Techie by Day, Yogi for Life

Yoga a passageway to wellness for Microsoft employee

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
December 20, 2011

When George Makarenko was just 9 years old, he had his first introduction to yoga.

Over summer break, he discovered a small Hatha yoga book in his family’s library and spent the next three months practicing postures and breathing techniques. 
His high-level interest in yoga continued into the next school year when he was able to demonstrate his newfound abilities—including holding his breath under water and swimming across an Olympic-size pool.
“I was a hero,” Makarenko recalls.

Although yoga was his newfound passion, it would be years later before he would fully understand yoga’s intricacies.
“Yoga has several aspects to it, all of which lead an individual inward and toward the center, making him/her stronger, more balanced and energized,” he says.

As an SU student, he was president of the Yoga and Service club. Every couple of months, he leads a four-day yesplus workshop (at SU and other Seattle area locations) based on the Art of Living philosophies of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The workshops aim to create more awareness about a healthy and stress-free way of life.

“Art of Living helped me discover that yoga includes much more than holding the breath,” he says. “Yoga, breathing techniques and meditation get you out of your head. We also blend volunteer service into the workshop so participants can sink even deeper into the experience.”

Fall workshop participants took part in a service project with Somali refugees. 
Last summer, Makarenko joined 50,000 others to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Art of Living Foundation with a two-day festival of world culture and peace in Berlin, Germany. 
He blends postures and breathing techniques with daily meditation, service to community and yogic knowledge or wisdom of handling the mind and emotions.

“Yoga has several aspects to it, all of which lead an individual inward and toward the center, making him/her stronger, more balanced and energized."—George Makarenko, '11 MSEWhat keeps him on this healthful path?
“I am able to contribute to others’ personal and spiritual development,” he says. “Seeing my students shine with smiles and enthusiasm at the end of each course is the ultimate satisfaction.”

Makarenko, a 2011 graduate of the SU Master of Software Engineering program, says in addition to the community-building nature of his yoga, that sense of community also became important to his Microsoft career and during his days at SU.
When Makarenko first came to the United States from Russia, he was a high school exchange student who landed in the town of Castle Rock in Cowlitz County, Wash.

Fifteen years later, the program manager at Microsoft smiles when he thinks about how far he has come and where he is today—developing web services to enable interactive support communities to be creative. Some of Makarenko’s areas of expertise include web services aimed at self-help community forum experiences for Windows, Office and Internet Explorer.

He says the self-help communities of Microsoft Answers continue to grow so users can get the quick answers they need from other users. If users can’t collect the solutions they need from those in a like-minded community, Microsoft responds within a day.
He had found his way to SU’s College of Science and Engineering when he recognized his career might call for stronger skills in software development. SU proved the best option, he says.

“With its evening classes, the MSE program is tailored to people who are working for companies like Microsoft and Boeing,” he says. “Over the three years I was in the MSE program, I grew technically on my job at Microsoft and that was important for me."

Makarenko says his greatest challenge at SU was his capstone project, which gave him an opportunity to make a difference for those with traumatic brain injuries.
He was drawn to a community service project submitted by Kathy Moeller, who sustained a brain injury in 1990. In 1993, she created a paper-based system called the BRAINBOOK®, a life management system to assist with mild to severe short-term memory impairment.

Moeller reached out to SU with the hope that software engineering graduate students might help her develop multi-platform mobile applications to serve the cognitive needs of people with brain injuries. 
For the Cognitive Bionics project, as it was called, Makarenko and two other MSE students pooled their talents to develop, test and create architecture for a platform and build documentation for the features Moeller wanted based on her research. The students had to think through the needs of the brain injured and those professionals who treat them and explore ways to alert professionals when someone with a brain injury should be prompted to take medication, among other objectives.

“Dealing with a real-life problem and contributing something meaningful was especially worthwhile,” says Makarenko.

Find out more about George Makarenko’s upcoming yesplus yoga workshops.

George Makarenko, '11 MSE, got his first taste of yoga at just 9 years old. He's been hooked ever since.