4 Lessons from Yoga for UX Research

For three days after each yoga class, I was sore to the point of limping. It took me two years of classes to realize that’s not how I should feel afterwards. I finally learned that my classmates were not sharing my experience. They felt great the next day. I had applied my soccer training mentality to yoga. Push harder, go farther, do more. It worked for me in soccer. Not so much in yoga. I’m still learning through yoga 15 years later. Recently I’ve thought about how it has helped me become a better UX researcher.

This is what I’ve learned:

1. Embrace silence. It’s fun to be immersed in a yoga class with music. But there are some things I only get from holding a pose in silence. In that silence I can give my full attention to my body. I can also watch my thoughts. I'm 100% present and engaged.

When I’m conducing user research interviews, the silence before a vulnerable story is told is precious. If I break that silence, I may squelch a critical insight. I must give interviewees time to breathe and think. Silence is necessary in an interview just as white space is needed on a website. I keep my mouth shut, try to get my colleagues to shut theirs, and let interviewees do the talking.

 Hotasana is a great place to take yoga classes, but I'm hoping they remove their auto-rotating carousel from their homepage soon. 

Hotasana is a great place to take yoga classes, but I'm hoping they remove their auto-rotating carousel from their homepage soon. 

2. Open your mind each day. My yoga teachers remind me that just because I could do a pose yesterday doesn’t mean I can do it today. And if I couldn’t do it yesterday, perhaps today I’ll have a breakthrough. I must drop my preconceived ideas of what yoga practice will look like on any given day. When I get on my mat, I approach the practice with a curious and open mind. I don’t know how body will feel and what I will learn that day.

Likewise, when I'm interviewing, I aim to drop my biases and assumptions as much as possible. Maybe this feature isn’t in fact the right one to build next. Perhaps the website doesn’t need a total reorganization. Maybe that obnoxious stakeholder does have an excellent point.

3. Care for yourself. It’s not anyone else’s job to take care of me. It’s my job. I’m 40, not 4. Yoga teachers remind students to listen to their body and modify poses when necessary. Yoga isn’t a “push through at all costs” type of activity, it’s mindfulness practice. I can apply this to my work.

If I’m overwhelmed, tired, hungry, or angry, I need to care for myself and stop working for a bit. The UX project isn’t going to improve by “powering through” it. If I step away from the project, the next indicated step may become clear.

I also need to be in good health, mentally and physically, when I am interviewing users in order to do my best work. Getting enough sleep, taking care of bodily needs and preparing ahead of time are all necessary to succeed.

4. Practice for progress, not perfection. Yoga isn’t about achieving the perfect pose. I don’t really believe there is a perfect pose anymore. Yoga is about practicing, growing, stretching, strengthening, caring, and calming. The goal is progress.

The same is true for UX. People and devices are dynamic—perfection will always be elusive. In my job, I focus on testing UX websites or apps so we can figure out what is and isn't working. We can then make informed design decisions. Hopefully with each new adjustment, we make progress toward improving the UX.

I have much more to learn, both about yoga and UX, so I’m going to keep practicing daily.

What are you practicing each day?