How to Balance Work and Health

From Monday through Friday, 9-to-6, I’m a web developer, hunched over a laptop, coding away, shipping features, and fixing bugs. In the evenings, I teach yoga, guiding students through power vinyasa flows, linking breath to movement.

I love both my jobs. The yoga complements quite nicely with being a web developer.  With all the sitting and hunching and coding, I find that, on a physical level, yoga does wonders to combat the tension in the shoulders, low back, and hips accumulated from a desk job. However, beyond just that, I think the lessons I’ve learned from the mat can be applied in the office to find more stillness, more mindfulness, and less stress as I navigate throughout the work day.

On the mat, it’s easy (well, easier) to be mindful of my breath and thoughts. In the office, it’s a tad more difficult. I started using Spire about a week ago, and at first, it registered a couple calm streaks. No surprise for me there. I pride myself on being a relatively calm individual. The surprise came when I felt a buzz on my waistband. “You seem tense, Michael.”

I hadn’t even realized that I was tense. I realized that while stuck on a coding problem, my breathing, typically more intentional, was short and sporadic. The buzz reminded to take a deep breath, take a quick break, and return back when my mind was clear.

That experience was a great reminder to take what I’ve learned from yoga and transfer it into my work and personal life.

Here are a couple lessons that I’ve learned from yoga that Spire in the last week has reminded me to apply to my day-to-day, hour-to-hour, breath-to-breath work experience.

spire

Focus – breathing through challenges

In inversions and power poses (headstands, handstands, or warrior poses), focus is imperative. In tough postures, you need to focus on alignment, on stamina, and perhaps most importantly, on your breath. While holding the entire weight of your body on two hands, or holding a lunge for what seems like an eternity, might seem daunting, when you consider doing it for a singular breath, it is feasible. You work through each challenging posture – breath by breath – and before you know it, you surprisingly have been in a headstand for ten whole breath cycles.

Similarly, at my desk job, I often get assigned projects which I have no idea how to approach. My heart rate speeds up, my thoughts scatter as I feel overwhelmed on how I’m actually supposed to implement the project. Focus can be difficult when I look at the entirety of the task at hand; however, when I break it up into manageable small tasks and prioritized to-do lists, breath by breath, I find that I’m able to finish each minute task and before I know it, I’m ready to ship the feature!

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Calm – listening to your body

As a yoga instructor, I constantly remind my students to listen to their bodies – that while I serve as a guide for their practice, it is ultimately up to them to determine how much they push or nurture their bodies. That it is vital to push themselves to the edges of their comfort zone in order to grow, but it is equally necessary to back off and take a break.

In the office, I often find myself doing the exact opposite of this advice. When I get stuck on a challenge while programming, I think that sitting there, banging my head against the table will eventually yield an answer. Sometimes, it does. But more often than not, I find that taking a deep breath or even taking a short break does wonders for stimulating the mind to find the solutions I was seeking.

In yoga class, when I’m fatigued I return to child’s pose as a way to back off on more challenging poses, reconnect with my breath, and regain my composure. Similarly, I need to do so with challenges in the office — when simply brute forcing my way to a solution when I’m clearly stuck isn’t effective.

During my week with Spire, the notifications served as literal reminders of this lesson. When I was tense, I received a buzz that told me to take a figurative child’s pose (take a breath, take a walk, take a break), and return to the challenge whenever I was ready.

Goal setting with Spire

Contentment – know that you are a work in progress

In class, I also remind students (and myself) that I’m exactly where I need to be, that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be in my practice. It is a practice in mindfulness and humility to (try to) not compare with other students who can more easily maneuver into advanced postures. It’s a reminder to not beat yourself up because you aren’t where you think you need to be.

This was perhaps the hardest lesson to take off the mat into my career as a programmer. I switched fields last year from digital marketing into software engineering, having done an immersive coding bootcamp. Without a computer science degree and very little coding background, I found that my internal dialogue about my capabilities was quite negative.

This is called imposter syndrome – or feelings of inadequacy in the widening gap I perceived between my own technical abilities and those of other programmers around me.

The antidote to this imposter syndrome lay within my own yoga practice. I needed to practice contentment in where I was in my coding capabilities, to know that I was a work in progress, and that I was exactly where I needed to be. That every block, every obstacle, and every challenge I was or wasn’t able to overcome served as a lesson to making myself a better programmer.

When I first saw my yoga teacher easily navigate into a headstand a couple years ago, I laughed and told myself that I wasn’t capable of that. However, each time I made it onto the mat, each time I practiced, each time I fell when I tried, I was building the strength and the flexibility to one day get into that pose. Now, I can easily move into a headstand, initially for just one breath — and now, for quite a few more.

But the lesson for me here is that something I thought was so daunting became feasible, but not without consistent practice, combined with mindfulness and breath. It’s a lesson I’ve tried to take into my professional life, but it’s definitely still a work in progress.

Yoga has taught me to be more patient, more mindful, more content over the years. However, when I’m coding away at my desk, I’m not paying too much attention to that. Spire reminds me of lessons from the mat especially when mindfulness is the furthest from my mind that I might just need to step away and take a deep breath.

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