Learning by Shipping

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Applying the benefits of Yoga to product development and vice versa

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Yoga scene from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"The physiological benefits of exercise are well known, and regular exercise can also bring benefit to your work. Any exercise will do of course, starting with just walking as often as possible. The summer brings with it opportunities for broad ranges of outdoor activities. Almost all health studies point to the need for rigorous exercise to be a regular part of your routine in order to achieve the maximum benefit for health and work productivity.

Please be sure to take the survey on exercise and productivity found here.

Yoga is an especially good exercise for those that value a routine (or require a routine to better stick to a program). Rain or shine, hot or cold, day or night, yoga is always there. Centuries old, the health benefits of yoga are highly regarded by practitioners around the world and many religions, psychologists and biologists agree that taking time to rest, focus and center is an important part of human productivity. In the US, a variety of styles of yoga performed in room heated anywhere from 90 to 105+ degrees F has become increasingly popular. The heat provides additional benefits and an extra level of challenge as well. If you value routine, Bikram yoga is especially good since it is precisely the same every class.

Yoga’s history is rooted in meditation and ritual and for many today the spiritual aspect is the high order bit. For others, the spiritual side of yoga is appreciated in the context of other beliefs or just your daily personal life. Even the aum (om) sign or chant carries with it a deep ritual meaning for some as well as a more personally defined spiritual meaning for others.

I was asked about practicing yoga at the All Things D conference by Katie Boehret and she captured a few seconds on the KatieCam. I wanted to elaborate on the benefits by using 5 sayings/expressions that I’ve learned from many of the wonderful yoga instructors I’ve had over the years.

  1. Be present. At the start of most yoga classes, instructors will remind everyone to “be present”. That means to set aside all that is going on outside the class and to spend the next 90 minutes present in the room, on your mat, and in the practice–no electronics or distractions. How often at work do things outside the context of what you’re working on interfere with the work—did you bring the challenges from the previous meeting into the next meeting or is something going on outside work showing through how you are at work?  Take the time at the start of a day, as a meeting starts, or while coding to be present in what you’re doing.
  2. All that matters is on your mat. Yoga is not a competitive sport.* Yoga is not a race—you can’t finish first, you can’t be faster or lift more. Yoga is about making sure you are focused on what you can do best and that you are doing your best at that. So when practicing, making sure you’re focused on what you are supposed to be focused on is a path to success. The workplace isn’t a competitive sport either. In the workplace, this can mean doing the work you’re supposed to be doing and assuming those around you are doing the same.
  3. Drishti. Focus is a big part  of Yoga. If you lose focus during some balancing pose you probably just fall over. Or if you lose focus on your breathing you very quickly hyperventilate and get exhausted or just turn blue!  Drishti is a Sanskrit word that means focus, but a distinct form of focus. You focus but not so intensely that you lose sight of all around you. Rather it is the opposite, where you focus but with a full awareness of the rest of your mat and body. So rather than staring at a dot on the wall in front of you, you gaze at the dot but focus on breathing, your balance, and more. In software projects it is important to be focused—but if you’re too head’s down you miss important connections to what is going on around you or around the code. The full definition of drishti means vision, point of view, or even intelligence and wisdom. It also means being equal in all directions you look and maintaining self-control. A lot of collaboration in product development can be summed up in drishti.
  4. Yoga practice is not yoga perfect. Many “Type A” personalities find a way to compete in exercise—running times, weight lifted, miles biked and so on. Yoga is designed for life long exercise. There’s always more to do or a way to connect one pose to another you never thought of. Any yogi who has browsed the advanced videos online is quickly humbled by what they cannot do. During those difficult postures, yoga instructors always remind the class that yoga is a practice and it is not called yoga perfect. You do the best you can with the body you have that day, and you commit to practicing the next day. Product development is like this as well—we often say the enemy of the good is the perfect. No product is perfect, but the least perfect product is one that doesn’t ship. Shipping gives you the right to come back the time with improvements and a better product based on what you learned as a team.
  5. How you do anything is how you do everything. In class, especially when it is hot, you can easily find a way to slack off or find a way to do a pose that might look like you’re posing but in reality you are missing the benefits. Of course you’re just cheating yourself. When an instructor sees this you might hear the most gentle of reminders, “how you do anything is how you do everything”. Put simply this just means that if you are willing to take a shortcut on one pose then where else in life (or in your product) are you willing to take a shortcut. If you’re willing to cheat yourself out of your best efforts, then won’t you cheat others?  Always put forth your best efforts, even when you’re pushed to the point of thinking you can’t possibly continue.

