By Ashley Holly McEachern
Guilty as charged. Just days after Pokémon Go – Niantic and Nintendos’ crowd pleasing app- hit the market, I joined my tech-nerd of a boyfriend for a walk down Toronto’s Bloor West neighbourhood, armed with a big screen iPhone and a map of my city and its lurking Pokémon. During the two hours we ended up wandering through the nooks and crannies of our neighbourhood streets, I felt a blurry collision of complete outrage for the deepening of an already technologically addicted society and absolute awe at the fact that this ‘nintendo’ game was taking otherwise sedentary human beings walking through the great outdoors. With that in mind, here are my top ten reasons why Pokémon Go, while not without its faults, isn’t all bad. In fact, Pokémon Go just might be the antithesis to a culture that stays at home and plays video games, risking their emotional, energetic and physical health. Here is why:
1. People are walking. We walked for two entire hours. Imagine how two hours of active movement rather than sitting, even just once a week, can astronomically transform a person’s health and wellness. During the first week Pokémon Go launched, people were posting incredible Fitbit screenshots on Instagram of the 1,500-3,000 extra calories they had burned just from playing Pokémon Go one day.
2. People are exploring. We meandered into streets we hadn’t visited just minutes from our home and admired art on local schools and graffiti in nearby alleyways. My neighbourhood PokéStops (or points of interest) were awe-inspiring to the point that I started to forget I was in my own country, let alone my own city. The game became a travel guide to my own community, with secrets I somehow hadn’t uncovered until Pokémon Go came around.
3. People are engaging. Two weeks ago, I watched the world walk past, with their eyes stuck on their screens. Those folks never looked up to observe or gawk at an interesting monument or piece of art. Now, when Pokémon Go pops up a PokéStop, they do.
4. People are connecting. Despite the head down posture and eyes glued to the screen requirement of playing Pokémon Go, truth is, people are leaving the dark cyber corners of their homes and discovering other people – other real, beautiful, living, and breathing human beings – who share the same interests and passions. For many single 90’s children, this just might be the next best way to ‘catch’ a date.
5. Families are playing together. Rather than watching television together over snacks, or, more realistically, watching a series of separate shows at each persons individual laptop or iPad – families are hitting the city streets, with their kids, learning, navigating, and exploring. The game provides ample opportunities for parents and kids to connect and teach and learn together.
6. People are dancing. Maybe not all of them, but we did. In fact, on our spontaneous trip to the local park, my partner threw the phone into his pocket and pulled me onto an outdoor stage, where we slow danced beneath the urban stars amidst the cell phone glows and shadows lurking around us.
7. People are going to the GYM… and maybe, just maybe, the repetition of that word alone will filter into their subconscious and encourage them to go to an actual, literal, gym to ease all the inevitable head and neck pain that will come with Pokémon Go playing.
8. People are taking action. In Sudbury, community members involved with the local Pokémon Go Facebook Group had arranged to meet at a local park to play the game together – when faced with city demands for a permit – Pokémon players stood strong as a united front and one player declared that “this game has brought so many people close to each other,” and now the group is working to raise money to rent the park. Who knows what the Pokémon playing forces could accomplish as a united front!
9. People are going outdoors. Despite being hyper-connected to technology, Pokémon Go players are spending more time in nature, which can increase depleted energy, awaken breath awarenes, and sense experiences. The amount of sunlight, fresh air, and active movement Pokémon Go is providing to a predominantly sedentary population is priceless.
10. People are smiling. Perhaps the most powerful series of social media posts I have uncovered post-Pokémon Go relate to how the game – and all of the aforementioned points – have helped to ease the very things most of my students come to yoga for – stress, depression, loneliness, and anxiety. One twitter user posits, “#PokemonGO has honestly helped so much with my depression and anxiety I’m actually talking to people and being active I love this so much,” while another declares, “Real talk – as someone with anxiety/depression, the fact that I’ve spent most of this weekend outside with friends is unreal. #PokemonGo,” to the most powerful post this week, “I’ve made so many new friends with #PokemonGO, it’s helped my social anxiety, and I’m actually getting out. This is more than just a game.”
While I don’t plan on spending my forthcoming days chasing Pokémon, I believe that this shift in gaming – to an outdoor, interactive, and social environment – can have unprecedented benefits for a specific population of people who might never come to the yoga studio. My belief is that yoga is a practice of union and wellbeing, two things I think this new app have already mastered.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ashley Holly McEachern, who discovered yoga after completing her MA in International Development and working with some of the world’s most at-risk populations. It was during a Yoga Teacher Training in the Sacred Valley of Peru where she realized that mindfulness is the path towards truly eradicating disease, poverty, and exploitation. Ashley currently lives in Toronto, leads yin yoga teacher trainings at YYOGA, consults with Skyfall Blue and Core Essence, and writes for various blogs and magazines across the globe. Visit her online at www.ashleyholly.com and follow her adventures on Instagram.