I’ve been called a chronically “bad” texter. That means if you text me, I might get back to you late that evening. Or the next day. Or the following Tuesday. I just don’t think texts require an instantaneous response. For me a text is like email; I’ll respond when I can.
I’ve never considered how thoughtful my text messaging strategy is. But maybe I should. “Texting is an extension of communication somewhere between verbal and written. It isn’t quite either, and yet it’s also both at the same time,” says Ric Mathews, a yoga teacher and psychotherapist based in New York. “Given that an enormous amount of our communication today is via text, treating it with the same mindfulness we bring to face-to-face conversations can mean the difference between fortifying relationships or damaging them.”
Applying the core tenets of yoga philosophy to our texting practices promotes compassion, empathy, and self-awareness—the building blocks of good communication. I asked Mathews and other experts to shed some light on how we can apply yoga principles to our messaging to strengthen our bonds with other people.
See also: How to Plan a Mindful Digital Detox
Rely on the breath
Though not responding to a message right away might seem rude, it may actually be healthier to take a breath first.
“I’ve found that [breathing is] a helpful tool to invite more intention and ease into my texting etiquette,” says Jung Kim, a Philadelphia–based yoga teacher. She suggests practicing pranayama before responding to a text. “Especially if there’s a message that stirs up a little ‘spice’ in how we feel. A little breath goes a long way.”
In this way, not responding to texts right away is actually a more mindful approach. (This of course doesn’t apply when someone needs an immediate response for something truly important.)
Instant messaging makes us feel obligated to respond to people ASAP. “The underlying impulse to respond to texts immediately is a byproduct of the implicit way we have been conditioned to default to ‘always available,’ ” Mathews says. But this lack of boundaries isn’t healthy. “We aren’t an on-demand service with requirements to robotically respond, react, and engage in real time constantly,” Kim says. “You have every right to conserve your energy and not respond right away, even if that makes others briefly uncomfortable.”
To prevent friends and loved ones from feeling like you’ve blown them off by not responding to their message immediately, let them know that you don’t typically respond to texts right away, but that you will be in touch. “Over time,” Mathews says, “the people texting you will begin to understand that you are not always available on demand.” Likewise, don’t judge others who don’t respond to you quickly, Kim warns.
Texting is an easy way to send good thoughts to someone when you’re not able to have a deeper catch-up. “I’ve used texts to tell others that I’ve been thinking about them,” Kim says. She also reminds them that there are no obligations or expectations for them to return the message.
A “thinking of you” text can be an opportunity to schedule a phone, video, or in-person hangout at a time when you can offer each other your full attention.
“Some conversations can be uncomfortable for us to have in person. Writing or texting can create a safety for us to say what we want to say when emotions are running high,” Mathews says. While sending a text can ease communication, it shouldn’t take the place of a phone or face-to-face interaction—especially when it comes to important issues.
Practice the principle of satya, or truthfulness. “Acknowledge that you are having difficulty discussing things in person and are using text as a temporary scaffold in order to lessen the discomfort—with the goal to eventually get to a place to continue talking in person,” he says.
“A big key to this is awareness,” Kim says. Are you sending the text to invite conversation or avoid it? If it’s the latter, that probably means it’s worth a direct, face-to-face talk.
And never forget how easy it is to misinterpret the tone of a written message. If the person on the other end of the text reads it incorrectly, that could make the situation worse.
Consider your communications through the lens of ahimsa, nonharming, Mathews suggests. When you reach out for solace, consider the recipient’s capacity to make space for you. “Start off a conversation by first asking how they are doing, and then requesting permission to share at a time that works for them. That could look like, ‘I’m having a difficult time right now and could use some connection with you. Will you please let me know when’s a good time to talk?’”
The principle of brahmacharya teaches us to manage excess in our lives. “This means paying attention to and redefining our conditioned responses to pervasive technology, too,” Mathews says.
When your phone is constantly within reach, you may be more tempted to use it. Leave it in your pocket or in another room, he advises. Turn notifications off.
This is also a way to practice asteya, or nonstealing, in our communication, Kim says. Using our phones with intention keeps us from “robbing ourselves of the joy and the ability to be really present,” she explains. There’s a time and a place for texting, messaging, or swiping. But when you’re in the presence of someone you care about, talking and touching trumps texting every time.