A linguist does not live on language alone

Lessons from the yoga mat for happy freelancers

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I’ve been going to hot yoga three times a week for about two and a half years and, apart from how great it feels physically – sweating so much is like a detox – I’ve been slowly finding connections between yoga and my life as a freelancer, and needless to say, most of these realisations have come to me while on the mat.

Yoga is an attempt to align mind and body with our breath and bring our attention to the present, to feel what’s happening now and forget about the past or the future to find peace of mind. This is a very valuable teaching for life in general and for every job, but I’d like to share four lessons I find especially useful as a freelance translator.

1. Everyone is different, so don’t compare yourself to others. As a freelancer working from home, there’s no ‘team’ or ‘company’ behind you, you’re mostly on our own, and it’s easy to start comparing yourself to all the other translators out there. Bearing in mind we as human beings tend to be too hard on ourselves, you’ll always find someone you think is more skilled than you and be left in a dark spot, sulking alone. Like on the mat, it’s important to find your strengths and play to them, find your own pace and your happy place. It’s not realistic to close your eyes to the market around you and ignore what others are doing – for once because you can always learn from them – but it’s always best to do what feels best for you and remember you’re unique in your own way.

2. Don’t go to a point where it hurts, but surely you can push yourself a bit further. No one knows better than you how far you can go, whether balancing on your arms or typing away at the computer. In yoga, when your muscles tell you they don’t want to go any further (not because it hurts, but because it feels cosy right there), your mind takes control and goes one more inch. At work, that happens, for example, when you receive a request for a project that seems unachievable, may that be because it comes with a tight deadline or because you don’t think you can do it right. You have a decision to make and you start to feel cold pearls of sweat building up on your back, or your neck and shoulder muscles tensing, even your mind agrees! “You can’t do it,” it tells you. But then, something else inside of you kicks in – whether courage or self-confidence – and you end up accepting it and doing a great job. Congratulations! You’ve gone beyond your comfort zone, and that’s when progress and growth happen.

3. Listen to your breath. Breathing is the thread that holds everything together, but we take if for granted. In yoga practice, breathing is what feeds your muscles so they can push and stretch, and also what brings you back to stillness for recovery. At the desk, when you focus too hard on what you’re working on, you don’t pay attention to how you’re breathing, but I’m pretty sure if you did, you’d notice better when you’re anxious, overwhelmed or stressed. Closing your eyes and inhaling and exhaling consciously a few times can put you back in a good place. And like in yoga, if you can’t breathe comfortably, you’ve gone too far. Loosen up the pose or say no to the next job that lands in your inbox. Remember that sometimes less is more!

4. Work with what you have today. This is probably my favourite lesson from the studio, and that’s why I’ve left it for last – like dessert! Your body and mind aren’t static, they are different depending on the time of day, what you’ve eaten, how you’ve slept, etc. Hard as it is to accept it, you don’t have full control over yourself. It’s very easy to see this on the mat: it never stops amazing me how far I can stretch on a given day only to go back two days later and feel pretty tight in the exact same pose. At the computer, there are days when creativity just spurts out and translating or transcreating feels like the most natural thing to do, and there are days when, deadline permitting, you’ll have to close the document and wait until the day after because nothing comes out. We’re all dynamic, and the sooner we accept it, the less frustrated we’ll be.

In conclusion, it’s good to work hard, but only if you can also play hard. In order to take in everything you do, your successes and your failures, your body and mind need time to process away from both the mat and the desk. In yoga, the dead body pose – or savasana – at the end of the class is the onset of that process, which continues outside the studio. At work, it starts when you shut down your computer and enjoy your time off. If you want to keep on going with your practice and your work, the key is balance. Go as far as you can, even a bit further, but don’t go so far that you burn all you have. In yoga, like in freelancing, every time you push, remember to pull a little.

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