Design and Yoga FOUR: Headstands

I’ve always been pretty good at headstands, though 20 years have passed since I did them often, so I am relearning much about being upside-down. I was thinking about balance and strength today, during my yoga fix, and I began to see the similarities between the design process and headstands.

Yes. Free your mind, my cynical knowledge-seeker.

I began to see the similarities between the design process and headstands.


One of the hardest things for me to accept in yoga practice has been the idea that it is process that is important, not the beauty of the pose. I have to stop myself from seeing what I look like, which can defeat me, and focus on how I feel. Yes, I strive toward that moment of pose achievement, but really, even in a “perfect” pose there are little tweaks to stretch particular muscles, or ease a tight hamstring, or balance the inputs of my stronger right ankle with my sore left one. So if I look bad, okay. Am I learning? Does my balance need adjustment? Have I engaged the right muscles and stretched the intended ligament well and not too far?

In design the end goal is terribly important (an intentional word use). Yet the end goal can only be reached fully and well when we embrace and delve into the process itself.


My arms are short. Every single article of clothing I own with sleeves hangs over my hands nearly fully obscuring my fingers. So I hem or roll up my sleeves or buy 3/4 sleeves that look nearly right on my short arms. In yoga, this means that I cannot do some things as described. My hands literally don’t reach the ground when I am sitting flat on the floor, so I cannot press them into the mat to “straighten my spine and lengthen”. I make fists or use my finger tips to get that stretch. In a headstand, I cannot cradle my head in my hands in support while I have my forearms on the floor – my arms are too bloody short! So I have found a different way to get into a headstand that is safe, structured, and strong. I get the core stability work, the upside down joy, and the balance practice – mission accomplished.

In design there are often times there is a limit that cannot be altered: budget, space, material availability, to name a few common restrictions. Yet creative teams can work together to identify the goal, and find innovative ways to achieve the goal within those limits. Truly creative teams will develop a strong, stable design concept, with incredible joy in program and spacial beauty, along with balance and optimization of all the inputs and limits, and accomplish or exceed the project’s goal. None of this is a degradation of achievement. It is, in fact, an excellence in creation.

Wall or no wall:

Many people experiencing headstands for the first time will do so up against a wall. This is well and good, yet it limits the success of the effort and pose. I feel myself, in a headstand, making many small corrections over the minute or so of the pose.  My arms and shoulders flex and relax, my feet shift, my hips try new alignments and falter, or gain stability. It is in these micro adjustments that I get a workout and my balance improves.  This is when I truly begin to know my body and its current condition. If I am up against the wall I am likely a bit safer, at least as a novice, but I have also removed myself from one directional plane of inputs, movements, and corrections. I may even get a bit lazy and rest against that wall.

In design we need a strong guideline (goals) or a framework to inform the process, but we need to avoid the wall that is a checklist of options. Having all the possibilities listed out  limits the engagement of interplay between options, and truncates the creative process of finding a way to achieve the end goal if the obvious is not possible. It becomes a simple (and less informing) task of saying “yes, we can get a more efficient chiller”, and “no, we can’t get to 75% diversion from landfill” without the benefit of the process of “how can we do this”. We miss out on the micro adjustments, where we get all our knowledge and strength.

Once again I experienced my yoga session as a process that informed not only my flexibility, strength, and balance in my physical being, but informed those same attributes in my professional work. I do believe I should remind myself of this by doing a headstand during charrette breaks.

Care to join me?



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