How Practicing Yoga Can Make You A Better UX Designer
A look at how the practice of yoga can help you unlock your creativity, find your focus, and become more aligned with the creative process
Yoga’s popularity is growing rapidly in America. According to the 2016 Yoga in America study from Yoga Alliance, yoga has become a $16.8 billion industry in America, up from $10 billion in 2012. While it is an increasingly popular exercise choice, there is mounting scientific evidence that yoga is proven to reduce stress, is helpful in the treatment of anxiety and depression, reduces chronic pain and inflammation, and improves sleep.
While the physical benefits of yoga likely cannot be denied, yoga is more than a physical practice. Its benefits extend far beyond the body and off the mat, and it is these lesser-known aspects of the ancient practice that I believe can have a powerful impact on your creative process, specifically when it comes to becoming a better UX designer.
I have been practicing yoga regularly, if not religiously, for four years and teaching for one year. As far as yoga is concerned, this makes me a relative infant, as the practice is thousands of years old. However, you don’t need to be a die-hard yogi to reap the benefits of this incredible practice and share those benefits with your users.
5 UX lessons from the yoga mat
The more you practice yoga, the more you realize its many lessons don’t stop when you roll up your mat at the end of a class. If you allow them to, they become not just a part of your yoga practice, but of your creative process too.
Here are five lessons from yoga that translate into the creative process, not just in how you look at your work, but in how you look at the people who access your work and interact with the experiences you design.
- Yoga means “union”
The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word meaning to yoke, to join, or more simply, union. Yoga is often depicted as the union of body, mind, and spirit, and of movement and breath, but this lesson plays out universally in so many ways — both on the mat and off. The main takeaway is that things need to work together in order to function properly.
There are lots of working parts in user experience design. Depending on the organization, UX designers may be working with developers, marketers, data analysts, stakeholders, UI designers, business analysts, users, and so on, with each part’s playing a role in the end-user experience. If these pieces are not working in tandem, if there is no yoke, the entire experience becomes out of alignment. This disparity in union is felt across the board, from teams that don’t feel connected to users that don’t feel heard.
To understand the meaning of yoga as a union is to understand how things come together to form a whole. Start by looking at the structure of how your own team flows together. Are you working together as best as you can be? Are all moving parts contributing to the end-user experience in a positive way?
- Improved focus and working memory
If you’re the type of creative that can get overwhelmed, distracted, anxious, stressed, bored, agitated, etc., then yoga might be the ultimate antidote.
One study showed that participating in as little as 20 minutes of yoga can improve working memory and focus. Another study, which looked at healthy, older women who had been practicing yoga for at least eight years, found that the women who practiced yoga had “significantly greater cortical thickness (CT) in regions of the brain related to cognitive functions (attention and working memory) than a group of matched controls, which may be associated with cognitive preservation,” Yoga Journal reported.
This means yoga not only has an immediate positive impact on focus, but on long-term cognitive ability as well.
Couple this with research that shows that taking a break at work increases your productivity, and scheduling some lunchtime yoga into your calendar might be the most productive thing you can do for your concentration and your creativity this week.
- UX is for everybody
Yoga classes are often categorized by levels, from beginner classes to the more advanced, but a good teacher will break things down so that the poses become accessible for all students, regardless of ability or experience level.
This means they’re providing students with options for modifications and introducing props to assist or help students get more from the practice. They’re making it accessible for all students. They’re meeting students where they are.
Are you doing this for your users?
Just because you have done something so many times that it has become second nature to you does not mean that your users have. Are you making assumptions about your user’s ability levels? Are you creating pathways that allow them to access the experience no matter what? Are you providing them with clear cuing that empowers them to make the right decision for them? Are you assisting them when they need it?
When I first started practicing yoga, I didn’t pay much attention to this component, as I was so focused on my own practice. As I began my teacher training, I became more curious and observant of others. I paid attention to how the teachers cued their classes and, more importantly, how students responded.
Yoga allows you to see people as people. As a student, this has eliminated the competitive side that yoga can bring out at first. As a teacher, it has made me more empathetic, understanding, and aware of the many different paths people take to arrive at the same destination. Next time you’re in a yoga class, pay attention to this part, even for a moment. Think about how one might modify a shared experience so each person can access it in their own way.
- Alignment is more powerful than hustling
Alignment in yoga typically refers to the alignment of your body in particular postures, but practice yoga enough and you start to understand the other things in your life that are out of alignment, including your work.
While some types of yoga move fast from one pose to the next, types like hatha, slow flow, yin, and restorative yoga take time, moving slowly and mindfully from one pose to the next. You take the time to notice how individual muscles in your body feel, how they react when you move in certain ways, if they feel good or right for you. With dedication, you become more in tune with your body, mind, and soul — that unity that yoga represents.
Maybe you start to ask yourself, is the work I’m doing outside of yoga aligned with my beliefs? Is it aligned with my goals, passions, morals, and ethics? Am I doing work that is meaningful, either to myself or to others? Am I serving others?
User experience design, at its core, is in the business of serving others. If you’re hustling to get features out the door, ask yourself if that comes at the cost of alignment with your users and your greater mission. If you’re working at a company that feels out of alignment with the type of work you want to be doing, ask yourself what you can do to become more in tune with your purpose.
Is this something you need to explore further? May I suggest exploring this while on your mat? I am a firm believer that with enough time, the yoga mat reveals answers to all of our innermost questions.
- Progress, not perfection
Yoga is a journey — one that honors progress, not perfection. I see this applying two-fold to your journey as a user experience designer.
- When it comes to getting your designs out the door, are you stalling in search of perfection? Are you still in a prototype phase instead of getting feedback from your users? Perfection isn’t the goal in yoga, and it’s a pretty impossible goal in creative work as well. Look for ways to progress your designs further, inching closer to “perfection” with each iteration, but ideally scrapping this notion of perfection at some point altogether. Don’t stop working towards something. Don’t stop progressing just because perfection is a destination that seems so far away.
- When it comes to your own work, are you striving to be a perfect UX designer? Is this holding you back from applying for that next opportunity, from taking that chance, reaching out to that potential mentor, or from trying something new? The risk of waiting until you have achieved your desired “perfect” results is that this perfection may never come. When you shift your focus to progress instead of perfection, you better understand your own journey, strengths, and personal growth.
How to start a yoga practice
If you’ve never practiced yoga before, you may wonder how “stretching,” a common overgeneralization about yoga, could lead one to come to such conclusions. This is where I must encourage you to begin exploring on your own. You’re just a few minutes away from a fresh perspective.
Here are some resources to get you started:
- Yoga with Adriene — A popular online resource for free yoga classes you can do from the comfort of your own home. Adriene’s style is friendly and welcoming, and she has lots of videos for absolute beginners.
- Jessamyn Stanley — Another great YouTube channel for beginners. Jessamyn is known for her body-positive yoga and is a great resource for yogis of all body types.
- 10 Most Important Yoga Poses for Beginners — Great overview of 10 common poses and their benefits.
- Your local studio — Ask about beginner workshops and specials. Many studios have great rates for new students that I recommend taking advantage of. Most studios are happy to answer your questions and recommend classes to get you started.
By practicing yoga, not only can you become a better version of yourself, but you may find you become a better, more focused UX designer as well. Best wishes as you embark on this journey.
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