Hacking Yoga: @gangplank Presentation Sept 16th 2009

So the first Hacking Yoga Presentation went down @gangplank on Setp 16th 2009 and if you weren’t there then you missed out on the group transmutation into trancendent beings, bummer. =)

I had a total blast talking to the group about two passions of mine: Hacking and Yoga. While I am pretty much a n00b at both I still have fun thinking and talking about them and thought that the presentation was a good intro to how the two work together. The questions afterward were the best part and I want to thank everyone for asking them. Please feel free to reach out to me here if you have more of them.

Hacking Yoga – Developing a developers practice for productivity and health


One definition of hacking is “exploring the limits of what is possible” (Richard Stallman) . A hacker is taking a look at the world from different perspectives to find new answers that are more effective and efficient. This requires contemplation about various aspects of the world and leads to new ideas about how to interact with and manipulate it. Primarily a hacker is someone who works with software development and therefore sits at a computer for hours at a time creating code in a variety of languages. Hackers created the Internet, the world wide web, Google, and continue to lead us forward. They are our modern day Guru’s, but at what cost? Focusing purely on mental activity at the expense of the physical body eventually decreases the effectiveness of the mind. When your back is screaming in pain how can we focus? How many mistakes are we making because the mind is distracted by physical pain?

Hackers are falling victim to a variety of health issues like Repetitive Stress Injury(RSI, which includes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome), back pain, weight issues, insomnia, and fatique. This results in less effective work, lost productivity, and significant costs to everyone: “By eliminating repetitive stress injuries, American companies could save $20 billion each year in workers’ compensation,” U.S. Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich 1997


Thousands of years ago Guru’s were sitting around meditating on life’s big questions and found that they had trouble sitting still for a long time. So they created a system based on observing the body and its principles of alignment and came up with Yoga. The first documented definition of Yoga is found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – “Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distraction.” As the Sutra’s continue we learn that there are eight limbs for preparing the body so that the mind can be liberated. By taking a deep look at this ancient science we can help hackers improve both their health and productivity. This article is a foundation for understanding how to: become more effective and productive at work by alleviating physical ailments. Just as with anything else the best way to learn is to practice and that is what is gonna happen as you read further (no yoga mat required, just an open mind).

We are only going to look at the third and fourth limbs of Yoga today: Asana and Pranyama. Asana literally translates as ‘seat’ and covers not only how to sit but all Yoga poses and is what people in the West generally consider as Yoga. Pranyama is breath control and are techniques for breathing properly and effectively. A yogi’s life is measured by breaths taken; by slowing the breath we extend our life. We are starting with these because we can put them into immediate action and begin to see the benefits.


Asana’s range from sitting down to standing on your head and everything in between. In the end the goal is always the same: to help bring the body into balance so that we can be still for meditation without external distraction. One of the most fundamental poses is Tadasana which means mountain pose. A basic explination of the pose is standing, but refined it means standing correctly.

To experience this pose it is best to start with how you normally stand. Go ahead and test this now. Stand up like you would if you were waiting for a taxi on the corner. Now close your eyes and notice how your balance is on your feet. Do you stand on one more that the other? How about your hips? Is one higher? Now think about your arms and shoulders then your lower, middle, and upper back. Finally think about your neck, and head.

Now lets move into Tadasana and see if we can notice a difference. Keeping your eyes closed start with the feet. Plant them both evenly on the ground. Think of each foot as having four corners: 1)ball of big toe, 2)inside of heel, 3) ball of pinky toe, and 4)outside of heel. The order is intended to balance you front to back which is why it goes inside heed to ball of pinky toe. Rotate around and feel each corner planting into the ground and notice how that feels. Bring the solidness of that foundation up your legs to your calf, knees, and quads. Notice your hips, are they level? Now move to the arms. Let your hands hang by your sides and raise your shoulder up to your ears. Then take the shoulders back and let them rest down. Notice the difference. Finally the neck and head. Feel the top of your head lift up to the ceiling but let your chin be level and relaxed. This is standing correctly, do you feel the difference? This is a Yoga pose, you should feel active but also relaxed. The breath should be smooth and easy. Take this pose and move back into your seat with it slowly and carefully, open you eyes if necessary. Naturally the legs will relax a little as the weight it taken off of them, but the feet should still be planted with the shoulders on the back and head high.

Do you notice something familiar about this pose? Hopefully its how your always sit at your desk, but you should at least recognize it from all the literature you get when you buy a new computer or peripheral. If you have read any of those materials and followed their instructions then you have been doing Yoga for a while and just didn’t know it. Sitting in this position will help alleviate back, shoulder, arm, and wrist pain by improving blood flow and eliminating pinched nerves. Take that carpal tunnel syndrome!


The most critical function to living is the inhalation of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide. Eating and drinking are secondary to breathing, yet the majority of people don’t give this activity a though all day long. Pranyama is the practice of consciously breathing which seems like a no brainer to do since it is so essential to us doing anything else. One of the easier practices to try is called Ujjayi breathing. Ujjayi means victorious and the breathing technique is concerned with relaxing and extending the breath.

Start by sitting in the pose that we just constructed and with your eyes closed begin to inhale and create a slight constriction in the throat. You should feel and barely hear an audible hissing noise from the back of the throat. Continue untill your lungs are full of air. Then as you exhale maintain the same constriction and notice the same sound from your throat. Continue until your lungs are empty and then begin the cycle again. Do this for 5 to 10 cycles and notice the difference. You should feel more clear headed and relaxed. A note about the noise from the throat: it is important that this is not too loud. First of all if you are practicing with other people it can be distracting to them, but secondly and more importantly it means you are constricting the throat too much which will inhibit your ability to relax. Just feel the air flowing into and out of your lungs and let the noise help you notice the flow more clearly. If at any point during this exercise you start to feel light headed return to your normal breathing pattern. As you practice this more you will be able to take longer inhaling and exhaling as you expand your lungs and learn to control how much air enters and exits.

These two exercises are just the very tip of the iceberg of what is Yoga. Not only are there hundreds of other Asanas and dozens of other Pranyamas that you can use to work every part of the body but there are 6 other limbs of Yoga that we haven’t even discussed the 6 other limbs that go more into the philosophy and medidation aspects. This is where you can take your hacker mentality and begin to construct your own Yoga practice. You can go to a class at a studio or start off by reading more about it. The great thing is that there are as many ways of practicing Yoga as there are people in the world, because while the principles are the same each one of us has our particular differences. You can look at Yoga as an open source system where no one owns any of it, well besides those Bikram people, and you can take and use what you want from it. You can do it for free on your own or you can pay to take a class and have someone who has studied Yoga show you various techniques and methods.

Conclusion and Review

In review Hacking Yoga is about improving your ability to concentrate on your passion while not compromising your mental and physical health. Yoga was developed thousands of years ago for people who wanted to sit around and answer big questions. Today we sit around working on different big questions and have seen the rise of various ailments like Repetitive Stress Injury. By putting these scientific techniques into practice we can create a situation where we can: focus clearly on our work, reduce errors, and improve the quality.