Posture makes perfect for career-minded IT pros

Working insane hours, sitting in front of a computer all day and being tethered to your BlackBerry 24-by-seven might impress your boss, but it can quickly start taking a toll on your health. Finding a way to bring balance into your life in today’s workaholic world isn’t easy, however, and you may not feel comfortable doing downward dogs with Lululemon-clad yogis to relieve your chronic neck pain.

This was one of the reasons why Sarah Pullman, a certified yoga instructor, started up Yoga for Geeks — a yoga class designed specifically for those who spend their lives around and in front of computers — and who probably have never taken a yoga class in their life.

After two years of working full-time at a desk job, Pullman realized her upper back was in constant pain. She took her yoga teacher training in 2005, then found herself back in the online world with a lot of people who spend their lives at computers. “This is a community of people that wouldn’t even think to go to a yoga class and clearly really needed it,” she said. “I decided I wanted to make some kind of body movement practice accessible to that population of people.”

But they’re either intimidated by the thought of going to the same yoga studio their girlfriend goes to, or they have a hard time making that time commitment. Her Yoga for Geeks class is taught in downtown Toronto at lunchtime on Fridays, and she’s starting to teach at workplaces, offering lunchtime classes, this fall.

No Lululemon required In Yoga for Geeks, Pullman keeps it simple — and even allows people to wear jeans (no Lululemon required). She includes postures for head and shoulder mobility, opening up the connective tissue in the upper body and opening up the hips, which get tight if you’re sitting all day. She also includes breathing and relaxation. “That’s usually enough for beginners,” she said. “I want them to leave feeling empowered rather than overwhelmed.”

Yoga shouldn’t be intimidating or painful, she added. If you try a class and it really doesn’t work for you, there are many different styles and teachers out there — so don’t assume yoga is therefore not for you.

For a company interested in offering yoga classes to employees, look for someone who has an interest in working with beginners and has a solid understanding of the limitations of a person who is deskbound much of the time — and see if they’d be willing to tailor an hour-long lunchtime class for people in the workplace, she recommends.

Even if you don’t join a class, there are a few things you can do while you’re at work, such as sitting up straight, closing your eyes and focusing on getting breath right down into the belly. “Most of the time when we’re stressed out we’re breathing up in our shoulders,” said Pullman. “Taking a few belly breaths can do a lot for stress.” Also, set boundaries when you’re not at work. Take a 10-minute walk during the day or give yourself the luxury of an evening where you don’t check e-mail.

Stick to IT Brian Ma, a business analyst with CI Investments in Toronto, has learned to create some of those boundaries — even though it can be difficult at times. He’s responsible for the development and support of the company’s production system — and he’s the default guy for anything related to the system, business or process flow.

“I lived in Japan for a year and that’s the Japanese mentality — you never want to be the last one in the office and you never want to be the first one to leave, so you end up playing this weird office chicken,” he said. He found himself doing that when he first got back to Canada, especially when he got into IT. “People are like that, they’ll work 20-hour days,” he said.

It’s easy to work through lunch breaks and stay late at the office when everyone else is doing that, he added. It’s hard to be the one that leaves at 5pm when your colleagues are leaving at 8pm. In the end, though, he decided not to play that game.

He takes Muay Thai classes twice a week — a form of martial arts from Thailand — as well as rock-climbing twice a week and dragon boat racing during the summer months. There are times, though, when he’ll disappear from his classes for a few weeks at a time. “It becomes really difficult because my schedule runs based on whatever the business needs are,” said Ma. “During crunch time you have to suck it up and take it.”

He’s on call 24 hours a day, but it’s rare he’ll get a call in the middle of the night. His work, however, is project-based, which means he sometimes works five-hour days and sometimes works 15-hour days — so there’s no typical day. And that makes it hard to stick with any outside activities, such as Muay Thai, that have a set class time.

But making the effort to stick with it, as much as possible, has actually benefited his work. “Any time you get too hung up on any one thing, you end up going a little nuts,” said Ma. “I find that taking a break, doing other things, helps me with work because you’re more refreshed — it makes you happier at the very least.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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