Wellness in a Digital Age

28/01/2018

Given that the majority of Comhcheol's activities in 2017 spanned the disparate and broad field of experience between yoga and technology, I decided that 2018 will see me looking for opportunities to explore the challenges and opportunities that are created by intentionally merging these two fields.
This intention crystallized once I made the image of the yogi in Lord of the Dance pose holding a smartphone, with her idyllic beach surroundings spliced by a notional interior with widescreen. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly an intention can manifest something.

Through the journey of intensively teaching the Digital Skills for Citizens course in the closing months of last year, and numerous conversations with like-minded people, it became apparent that something special might happen if some of these people were gathered in a room. It happened in the form of 'Digital Wellness', an event that ran in Leabharlann Ghaoth Dobhair in January that explored the opportunities and challenges posed to people's ability to maintain wellbeing in the context of technology. The events unfolded as follows...

5:00-6:30 pm:
Healthy Ireland in the Library workshop co-presented by Maria Coleman (Comhcheol Arts and Wellness) and Linda Ní Ghallchóir (PHEW). This workshop blended a mental wellness workshop with yoga techniques to build emotional resilience skills. This workshop was very well attended, with locals, past participants of the Digital Skills for Citizens course, members of Gweedore Women's Shed, and people referred by the local Social Prescriber, Kit Keating in attendance. Free to participants, the workshop was funded through Donegal County Council's Library service.

7:00-8:30 pm:

LÁMHA (Life Affirming Mental Health Action) a community wellness initiative based in the Donegal Gaeltacht, presented 'Digital Wellness', a series of talks that considered the challenges and opportunities for maintaining wellness in the digital age.

The talks ran as follows:

  • LÁMHA co-founder Linda Ní Ghallchóir talked about her personal journey to wellness through losing and regaining her eyesight. She described how despite her unique situation and rural setting she was able to find an informed, like-minded community through social networking. This online network proved an invaluable resource of advice and emotional support. Her experiences inform her as she embarks on her new business journey with PHEW (Positive Health and Emotional Well-being).
  • Liam Ó Gogáin, a representative from Gweedore Men's Shed outlined how technology has helped their group learn and grow together. He spoke about the men's shed experience of the Digital Skills for Citizens course and his hopes to digitally network the sheds nationally and internationally. Drawing on his years of experience as an engineering lecturer, he reflected on how such technologies could increase human collaborations and evolve our understanding of optimal learning environments.
  • Paul Kernan from Pobal le Chéile, Falcarragh introduced Donegal's unique Community Health Forum initiative which is expanding across the county, and allowing grassroots organisations and primary care teams to mutually inform each other for improved health outcomes. He reflected on ways health advocacy and community cohesion can be supported by the communication opportunities offered by technology.
  • Katie Coyle from Donegal Down Syndrome group outlined how the Digital Skills for Citizens course benefited the group, particularly helping to build confidence among the young participants. The careers in the group had equal learning opportunities, acquiring security and privacy skills to help protect vulnerable adults in their care, as well as access information to enhance their ability to advocate for themselves and their loved ones.
  • Howard Chu an internationally renowned software developer spoke of his aspiration to teach the youth of the Donegal Gaeltacht to code, reminding those present that one of the world's first coders was Kay McNulty from Creeslough. He pointed to research showing that the world's best coders are also musicians. Given that West Donegal has an embarrassment of musical ability, he hopes to begin a music and coding centre of excellence in the area.
  • Maria Coleman, co-founder of LÁMHA closed proceedings by reflecting on the earlier talks, in particular noting how the speakers had generally found positive aspects to the technology. Noting challenges such as keeping children safe online and the dangers of digital distraction etc., she referenced her own interactive digital art background to illustrate the need to adapt technology more to our own needs instead of allowing the 'tool' to always frame the context of the exchange. To this end, she looked forward to Howard's future prodigies creating apps dedicated to wellness, additionally highlighting how coding could be the new indigenous industry that could keep Gealgóirí living and working in the Gaeltacht!

This event showcased some of the the successes of the Digital Skills for Citizens course in West Donegal, with the presentation of certificates to members of Donegal Down Syndrome Group and also computer tablets to three Men's Sheds (Gweedore, Falcarragh, Arranmore Island).
The course was funded by the Department of Communications Climate Action and Environment, administered through Roscommon Leader Partnership and taught by Maria Coleman of Comhcheol Arts and Wellness.