Designing for a Sustainable Practice

Today, Thursday November 12th, is World Usability Day, celebrated by Usability Engineers, User Experience Designers, User Interface Designers, User Researchers, Interaction Designers, etc. all over the world.

If your head spins as your eyes gloss over those titles, don’t worry about what they mean exactly. In the software/tech industry, these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, sometimes misused and abused, and quite often have no real solid definitions. In the mere five years from the time I studied it in college until now, the field has grown really fast, and names keep getting changed and rebranded. If it helps, you can think of the yoga world, how there are myriads of terms and styles, though they all more or less come from the same source.

Regardless of the murky titles, people in this field are generally motivated by one thing: making things easier to use, and World Usability Day is the one day where events are held to promote and discuss this. The theme for 2009 is Designing for a Sustainable World. From the website:

Designing for a Sustainable World focuses on how our products and services impact our world. We look at all products and services, whether they are buildings, roads, consumer products, business, services or healthcare systems; throughout their life cycle.

The impact focuses on – our environment, energy, water, soil, and more. Have the materials and processes that have been used been recycled and are they re-usable? Are they user and environmentally friendly? These are questions we all must consider as we design, purchase, use and dispose of products each and every day.

Let World Usability Day 2009 be your impetus to create greater awareness for designs, products and services that improve the sustainability of our world.

So naturally, this got me to thinking about yoga, (of course ;)). A couple weeks ago, Dr. Robert Svodoba was in Seattle, and I wrote briefly about a concept introduced by him, the idea of a Right Pace. This past weekend during the Ayurveda portion of my 500hr training, we talked a lot about a practice that addresses the imbalances in us, body and mind. Everything seems to be nudging me to reflect on my practice.

What, if anything, is a sustainable yoga practice?

For clarity purposes I’m talking about yoga in its classical definition as defined by Patanjali, which includes all eight limbs. The Dhyana is also in the Asana, as the Dharana in the Pranayama. You can’t get to Samadhi without Pratyahara, and Samadhi is probably elusive without Yama and Niyama.

To me, the main question du jour is, what is the longevity of my practice? When I was 15, I could have done anything, running competitively, weight lifting, doing Muay Thai Boxing and Filipino stick fighting, and my body would take it and spit it back out, no problems. At 23, I was doing a Bikram class in the morning, and a Power Yoga class in the evening, or sometimes both of them back to back, in addition to playing soccer and rock climbing two hours a day. With a strong Vata constitution, it’s difficult for me to sit still, and so go go go go I go.

Physically, all those activities that I’ve done have served me well. I’ve been mostly “healthy” by appearance and as defined by our society’s standards: flat abs, size 0, visible muscle tone, etc. etc. Yet, in my mind, there is an incessant voice that cannot stop yapping. For a long time, I could not, and did not learn, how to relax, breathe, and concentrate. I was always sleep-deprived. I have irregular appetite. I often forget my phone, keys, and wallet. I’ve been, literally and figuratively, all over the place.

From those symptoms, an Ayurvedic doctor would probably not consider me “healthy” in the holistic sense, and, by extrapolation, what I had been doing would be considered not sustainable. At some point, I will crash and burn if nothing is changed.

I’m slowly learning how to undo, do, unlearn, learn, and constantly adjust. Knowing that a true balance is an illusion, a current question I’m working with is, “What is appropriate, and when?” Hey, maybe 30, 60, 90 consecutive days of Power Yoga or Bikram yoga was not as damaging to do when I was 22, but now, that might just bring me to my knees.

I hear some of you out there groaning, “Nikki, you are not that old! You can do 90 days of Power Yoga!” To that I say, “Yes, true!” I can do a lot physically, but I have learned that just because I can, doesn’t necessarily mean I should. There’s a time to ebb, and a time to flow, and I’m learning on how to oscillate between the two. Right now, it’s not about what I can do, but rather, what can sustain me.

What are your thoughts on this? What is your practice like?

In related news, Alex Steffen from Worldchanging will be at Seattle Town Hall tonight. He will talk about “planetary challenges we face and cutting edge ideas about bright green solutions, sustainability and urban innovation, and the opportunities in Seattle.”

The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces, or at least not try to defy them. - Paul Hawken

The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces, or at least not try to defy them. - Paul Hawken