Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Today is a special New Year - a blue moon. The last one was in 1990, and the next one will be in 2028. Other than the fact that this is cool, it has absolutely nothing to do with this post. But it's still cool! (As an absolute, but important parenthesis, I want to say that my initial reaction to this was that it was so special, I had to do something huge to honor it. But recently, I have tried to move away from that mentality, to recognize each moment as special, to stop saving good bottles of wine, tourist attractions, etc. for a special day. I could say a lot more about this, but the NY Times already has. Click here for a great article.)

This post is, instead, about community and today's "aha" moment! In a sense, I'm taking a break from my discussion about the yamas, though this aha moment was inspired by one of the yamas, I will get to it later and its significance to this post. But this morning, I was doing Uttkatasana (Chair or lightening pose), and I found myself gripping my toes. Now, I have known for months, years probably, not to grip my toes. I concentrate on it, work not to, and work to ground through the heels. But today that concept took on an entirely new meaning, and it has to do with my pectoral muscles.

As I mentioned previously, I have some hamstring issues, and I wrote about a new understanding of that in a previous post. Something I learned that night, which should have been obvious to me previously, was that the pain in the back body is often caused by tightness in the pectoral muscles. Well, for me, that pain had been traveling down into the hamstrings. Since that day, I have been working on stretching across my chest, and the hamstring is slowly but surely starting to improve. I was stretching my arm against a wall right before my Uttkatasana this morning, and it all came together.

In Yoga Teacher Training, our teacher has often talked about the front body representing the individual, the self, the ego and the back body representing the community and our support. Modern culture, especially in the United States, is all about the individual. Culturally, we love stories of people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and overcoming all apparent obstacles. I recently saw "The Blind Side," which was an awesome movie, but I came out of it wondering why we cannot help all those kids. While talking to someone about this, she asked what we should be doing, and I said supporting them. Her response was, "Eventually people have to take control of their own lives." That statement felt like a baseball bat to the chest, and I did not have a good aswer until today.

Buddhism teaches about the Triple Gem or the Triple Refuge: 1) The Buddha (himself), 2) The Dharma (his teachings), and 3) The Sangha (the community of his noble disciples). Jesus also had his disciples. Jews come together to study Torah. In other words, we cannot do it alone. I look around my yoga classes, and I see a lot of gripping toes. I see a lot of people leaning forward when proper alignment to protect ourselves is to lean back. Walking down the street, I see people who have their necks pressing forward, or worse yet, forward and down. Sitting at our desks, many of us hunch forward, breathe shallowly, and often forget we have a back . . . until it screams so loudly, we have bulging discs and need surgery.

We have forgotten the community, the sangha, our back body. We have forgotten that we don't have to do this alone!

I understood before today that the gripping toes were a reminder that I need to let go. I understood that the pecs were helping to cause the hamstring pain. But this morning's "aha" moment was that there is a world of support out there, that I exist within a community, and that our bodies are a constant reminder that it is okay to reach out to that community. Because officially, this blog is about lawyers, I'm going to merely point out that lawyers excel at being individuals. Even within a law firm, new associates literally fight for the best cases, try to outdo one another, and end up burning out. In law school, we were encouraged to find mentors, to attend as many social gatherings as we could. I hate small talk as much as the next person, but I have secretly always loved going to cocktail hours (and not for the free cocktails). It is there that communities are formed, mentors are created, and once that happens, you cannot exist in a bubble. You have to be a good person once the community is smaller. It is at those plastic events where I have discovered that the people I respect the most in this profession are the ones who have never gone it alone.

Thank you all for sharing this journey with me, for being part of my community, in whatever capacity you are, even if I have never met you in person. May this new year be filled with joy, love, and lots of community.

Blessings and Namaste!

Friday, December 25, 2009


Ahimsa is the first yama. As I mentioned in my last post, I am going to examine each of the yamas and niyamas and how they might provide some guidance in the legal community and in our everyday lives. A friend requested that I explain the yamas and niyamas a bit more along the way. The most basic definition is that the yamas are ethical disciplines and the niyamas are about self discipline. Thus, the yamas guide our actions within the world, and the niyamas guide our internal actions. Of course, the two are interrelated, and that which we do to ourselves influences how we interact with others and vice versa. So, with the first yama, we see how yoga instructs us to first interact with the rest of the world.

Ahimsa means nonviolence. This is far broader than physical nonviolence. It really means nonviolence in speech, action, and thought. It is because of ahimsa that so many yogis choose a vegetarian lifestyle. (For the record, I am not a vegetarian, but it is an easy way to understand how some interpret ahimsa.) The other side of nonviolence is compassion for all living beings. This means all living beings, from ourselves, to our best friends, to  those we sometimes do not want to be around, to animals, and even cockroaches (this one is tough, but that is the meaning of ahimsa).

