Time is money, efficiency is life. This is the motto of my host city, Shenzhen. I love many aspects of my life here in Asia — the spicy Chinese hot pot restaurants, my classroom window that looks out onto the South China Sea, and the proximity to the bustling city of Hong Kong — but I have never really dug this saying that Shenzhen proudly carved into a rock near the Hilton in town. This is, perhaps, the greatest challenge of living in China, feeling the constant pulse of efficiency, with a mind towards economic progress, with little consideration for a balance with silence and stillness.
This spring has felt rather frantic in ways, and for this reason, I chose to spend my spring break at a yoga retreat in Sri Lanka. Villa de Zoysa is a gorgeous colonial mansion outside of the capital, Colombo, run by Devinda de Zoysa. A week spent eating the freshest foods, practicing yoga twice a day, and listening to the waves of the ocean has calmed my nerves that had begun to feel frayed. It also offered me some takeaways to bring back to Shenzhen in order to maintain the equilibrium that I established in Sri Lanka.
Digital detoxes will declutter your headspace
Before I took off from the Hong Kong airport, I deleted Instagram and Facebook from my phone. Recently I have begun to reflect on how social media has been affecting my mindfulness — essentially, it has become an easy and frequent distraction from being in the present moment. I also purposefully refrained from buying a sim card when I touched down in Colombo.
These decisions allowed me to use my phone simply as a camera. I captured breathtaking sunsets, typical Sri Lankan scenes, and a few good yoga poses. Reflecting over this break, I had to acknowledge to myself that I was becoming a serial poster on social media. Without immediate access, I was more mindful in my posts upon returning home, considering which photos would really speak to my audience.
Most importantly, the time away from tech led me feeling like I had regained some brain space. I haven’t put Facebook back on my phone, and this is allowing me to keep some of that zen I found in the yoga shala.
Slowing your flow will center you
Previous to this retreat, I had practiced vinyasa and Bikram yoga. I expected to practice the faster paced vinyasa flows during my stay, but this was not so. I was initially disappointed, but it turned out to be to my benefit.
While our morning practice consisted of many ashtanga poses, our yoga instructor brought us through the sequence more slowly. I began to feel the way that my HIIT workouts and runs had tightened my hamstrings, the stresses of school creating knots in my back. Between the morning practice and slow evening hatha practice, I breathed cleansing breaths into these tight spots, feeling the tension dissolve over the week as my heels finally met the floor in my final downward facing dogs.
As I was breathing five deep breaths in each of the yoga poses, I realized that my workouts have been matching the pace of my life; I had been bringing the intensity of my days into my fitness routines. While this approach has its place, some days, I acknowledged, it has inhibited my ability to wholly unwind. Since returning from the retreat, I have taken special care to listen to what my body and soul really need.
As I write today, I am no longer surrounded by the soft sounds of Sri Lankan insects and birds contributing to nature’s chorus. The city sounds of Shenzhen encompass me, a symphony of honking horns, rushing cars and distant construction pounding. I am missing Villa de Zoysa, but I have packed something of the experience into my soul. Shenzhen may have her motto, and I have my own: All the moments are priceless. Breathing into them is life.