That’s a yoga perspective on exercise and well-being that are critical parts of contributing to your work, your project, and your team. While yoga has been my personal approach, what is really important is that you find your approach to physical and mental well-being. Whatever that might be is sure to be a critical tool in your own success.

What do you do to maintain your physical as well as spiritual health in the workplace?  What lessons do you bring back to the workplace from your avocation?


Steven Sinofsky

*While controversial there do exist yoga competitions — check this out.

Written by Steven Sinofsky

June 9, 2013 at 9:00 am

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10 Responses

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  1. Hi there! Great article you have, I would also want to share my thoughts that Yoga indeed has positive effects not only in the body but also in the mind, a total holistic wellness that brings us to know our inner-self better. It gives us a peace of mind that helps us have a much better perception about our lives.
    Our advocacy is to promote the positive effects of meditation, yoga and inner wellness.
    Help us, visit our website at http://www.iamthechangeiseek.o
    Thank you and have a great day!

    Kathleen Suneja

    May 5, 2015 at 7:50 am

  2. Great post. I used to be checking constantly this weblog and I am impressed!
    Extremely helpful information specifically the remaining section :) I maintain such info a
    lot. I was looking for this particular info for a long
    time. Thanks and best of luck.

    pools brisbane

    March 2, 2014 at 10:35 am

  3. I will begin each day with love for myself and a monirng practice of journaling, meditation and spiritual nourishment. Followed by physical exercise for my body (at least 5 days a week)I promise myself to not settle for anything less than my heart and soul’s desire in love and to reach beyond my fear into love in every area of my lifeThe support I am calling in to receive is from everywhere and everyone that I will see love in all it’s forms and allow space for love to be there even when my past or behaviors want me to see differently. I call on the universe to support me fully in my quest for love over fear all the time.Thank you!!!! Jules


    November 7, 2013 at 9:18 am

  4. This short movie got me very emotional. I alomst cried when the old man was speaking. In order to be grateful we have to see. and in order to truly see, we have to be present. We are all in such a hurry that we are not present and we do not see. Every day I strive to be present, even if for just a few minutes.


    August 29, 2013 at 7:42 pm

  5. Unfortunately, I think there is frequenty the mepocncistion that many practices from the far east are religion based. I can remember attending a conservative christian church many years ago that would not allow a karate class to use the gym because they felt it was in conflict with the church’s theology. Yoga can be very spiritual, but not in a religious worshipful way. It is more in the same way one may have a positive experience and feeling while sitting at the beach watching the waves roll in; sitting under a shady tree listening to the soft melody of wind chimes; enjoying the view from a mountain top; or being hushed by the majesty of the Grand Canyon. Any serene activity can promote spirituality not religious spiritualiy but the my-soul-feels-peaceful kind. I have practiced yoga for years. I find the simple act of letting go of my thoughts to enable me to listen carefully to the instructor and follow her lead into the next pose, is in itself restful. The body is gently challenged to stretch and flex while I focus on nothing more than it. I come out of my yoga practice feeling relaxed and calm, ready for the chaos to begin again. It is good for my spirit !


    August 5, 2013 at 11:16 pm

  6. I think yoga has the similar effect as meditation.

    krovinių gabenimas

    July 24, 2013 at 1:48 am

  7. I’d like to add a point 6 in the form of Avidya or incorrect perception. A software tester may question a particular functionality – is it really intended that way? A Product Manager may ask themselves if their perception of a customer, a colleague, a product, etc is reality or just their perceived reality and what influences their perception.

    Interesting article – I come from a Software testing background and often see connections between the Yoga Sutras and Software development which is quite fascinating.

    Thanks for sharing,

    Thomas Ponnet

    Thomas Ponnet

    July 3, 2013 at 3:13 am

  8. Don’t want to spam, but wanted to bring up a point that yoga is simply not a ritual at all. There is a deep science behind it – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8PVfCwJA14

    Thangaraj (@rojer_31)

    June 17, 2013 at 1:40 am

  9. Is their any class you have conducted? Please let me know and now I working in shipping company in marketing department and I need to promote my marketing through our website


    June 14, 2013 at 2:48 am

  10. Namaste,

    Thank you for sharing your perspective on yoga and spiritual health. I start my day with Meditation and chanting the Om(kar) and then moving on to Suryanamaskars. While not in a spiritual perspective, chanting the Om(kar) has also allowed me to sharpen my drishti .

    I wanted to ask you if the sense of karma within you has increased after you started practising yoga?



    June 9, 2013 at 11:08 am

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