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Cover image for The Yoga of Learning (To Code)

The Yoga of Learning (To Code)

nbhankes profile image Nathan B Hankes Updated on ・5 min read

The great yogis across the ages have learned to master their minds. And they've left guidance for aspirants willing to follow in their footsteps. While the goals of yogis and most students ultimately differ, the discipline and techniques of the yoga tradition can help bring the average student to an entirely different level of learning.

The following article will explain the 8-fold path yogis have used for millennia to master their mind. I will suggest ways in which Yogic techniques and concepts can be harnessed to learn the skill of coding and slip more easily into flow states, though these methods can be applied to any skill or concept.

The postures of yoga are not yoga, but rather a part of a much larger philosophy whose goal is for practitioners to achieve a mental state called samadhi. Samadhi is a state of intense, one-pointed focus where all thought and mental chatter ceases and the Yogi becomes fully identified with awareness itself. (Think Eckhart Tolle's experience in The Power of Now.)

While web developers don't need to attain the highest levels of samadhi, they can benefit greatly from increasing their powers of concentration and focus — and this is what the discipline of yoga teaches.

In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, an ancient text describing the techniques and purpose of yoga, the sage Sri Swami Satchidananda teaches that the “scientists who probed matter and discovered atomic energy were practicing savitarka samadhi…they focused their entire minds…and even that small particle of matter revealed itself.”

Westerners have long accessed these states without fully understanding them.

The closest Western equivalent to samadhi is the flow state

It is this level of absorption the creates mastery.

Stage 1 & 2 of the 8-Fold Path: External & Internal Discipline

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Yogic philosophy suggests moral and ethical behavioral guidelines. By living a simple and moral life, the yogi-coder naturally frees up cognitive bandwidth because they are not mired in drama. Their simple routine eliminates many options that are otherwise distracting or exhausting. Some of the guidance at this stage of the path includes:

  • Always tell the truth.
  • Do not covet what others have
  • Remain content with your life
  • Study your self and Scripture daily
  • Celibacy

By practicing the restraint of the basest urges of the body, the yogi-coder begins the process of strengthening the discipline and mindfulness-muscles. Without accidentally turning yourself in a Holy person, you can practice these steps by setting self-imposed limits on your choices or by committing to behavioral changes the aid in your self-improvement. You will learn mindfulness faster if this task is something that must be monitored consistently throughout your day. Example practices include:

  • Maintaining proper posture at your desk
  • Avoiding gossip at work
  • Adhering to a simple diet
  • Performing ten push-ups and 10 body weight squats every 30 minutes
  • Reading MDN documentation every lunch hour and work break
  • Getting a handle on that social media addiction

The key here is to learn discipline and become mindful enough that you notice when you are not meeting the standard you set for yourself. Do not beat yourself up. Instead, notice when you have fallen out of integrity and simply tell yourself that you are moving back into integrity. Easy.

Step 3: Movement

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Originally, the yogic path did not have the postures that now define it, just meditation. However, teachers developed the movements to help young students focus. The masters learned long ago that the mind is unruly, like a chariot with a hundred different horses pulling it a hundred different directions. The path to samadhi is like taming each horse one-by-one. Here are some options for using movement to train your mind to slip into that meditative and focused mind space:

  • Practice yoga (duh)
  • Swim laps
  • Go for a run (without listening to music or podcasts)

The goal here is to find a practice that is challenging enough that you have to go Zen to complete it. This trains your mind to focus on a single task at once. Also, if you are considering a career in software engineering, you’ll want to find an exercise routine you like so that you can keep your body healthy.

Step 4: Breath

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Yogis love working with the breath. They believe the breath is linked to our life force. For the sake of this article, we’ll treat the breath exercise as a practice in mindfulness. Follow these steps while working at your desk:

  • Pay attention to the quality of your breathing. Is it shallow? Are you mouth breathing?
  • Practice breathing into your nose and down into your diagram. Exhale through the nose. Repeat.

Steps 5 and 6: Withdrawal of the Senses and Concentration

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So now we have built systems into our daily life that let us practice mindfulness and concentration. We are paying attention to the quality of the present moment, even if just to monitor our posture and breathing. This is good.

The yogic withdrawal of the senses means having complete control over what you hear, see, taste, and read.

The yogi-coder can control this in so many ways:

  • Listen to podcasts about Javascript during your commute.
  • Read books about Javascript before you fall asleep.
  • Follow coding experts on social media and unfollow everyone else.

The goal here is to begin to maintain a single train of thought on your yogi-coder language of choice. This single-minded focus should last for as long as it takes you to achieve that major breakthrough or ace that interview. Can you maintain your concentration on Javascript throughout the demands of daily life?

Stages 7 and 8: Meditation and Samadhi

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By now you should be able to slip into the flow state much more frequently and for longer durations. You are mindful of your task and disciplined enough to stick with it for an extended period of time.

Concentration and discipline alone are enough. However, a consistent meditation practice provides the practitioner another advantage: the opportunity to shift perspective.

While this can help you see profound blind spots in your life like where you may be self-sabotaging or lying to yourself, it can also be used as a practice to help you step away from a difficult coding problem and return with a fresh take on the problem. There are countless online tutorials and apps that will help you learn proper meditation technique.

And that's it.

Please comment below to share your experiences bringing mindfulness, breath work, and meditation into your daily coding routine.

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Vinicius Rio

This type of article/text/approach helps us to realize how important we are and how to care about ourselves, as well as how changing attitudes and thoughts can add to the work and learning that we perform daily. Thank you for that!