Are you addicted to technology?
Maybe you need a digital detox. Our reporter talks to the duo who realise that embracing technology in a positive way is the secret to quietening the mind
In 2015, there are few of us who aren't slaves to technology. Most of us own a smartphone, and many of us are hyper involved with social media. According to an Ipsos MRBI survey last month, 59pc of Irish adults own a Facebook account, and 67pc of those use it daily. Add that to email, messaging, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, blogging and browsing, and it's fair to say that a digital detox could be a good idea once in a while.
However cutting yourself from the entire digital world might not always be a good idea - after all, many of us live our professional lives online and it's just not practical to lock our phones and laptops away in order to keep us off them. Well, that's the ethos of unplug.ie, a digital detox with a difference - one that doesn't encourage something akin to a starvation diet in relation to your devices, but healthy management of our connected lives through mindfulness and meditation.
Chris Flack and William Meara are the two lads behind Dublin's pre-work rave event Morning Gloryville. They're wellness proponents, but with a twist - they want to integrate positivity and good vibes in to the lives we're realistically leading. Hence unplug.ie, a weekend retreat where you learn to manage your technology without having it manage you.
"I've spent time on other digital detoxes and whilst there are some great programmes, Unplug is the first to have a sustainable objective and encourages people to embrace technology as opposed to push it away," says Chris.
"Generation Z and future generations never lived in an analog world and potty trainees now have iPads. So instead of going against it, we have to assume that digital technology will become more dominant in our lives."
So how does it work? Well, the retreat starts on a Friday evening at 7pm in the peaceful country surroundings of Dunderry Park in Co Meath.
According to the lads, you can expect an agenda of mindful activities, meditation hacks and relaxation techniques "tailored to help you tap into your inner psych and cut away from the constant annoyance of your devices."
You'll undertake activities like Breath2Beat Yoga, Speed Meditation, Tibetan Gong Therapy, Story Telling, Nature Walks, tech workshops and more, and when you sign up you'll receive guidelines on how to power down slowly before you arrive.
The first activity is blind-folded speed networking by an open fire, with the aim of helping to focus awareness and the senses. The weekend is alcohol-free, and intended to be a break from the pressures of everyday life.
"Most digital detoxes are essentially like a diet or binge drinking," explains Chris. "It feels great at the time, then you crash afterwards.
"We've worked with a team of mental health professionals to develop our programme. It encourages you to slowly shut down from technology before the weekend then gradually reintroduces it on the second day with workshops on how you can use tech better and booster sessions following the weekend.
"We want to take the amazing meditation techniques from the East, add some science and make them accessible to everyone. The name 'unplug' is a good example of this, using simple words that we can all understand as opposed to mystical meditation terminology."
Chris is also known as the 'Suited Yogi', and describes himself as a social entrepreneur. He's been practising yoga and meditation for 10 years and teaching for the past two. Having studied in India for 18 months and spent 15 years working in the corporate world in Ireland, he says he understands which Eastern practices are applicable to the western world.
"We are taking the best of these from the East and mashing them up and delivering them in a way that works here," he says. "We want to revolutionise meditation by simplifying it and making it accessible to anyone."
If you find the word meditation off-putting, you're not alone. Many people dislike the spiritual aspects of yoga and other similar practices, like deep-breathing and chanting. But Chris and Will are aware of this - they know regular Irish people might not be in to more hippy lifestyle. They want to bring the really beneficial practice of focusing the mind and relaxing the brain to everyone, even the most cynical - and they think the current climate in Ireland regarding wellness is perfect for this kind of launch.
So where did the idea of a digital detox retreat come from, and why are these guys the right proponents of this philosophy?
"When Morning Gloryville launched - despite our love for the project - we were skeptical as to whether, as a sober event it would work given Ireland's relationship with alcohol. However, it has been a huge success and we've been lucky to witness a growth in health-related events. Wellfest in Herbert Park this summer was a benchmark, with thousands of people attending and the biggest queue being for beginners meditation.
"The sad fact is that mental health is a growing problem and digital technology can lead to addiction and related anxiety," says Chris.
"The whole concept of being more digitally connected and less analog connected often leads to isolation and loneliness. We want to help people get some balance back in their lives. We've worked with a panel of psychologists, cognitive behavioural therapists and tech experts to ensure people see there is some science behind this, and to develop a unique sustainable programme."
Participants can expect to learn from Emer Duffy, specialist occupational therapist and yoga teacher. She runs Living Life, a therapy and yoga company, and although she finds clients presenting with mental fatigue, she's a strong advocate for the many benefits of technology. Her motto is 'Let's make friends with tech, and give your brain a break', which sounds like an attractive proposition for anyone feeling overwhelmed by being constantly 'on'.
"The aim is to run one event every quarter and have an Unplug festival in Summer 2016," says Chris. "We're focusing on the corporate workplace, because today's business world has little downtime. There is no such thing as 9-5, work is 24/7 and we want to ensure that people can develop some balance in their lives.
"Corporates are starting to embrace well-being, however, often people don't realise they could benefit from meditation. At Wellfest, Bressie made a very good point that physical exercise should always come first to develop positive mental health.
"However, we should have a mindful/meditation practice as a back up. That way, if you get injured or are unable to workout or play sports, you have a solid base to maintain positive mental health."
* The next Unplug.ie event is October 23-25. To avail of the earlybird offer of €270, see fitmagazine.ie
Health & Living