Sunday January 08, 2017

Mobile mindfulness can bring calm to your hectic life

Rohan Gunatillake on simple mindfulness exercises to do while walking.

Listen 17:33

The way we use our digital tech can be distracting and stressful. But does it have to be that way? Common wisdom says if you want to gain focus, stay calm, and be 'present', you need to turn off your phone, unplug, and detox.

Rohan Gunatillake creates mindfulness tools, such as Buddhify. He's also the author of the new book, Modern Mindfulness.

Rohan argues that we can actually use our tech in ways that support mindfulness, focus and calm, as we train our minds and attention over time. "If our only strategy to deal with this force [digital technology] which is increasingly underpinning our lifestyles...our economy, is to turn it off...that's a really unsustainable approach," he says. "Given that these technologies are not going away, it's really important for us not to write them off as purely as the enemy of our well-being, but actually including them in how we understand our well-being."

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Rohan Gunatillake

For Rohan, using technology to support wellness is part of a broader trajectory. "The last 10 years has shown us, from the Nintendo Wii to the Apple watch, that technology has become increasingly supportive of physical health," he says. "I think the next evolution of that is using this stuff to support our mental well-being."

An example of a simple exercise using our personal technology is "Cyborg Sense" - extending traditional body awareness practice to the phone in our hand. "I hold my phone so often that it might as well be a part of my body," Rohan says. "When we're checking our emails, when we're checking our Instagram, can we also be aware of the texture of the phone, the sensation of our finger on the screen...When you do it over time, on the one hand it allows us to be more embodied, more present, but also, when part of our mind is in contact with a physical sensation, we're less likely to be sucked into the content [of the phone]"

"My emphasis is to show people how they can meditate wherever they are and whatever they're doing. Historically, that's always been part of the tradition."

While there will always be an important role for formal meditation, he thinks we can find ways to incorporate mindfulness meditation into busy, contemporary life. "My emphasis is to show people how they can meditate wherever they are and whatever they're doing," Rohan says. "Historically, that's always been part of the tradition, if you like, but in the last 40 or 50 years, the idea of meditation has become quite narrow."

While there's a lot we can do as individuals, Rohan thinks it's important for tech companies to make products that support our focus and attention, something they haven't yet taken seriously. "So many of these technologies are actually designed to trap our attention, and it's unfair on us as users of this stuff to make it all our problem," he thinks. "If mindfulness teaches you anything, it's that the quality and nature of our attention has an impact on our well-being...I feel it's important that technology companies themselves start to take more responsibility about how they're using our attention."


Win a copy of the book!

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We have copies of Rohan Gunatillake's book, Modern Mindfulness, to give away. For your chance to win, leave a comment below giving us your top tip for winning the battle for your attention when you feel scattered and distracted. Contest closes Thursday January 12, 2017, at 5:00 pm Eastern. CBC contest rules apply.