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How Yoga Helped Me Become a Better Software Specialist

Lessons in slowing down, getting uncomfortable, and being kinder to myself

Close up of a person's hands rolling up a teal yoga mat

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Highland has been offering a 30-minute group yoga session twice a week since the New Year. (Shoutout to Yoga with Adriene — we’ve been following the “True” program for beginners.)

Initially, I participated as a way to help myself wake up in the morning, to combat the cold, dark lethargy of Chicago winters. While I’m no stranger to morning fitness routines, I’ve had difficulty enjoying yoga in the past. For me, “workout-mode” is about going faster, pushing harder, ignoring fatigue, and trying to be the strongest in the room or the fastest on the running path. While this attitude has been good for my resting heart rate, it has not helped me curb my natural tendencies to be competitive, hurried, and even impatient.

Unexpectedly, I’ve found that the mind-body focus I establish in this half hour has made me a better, more empathetic provider of customer service and technical support to our SugarCRM clients. It has made such a difference in my day that for the month of February, I’ve expanded my practice to most workday mornings.

Here are a few of the ways that the calming effects of my morning yoga practice has positively impacted my work as a CRM Specialist.

1. Slowing Down

When I’m configuring a CRM project with a deployment deadline or when I have multiple support issues in flight, my brain has to move a mile a minute just to get it all done. While I’ve gotten used to this breakneck mental tempo, it is counterproductive to go into a client demo operating at this pace.

We frequently present new SugarCRM enhancement features or modules to clients who aren’t thinking about the platform all day like our CRM team is. Open pauses and breaths in the conversation allow time for full observation, comprehension, and consideration of the technology. Yoga reminds me to accept and welcome the moments of quiet during a demo presentation or user training session.

2. Staying Present in the Moment

The most challenging part of starting a workday with yoga is turning off the thoughts about that one bug I could not figure out yesterday, the two tickets I have to update before standup, and the three meetings I have after lunch.

I try to imagine my thoughts, not like papers piling up, but instead like clouds rolling through the sky. I can welcome that cloud entering my mental space, instead of trying to hold it down, I let it float away as easily as it came. This takes considerable practice, and some days I’m more successful at letting those clouds roll along than others.

This mental technique helps as I strive to focus on the meeting I’m in without thinking about the next one, concentrate on the story I’m working on now and not the others I have in progress, or finish the email I’m writing before worrying about the one that just popped into my inbox. Yoga asks you to close your mental inbox and instead to experience the present moment.

3. Exploring the Edge of My Comfort Zone

I became a CRM Specialist at Highland after a series of career evolutions that occurred relatively recently in my life. While I go through times of being confident in my skills and the solutions I build, I am occasionally plagued with bouts of the “Imposter Syndrome” that seems to affect ̶p̶e̶o̶p̶l̶e̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶ ̶n̶e̶w̶ ̶c̶a̶r̶e̶e̶r̶s̶, ̶m̶i̶l̶l̶e̶n̶n̶i̶a̶l̶s̶̶, everyone.

Considering the diversity of our clients and the wide scope of projects that get incorporated into their CRMs, some weeks I am confronted with more of what I don’t know how to do than what cleanly falls within my wheelhouse. While it feels like a habit to ignore that discomfort and do what I need to do to get the work done, yoga reminds me to pay attention to that first moment of discomfort in the stretch.

Say there is a task that I keep putting off — maybe even thinking about starting it induces anxiety. My normal pattern is think about it, get anxious, put it off, think about it, get anxious, put it off, rinse, repeat, until I absolutely have to start it and power through. Flight until fight.

Feeling and exploring the discomfort of the stretch means taking a pause in that anxious feeling and asking myself why I’m afraid.

Will there be some amount of initial failure required with this task before I’m able to succeed?

Is there a new skill I’ll have to learn that I’m afraid I’m not capable of learning?

Is this a piece of work that is going to expose me to criticism?

Living in the space of these questions and answering them honestly is when I achieve the greatest self-awareness and personal growth.

4. Being Kinder to Myself

In my role as a CRM Specialist, I often collaborate with new CRM users whose work lives are being somewhat disrupted by the introduction of this new technology. Part of the job is being a champion for the software while also picking up on user frustrations and remaining both empathetic and encouraging.

When adoption is slower than anticipated or we receive push back from the product owner, I try not to take feedback personally. It is challenging to be passionate about what you have built while simultaneously accepting objectionable feedback. It’s easy for those internal destructive voices of self-doubt to slither in when these moments occur.

Yoga is not about being the strongest or most flexible in the room. You don’t practice yoga as a punishment for having that bowl of ice cream last night. When I set my intention for practice, I think about being kind to my body and to my mind. If I can keep those voices quiet for this half hour of self-care at the start of my day, it strengthens my control over them when I’m at my most vulnerable.

Starting my day with a practice that encourages me to get relaxed, stay present, explore my misgivings and be kind helps me better embody Highland’s “People First” approach to technology. I love having the opportunity to ground myself in these values at the beginning of each day, and it’s been a pleasant surprise to see how positively they’ve impacted my work.

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