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What does yoga have to do with programming?

At first sight, there are few fields as distant as programming and yoga. So what do they have in common?
At first sight, there are few fields as distant as programming and yoga. One requires sitting or standing behind a desk, deep focus, and highly developed logical skills. The other is all about mindfulness, flexibility, and deep breathing.

I had been doing yoga for a couple of years already before joining a coding boot camp in Lisbon. I was so delighted to see that Le Wagon included a yoga session in a weekly schedule that I could almost feel my neck muscles relaxing when I read it. Being a multipotentialite, I love unexpected combos — and the intersection between web development and yoga is one of them. And I’ll tell you a secret: I’m not alone.

So there were things I expected to get out of doing yoga during the bootcamp:
  1. Increased flexibility after sitting still for hours.
  2. Better mobility — since I’ve had issues with sciatica for years now, I knew I just couldn’t afford not to do some form of exercises, and so it happened that yoga met my needs best.
  3. Relax. Since a coding bootcamp = very busy schedule, setting aside an hour or two to only focus on yourself is a great way to unwind.

Working as a programmer, you are constantly exposed to shifting feelings. One day you feel like you’re on top of the world as that little JavaScript element finally started doing what you wanted it to, the next day you spend hours chasing a bug that turns out to be something as trivial as a typo (refreshing your browser and not understanding why your changes are not being applied, only to discover you’ve been staring at production, not development, anyone?). This job can be a lot of fun, but you also need ways to handle the frustrations, self-doubt, and short deadlines.

You might carry in your mind the idea that yoga is a stretching activity mainly for women who don’t understand real physical activity, as public opinion is often telling you. If so, I encourage you to try it at least once.

Just try to choose a good, experienced teacher rather than one of those slack training-center classes where the main focus is on looking good and not sweating too much. Perhaps, just perhaps, you might change your mind.

During my time at Le Wagon I discovered some unexpected benefits of yoga and was surprised by how regular practice was influencing my progress in learning programming. I happily continue to take advantage of all these discoveries till today.

Here’s just a handful of things I’ve learned that yoga can offer:
  1. Focus improvement. Yoga can help with concentration through calming your mind and removing the distracting thoughts.
    A peaceful environment where yoga classes are usually held can also play a role here, letting you detach from all the office noises.
  2. Problem-solving. A short yoga session during the day can be a particularly good idea when you feel stuck. 
    Working too long with one problem tends to diminish our ability to spot crucial details while keeping the bigger picture in mind. Freeing your mind by focusing on something else works wonders here and even the biggest challenges tend to appear clearer when you come back to your computer.
  3. Mood boost. Deep breathing and movement mean two things: better oxygen flow and endorphins, and with these, in action, it’s nearly impossible to not get in a better mood.
  4. Productivity lift. Although the idea of taking a break in the middle of your day or, even worse, getting up from your computer while you are in the middle of things, might sound irrational and time-consuming, you’ll be positively surprised how much more efficient you get after just a short yoga session.
  5. Stress Buster. If you truly let yourself forget about your task and indulge in a yoga session, it’s almost impossible not to reduce your stress level. Yoga naturally calms you down and leaves you centered.
  6. Energy refill. You probably know the Latin saying, “mens sana in corpore sano”, which translates as a healthy mind in a healthy body
    Any kind of workout can provide you with mental benefits but yoga is particularly good in this. Being stressed and emotionally drained can affect the way we feel physically. Yoga, by helping you relieve tension, boosts your energy levels too.
  7. Character exercise. Yoga, often thought of as not serious or even ‘not real exercise’, can in fact be really challenging — both physically and mentally. But it also involves techniques which help you progress and move past your weaknesses, focusing on the bigger picture. When working on a coding problem, not letting your shortcomings get in the way and discourage you is vital but often not easy. Getting more practice, outside of your technical challenges, can do wonders.
  8. Discipline. Regular yoga practice demands discipline. 
    So does learning to code and working as a programmer.

Programmers need to consciously work to take care of and strengthen their bodies due to the sedentary nature of their work. Remember that there are plenty of styles and schools of yoga, so you can surely find something that fits you best, depending on your physical condition, personality, and current mood. Practices vary in duration, difficulty, and energy level.

My personal favorite is ashtanga, a rather dynamic and highly structured yoga class which requires a certain dose of flexibility and strength. It really lets you sweat out all your programming worries and frustrations (which might be surprising to some people, who associate yoga with slow moves and lots of stillness).

I like to alternate ashtanga classes with yin yoga. It’s a very slow-paced and passive practice. You are expected to hold a posture for at least 3–5 minutes. It might look very easy looking from the side but don’t get mislead. Yin works on the deep connective tissues of the body and is a great way to refocus and give meditation a go.

Any form of workout will improve your physical condition, and therefore your mental and emotional well-being. Remember though that yoga encompasses much more than just stretching, even if you don’t incorporate any kind of spiritual or religious component to your practice.

In addition to physical postures (asanas), it’s the control over your breath (pranayama) and meditation that are key to the health perks hidden in yoga.

I hope all these benefits will give you an extra push to explore a little — forgetting about your stereotypes and preconceptions — and find your own personal favorites.
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