The Myth of Multitasking

As Ferris Bueller observed, “Life moves pretty fast.” Isn’t this why we multi-task, to get more done in a day, despite an ever-mounting number of distractions? On average, each of us handles 100+ emails daily, with another 5,000 cramming our inboxes. Add phone calls, IMs, tweets, paper memos, meetings—it’s no wonder that U.S. citizens take fewer vacations than nearly every industrialized nation in the world. But evidence is growing that all this “productivity” is actually counterproductive—a sleep-stealing, concentration-scattering myth. And yogis aren’t exempt.

We may think we make up for multitasking on the mat, but the popularity of vinyasa classes suggests that many of us might be taking a “do more faster” mentality to the yoga studio. Yoga injuries have reportedly gone up, certainly because more people than ever are practicing asana but also because we’re practicing it competitively, aggressively, or distractedly. (Mindfulness and multitasking don’t mix.) How did we end up in this squirrel wheel, and how do we get out?

Viewed through the lens of the Yoga Sutras, multitasking may counter the yama of aparigraha, which can be translated as non-grasping. We juggle multiple tasks because we’re reaching for accomplishments or trying to keep hold of what we have. Underlying this is fear, and the ultimate fear is death, abhinivesha—or in this case, the death of the ego. Being busy has become an affirmation of our own identity or importance. Whether sparked by fear of unemployment in a shifting economy or fear of getting swept under a tidal wave of information, busy-ness wards off feelings of insecurity, helping us feel safe and alive.

Multi-tasking also violates brahmacharya. Surprised? This yama is sometimes translated as celibacy, but in a broader sense, it applies to conserving one’s life force. When we impulsively scatter our attention and energy in a half-dozen directions, we deplete our reserves, becoming tired and less resilient. Productivity goes down, and we work even harder to accomplish what we think we must.

Until we begin to experience the rewards of relaxation, we won’t break the addictive cycle of busy-ness. A single restorative yoga class won’t rebuild our “relaxation savings account,” but over time, “time outs” will add up. Take a nap or practice yoga nidra. Develop your powers of concentration in asana or on a meditation cushion. Go on a relaxing vacation or yoga retreat. If your workday involves intense computer time, one of the best remedies is to be in nature—go for a stroll or take your practice outdoors. To rejuvenate, we need to become more skillful at managing energy, and that’s what many of yoga’s deepest practices are all about.

What yoga practices have helped you relax and rejuvenate?


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