We live in a hyper-connected culture: FaceTime, Facebook, texting, Skyping, Tweeting, chat rooms, message boards. We connect through technology more than ever, staying in touch with record numbers of people at one time...but how many people really touch us? How many people do we touch, with our hands, our eyes, our hearts? Experts such as social psychologists and our own grandparents have suggested that most of us are actually out of touch...we're missing out on true connection. We are becoming lonelier.
A Facebook friend of mine, who also happens to be one of my very few true friends, recently posted an article about loneliness and social media, confessing that she cried after reading it. We are holding our phones and tablets instead of each other: “the very magic of the new machines, the efficiency and elegance with which they serve us, obscures what isn’t being served: everything that matters. What Facebook has revealed about human nature—and this is not a minor revelation—is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity. Solitude used to be good for self-reflection and self-reinvention. But now we are left thinking about who we are all the time, without ever really thinking about who we are.”
In our fast-paced lifestyles which prioritize multitasking, we are not only spending less time physically connected to our tribe, the members of our social and familial circles; we are also spending less time with ourselves. Although loneliness is a growing problem, we have all but eliminated solitude. This explains our growing interest in yoga and meditation. We need time to connect through disconnection.
Practicing yoga, alone or in a class, cultivates a deep interior connection. Through our practice we tune into who we really are. We go within and connect deeply, accessing our natural qualities of empathy and compassion. This allows us to make more meaningful connections in the world. Seeing the suffering in ourselves and learning to ease it helps us to recognize suffering in others, and informs us as we reach out on a deeper level than just a chat room, just a text message, just a "like" on Facebook.
A focused, physical practice like yoga is self-care for the mind, body and spirit. By steadying the breath and the mind, we learn how to take care of our own feelings, our own injuries, our own hearts; in turn, we become better able to cultivate sweetness and openness in our relationships. As we connect on our mats, we become better connectors in the world outside, experiencing deeper connections and facilitating them for others.
Do this for yourself today. Don't be a lonely heart. Light your heart aflame and shine that torch for others. I tell this to myself, too: put the phone down, get off the computer and go hug someone, knock on your neighbor's door, call your friend instead of texting her (I did call my friend when she posted that she was crying!) Maybe even go to a yoga class! Hug yourself on your mat. I ask my students to do this. Try it. Be present for yourself, not virtually, but completely.