Yoga for Designers

Last week UXPA Magazine published my article on “Mindful Design: What the UX World Can Learn from Yoga” (also reprinted in a previous post on this blog). The article describes how mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga can benefit designers throughout the lifecycle of design activities, from seeking inspiration to ideation and execution. I wrote about a few ways in which designers can put mindfulness principles into practice. Here are a few simple poses to start a basic yoga practice that benefits the creative process.

Open the heart and the mind prior to user interviews: Chest and shoulder openers

Chest and shoulder openers counteract the effects of being hunched over a computer or steering wheel. The opening of the chest also symbolizes the opening of the heart, enabling compassion and connection to others. Before engaging in user research, open the chest and shoulders and prime the body to be more receptive to others.

Interlace your hands behind your back, and pull the heels of your hands together as you roll the heads of your shoulders up, back, and down. Start to lift the gaze and the chest up as you pull the hands down behind your back. Tuck the pelvis in slightly to protect the lower back; you can help your body do this by lengthening the tailbone towards and heels and/or lifting the pubic bone up towards the chest.

Modified Standing Backbend (Anyvittasana)

At home, a restorative chest opener can be simple and relaxing. Roll up a blanket into a long, narrow log, and place it on the floor underneath your back, behind the heart. Drape yourself over the blanket and allow the shoulders to roll back. Your legs can be extended straight and relaxed, or you can passively open the hips by bringing the heels together and let the knees fall open to the sides.  (This is one of the most therapeutic things you can do for your chest and shoulders, and is especially restorative for people with respiratory problems such as asthma or getting over a cold.)

Supported Fish Pose (Matsyasana)

Boost your creative mind and playful energy: Hip openers

The psoas is the only muscle to connect the spine to the legs. It is also connected to the diaphragm through connective tissue (fascia) which affects our breath and fear reflex. For many of us, our fast paced modern lifestyle causes the psoas to be chronically triggered; this tightness can be a source of low back pain. Conversely, a relaxed psoas is the mark of play and creative expression. The relaxed and released psoas is ready to lengthen and open, to dance. Do these stretches before ideation and hackathons to boost your creative mind and playful energy.

Kneel on one knee and put the opposite foot in front (for the front foot, try to get the ankle directly under the knee on the same side leg to give the most structural support). Transfer your weight onto the front foot and push your hips forward and down until you feel a stretch along the front of your hip on the leg extended behind you.

Low crescent lunge (Anjaneyasana)

You can take this stretch further by employing a variety of options.  Raise the arm that is on the same side as the back leg, and lean diagonally towards the side of the front knee. Another option is to stretch the quadriceps by grabbing the ankle on the extended leg with the opposite hand and drawing the foot towards your sit bone.

Detox from the stress of negotiations and design reviews: Spinal twists

Seated twist poses can help relieve tension from deep within the body, which often shows itself as emotional stress. They also help mobilize the joints of your spine and squeeze internal organs, bringing oxygenated blood to your internal organs while eliminating toxins and metabolic waste products. Perform a twisting pose whenever you feel stress.

One spinal twist that is playful and fun to do before design brainstorms is a qigong spinal twist. Stand with your feet hip width distance apart, and make fists with your hands. Begin by moving the right arm in front and the left arm behind you as you twist from your standing body to the right. Switch directions and twist to the left, allowing the arms to switch sides. Gradually increase your speed, maybe gently massaging the acupressure point at the top of the chest under the shoulder with your opposite fist as you twist around.

Gentle spine twist, based on Qigong

Practice a more intense twist with a seated spinal twist. Sit with the legs extended from the hips. Cross the right foot over the left thigh and press it into the floor, to the left of the left thigh or knee. Place the right hand on the floor behind the right hip. As you inhale, reach the left arm towards the sky to lengthen the torso; as you exhale, twist to your right. Hook the left elbow outside the right knee to give more leverage in the twist. Alternatively, grab the outside of the right knee with your left hand if hooking the elbow outside the knee is too intense. With every inhale, lengthen the spine and grow taller; with every exhale, continue to twist to the right. Hold for 30-60 seconds and then switch sides.

Half Lord of the Fishes (Ardha Matsyeandrasana)

Calm the mind for quiet design time: Forward folds

Forward folds have a detoxifying effect that can improve and stimulate digestion and help calm the mind and body. When you fold forward, you are turning inward physically, mentally, and emotionally, resulting in greater introspection and a sense of peace. Do forward folds at the end of the day and before quiet design time.

Stand with your feet hip width apart, with the outside edges of the feet parallel to each other. Fold forward at the hip crease, bringing the top of the pelvis forward. Lengthen the front of the body as you fold, keeping the neck and jaw relaxed. Engage the quadriceps to allow the hamstrings to lengthen. Let the weight be more on the balls of the feet, as opposed to the heels, to help align the hips over the ankles. As an option, you can choose to grab onto opposite elbows or forearms and just hang, noticing what you experience when you don’t have the goal of having to “get somewhere”. Remember that forward folds are not about how deep you can go but rather how deeply you can release.

Standing forward fold (Uttanasana)

Have Fun

Yoga is serious work, but don’t take the practice too seriously.  Adopt a playful attitude, know that “failures” are part of learning and growing, and have fun.  It’s during moments of joy and flow that we get the best, most creative work out of ourselves.  Namaste!
Laughter (Laughasana)
Photos courtesy of the creative, multi-talented (and fellow yogi) James Witt.

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