors like yoga, meditation, weight lifting, running and biking.

Power down to power up

Mendy Williams, instructor at Peaceful Heart Yoga Studio in Franklin, says shutting down phones, pads and tablets when it’s time to exercise can simply allow us to listen to our bodies more effectively, steering us toward exercise options that are more optimal for our specific physical makeup.

“Technology is wonderful and has great benefits, but it can also be a distraction and even a stressor,” Williams says. “Disconnecting allows us to connect with our authentic selves and the world around us. Then we can better approach our own health needs. For example, running can be great, but it’s not for everybody; but many of us think we have to be runners and follow along with a screen right in our faces on a treadmill. That can do more harm than good depending on your personal situation.”

Mindi Epstein, owner of three Peace Through Yoga studio locations in Franklin, Speedway and Danville, adds that disconnecting during workouts can yield a range of benefits outside the gym.
“I hear from my students all the time that they’re calmer at work and at home, and they have more effective decision making, from being here at the yoga studio steadying their minds and focusing on their bodies,” Epstein says. “It’s beneficial for those in the corporate setting specifically for that reason, so that people learn to feel better and take a break from technology, and ultimately perform at a higher level.”

Adam Heavrin, exercise science instructor at Franklin College, says that even for the most tech-reliant among us, disconnecting completely at the gym can be a relaxing and fun change of pace.

“It depends on the individual,” Heavrin says. “For many of us, doing yoga or a meditation session is going to be more worthwhile if we get away from our screens, unless you’re using a YouTube video for the session itself. For the types of workouts where there’s a performance goal attached to the exercise, data can be your friend, so you might benefit from having your smartwatch or your phone with you.”

Technology that can monitor heart rate, steps and calorie expenditure can certainly have its place in the gym. If you’re giving such technology a try, Heavrin recommends assessing progress after a few weeks of use to determine if your devices are helping overall physical progress or simply adding stress to your sweat sessions.

The big sleep

According to Heavrin, making sure that screen time doesn’t affect sleep is every bit as important as the decision to incorporate wrist-based fitness technology, guided exercise apps and the like into your workout routine.

“What people should know is that the blue light that comes off of all these screens that we spend all day and night in front of can affect your restfulness, especially if you’re exposed to it late at night or using screens to exercise later in the evening,” Heavrin says. “Our bodies are set up to respond to sunlight, and now we have all this blue light surrounding us all day with tablets and phones. It can throw your body clock off and affect your energy and mood through the day.”

Try tracking your weekly screen time, something many smartphones can do for you, to determine whether you need to cut back and when to do so. Set a cutoff time in the evening for shutting down your screens, and chances are you’ll sleep better for it. Many retailers now offer blue light-blocking glasses that can potentially minimize eye strain and help to improve sleep quality.

“Monitoring your relationship with technology is really important, especially when it comes to sleep,” Heavrin adds. “If you were building a pyramid of health, sleep would be the foundation for everything.”

Body-Brain Benefits

Williams says yoga is as much a mind-based pursuit as it is a workout for the physical body, making it ideal for those in need of disconnecting from that office laptop or latest TV binge session, if even for an hour or so.

“Yoga prepares the body for meditation, and it helps us to practice slowing down so that we can be more mindful of when our body is thriving, when it needs rest and when it’s ailing,” she says. “It transfers into daily life as a metaphor as well. If your intention is physical flexibility in class, then you’ll find yourself more mindful of bringing flexibility into everyday living.”

Try using exercise time specifically to power down your smartphone. Once your workout is complete, you might realize, as a more general matter, that the world won’t fall apart if those emails, texts and IMs aren’t checked every five minutes throughout the workday and evening hours.

“If you’ve been depending on your smartwatch for exercise for a while, you might enjoy leaving it at home for a change and just fly by the seat of your pants,” Heavrin says. “You might find that you don’t need an alarm going off in your headphones every two minutes to let you know that your heart rate is in your target zone. You might find that you’ve been just chasing numbers instead of getting a good workout all this time.”

Williams herself is a testament to the benefits that can result from disconnecting and being mindful during exercise.

“As I taught yoga, my father became ill over the course of a year and a half and passed away,” she says. “If it weren’t for the kind of yoga that I teach, which is a little slower and where you sit calmly, I don’t think I would have processed everything as well. I was allowed to sit and be with the grief and other feelings. I let those feelings flow through my body, feelings that otherwise would have maybe festered a little bit if I hadn’t completely disconnected and allowed myself to be calm and in the moment.”