Mindfulness? What lawyers can learn from yoga

5 mins

I‘ve been going to yoga classes for a couple of years now. In a world of constant distractions, yoga is a welcome relief from the daily clutter of well, life.

I am certainly no certified yogi or close to it. I do get pangs of jealousy when someone effortlessly lifts their foot above their head—a sure feat in my books. It’s something I’m working on—more flexibility and reduced yogic jealousy (aka. not comparing oneself with others).

Yoga has a lot more to offer to the busy mind and body than I initially thought. For the uninitiated, yoga is well worth trying out. It’s not just Millennial / Hipster / New Age /  Lululemon pants-wearing / [insert tag here] hype. In fact, yoga can teach us a great deal about our own humanity and is a source of valuable lessons for our lives.

These are the lessons I’ve learned from yoga so far.

#1. Being in the moment

Lawyers (and any other busy body) spend so much time worrying about the possibilities and probabilities of life and work. We end up spending very little time living in the moment. Yoga, by design, forces you to be in the moment. Since the act of yoga itself consumes so much mental and physical energy, you’re guaranteed to be focused in the moment or risk tumbling over.

While there are no shortcuts to mindfulness, yoga is a great start. It encourages mindfulness without the chicken and egg struggle of trying to adopt a “mindful” mindset. One of the trickiest things about mindfulness practice (doing nothing) is that the smidgeon of worry that you might be distracted puts you in a heightened state of worry—the start of a very vicious cycle.

Yoga focuses your mind in a very specific way, that is, on the external physical action.

In other words, it’s great.

#2. Don’t compare yourself

Many lawyers are imbued with an obsession from a tender age in their law lives, that success is all about peer recognition, prizes and “winning”. In this respect, law schools do not offer much reprieve as they often overtly or covertly encourage a competitive environment. In law firms, it’s about who made the 30 under 30 (totally crap if you started a law career later in life) or the highest billables for the month (p.s. efficiency can get stuffed).

Yoga encourages a completely different mindset. At the start of every class, my instructor would often remind us that “it’s your own practice” and that it was not a competition. You’re encouraged to focus on honing your own practice, no matter which level of the yogic pyramid you sit on. At this point, let me pull out the shocked koala:

Wah? It’s not a competition?

Despite the no-competition mindset, there are still measurable objectives in the form of easy to more complex poses. As a baby yogi, even the most basic poses are a challenge—“oh no way, downward dog for 5 minutes!?!”. You barely notice it later on.

#3. Inward, not outward strength

Yoga is great for lawyers (and any desk-bound souls) not just because it helps with building muscle mass to prevent backaches. It can also teach us about the importance of building inward strength.

As lawyers, we often throw up an external facade of strength—whether for clients, other lawyers, or judges that you have to persuade. This can all get pretty tiring if you don’t have the inner strength to match. Yoga has taught me that there are different sources of strength—some of the strongest and most supple come from your inner core. It’s built up through consistent training, not on learning to be a superficial one-trick pony.

#4. Know your limits

Yoga teaches you to know your limits when it comes to performing advanced poses. You develop a growth mindset—“if not now, then not yet – but maybe later or next time”. An advanced move can cause injury if not done properly or with the correct foundations. In most yoga classes, falling over isn’t just going to hurt yourself, but the person next to you. The upside is that you can train for advanced poses by building up to them.

As with legal practice, not knowing your limits can lead to all sorts of strife. Equally, you know that horrible sinking feeling when you’ve taken on too much work to please your boss/client—and realise that you simply CAN’T DO IT ALL.

Check yoga out.

#5. Rest is important

If you think that yoga is all work and no rest, think again. The final pose of any yoga class and arguably the most important is Savasana or Corpse Pose. It involves lying flat on your back as if sleeping, and releasing all tension from your muscles. A restorative pose for body and mind after all that hard work! Instructors are always keen to remind you that you won’t reap the full benefits of your intense practice if you skip Savasana.

Again, it’s another important lesson for lawyers or lawyers-to-be who have adopted a 24/7 work mentality. Stop—because (1) you won’t absorb any information properly; and (2) you will certainly burn out.

#6. Patience (no yogic unicorns)

In yoga, one has to learn patience. There is a deliberate process of stretching out, challenging yourself with different poses, repetition, and rest. Then rinse and repeat (next time). This might be frustrating for first timers—“why can’t I skip to the fun poses?”.

One thing that you might have already figured out is that there are no yogic unicorns or geniuses. Yoga teaches you that good things come with time—there is a long lead-time to achieve a better practice—to “perfection”. You also realise that you lose flexibility as soon as you stop practising.

In this sense, yoga can teach us that any learned skill—like legal practice—develops over a long period of time with proper training. After all, your career is a marathon, not a race.

#7. Gratitude

Finally, gratitude—an essential ingredient for happiness, according to the research. Lawyers spend a heap of time floundering in crappy claims or unreasonable deadlines (that we often inflict on ourselves—see point #4 above). This can lead to a negative mindset over time, which we should have more open discussions about.

Yoga can encourage us to look deeper, embrace gratitude and see the positive at the end of each class, which finishes with “Namaste”. If you’re interested, check out this article, but in short it literally means “I bow to (the divine in) you” and is about showing gratitude to your teacher.

It really does improve one’s mood.

So let’s practise Lesson #7—thank you for reading!

And oh yes, p.s.

You don’t have to burn holes in your pockets signing up to expensive yoga classes or buying chic gear. There are plenty of mobile apps with decent free content, which I started off with. Here’s one list I found.

Image credit // Fabian Møller