Ahimsa is the first of the yamas for a reason - it encompasses all the others and provides the foundation for all the others. There is no way to interact with the world ethically if you are being violent, in any sense of the world. So what does this mean? How do we live in a nonviolent manner?

I have been facing many situations recently that have tested my ability to follow ahimsa, and many of them have had to do with customer service situations. These are often the situations that try my patience and my nonviolence. The most trying situation was with Sprint. I will spare you the details of the situation, but let me say that it required more than one phone call to the the customer service number, one of which ended with me being routed from a supervisor back to the main line, just to be put on hold indefinitely until I gave up. The final phone call ended up with them making an appointment for me at the service center, and when I got there, I was informed that those appointments are never seen by the service center. Luckily they still helped me - sort of. Throughout the entire situation, I was pretty upset with my lack of internet, and I made this known, but I also tried to be as polite as possible and tell everyone with whom I interacted that while I thought Sprint's policies were ridiculous and I was upset, that I also recognized that it was not the individual's fault, and I tried to thank each person. But I was upset, and I got annoyed, and I know that I was not as nice as I could have been nor as nice as I would have liked. These everyday annoyances, like phone companies and drivers who cut us off test our patience in ways we do not expect. They catch us in the moment, inconvenience us, and in the modern world, that is tough to handle. 

Our legal system is set up in a way that makes ahimsa seem nearly impossible. It is an adversary system, and by definition this usually means a winner and a loser. Lawyers are ethically bound to zealously advocate for their clients, even if it means toeing that ethical line discussed in the last post. But ask any successful and well-respected lawyer, and invariably he or she will tell you that you cannot get to be successful by being a jerk. Instead, respect and success come from treating the "other side" decently and picking up the phone to call the other lawyer before filing a motion complaining to the court when the other lawyer does something you do not think is right. These people have discovered their own definition of ahimsa - how to interact in a system that sometimes appears designed to cause violence without succumbing to it. It's about seeing the situation for what it is, a company's policies, not the person at the customer service desk. 

Ahimsa in modern culture is about not beating ourselves up when we choose to take some time for ourselves. What better day to experience this than Christmas, where nearly everything is closed? There are other days during the year when I have nothing to do, but there are so many distractions. Grocery stores and yoga studios are open. There are places to go, things to do, people to see. On Christmas, however, many of those distractions are gone, and except for movies and Chinese food, we Jews have had to learn to fend for ourselves. When I was a child, I remember being nervous - what if we needed food and nothing was open? To some extent, I felt the same way this year and remedied my fear with a trip to Trader Joe's on Tuesday. But why? Can I not spend one day in my house? What would that look like to others? I originally was going to spend Christmas in my house, but I have changed my mind, and instead, I'm going to take a walk - to the movie theater. I don't treat myself to very many movies in the theater, and it is such a tradition for Jews that I had to partake in it, but on my terms. And on Christmas, it's okay to do nothing because by modern definitions, there is nothing to do, except exactly what matters - spend time with ourselves and those we love. 

I walked out of the movie theater and felt an immense sense of love for the world. Today, even though I am physically alone (by choice), I feel more connected to everyone around me. On Christmas, it's okay to say hello to the person walking down the street. On other days, people look the other way. What a relief to be able to set everything aside for one day, to revel in the feeling of connection and not violence, and to be with each other, on any level.

I began this post by saying that the yamas are about how we, as individuals, interact with the rest of the world - the ethical precepts. But that begins with ourselves. Until we learn to be nonviolent with ourselves, we will carry that violence throughout our interactions with others. In the modern world, it is all too easy to carry our distractions with us, especially professionals like lawyers, whose jobs pay for the blackberry / crackberry. Letting go of obligations, realizing that it's okay to do "nothing," and taking care of ourselves are probably the hardest ways to be nonviolent with ourselves in modern culture. We can turn off our phones; we can say no to another obligation; and we can choose to take a day and not do anything, even when all the stuff and distractions are open. We can even smile at the person walking down the street. 

There is much more to say about ahimsa - about our speech, our clothes, our interactions with ourselves and each other - but for now, I'm going to leave it here. Thank you all for the support, the connections, and the opportunity to share this journey with you. I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

Blessings and Namaste!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A ladder to something new

When I began writing this blog, I envisioned it beginning with this post. I wanted to start with the yamas and niyamas, the ethical teachings of yoga and the first two of the 8 limbs of yoga. I wanted to discuss how they could be useful to the legal profession. Instead, I went off on a tangent, which has been useful to me, and I hope, interesting to you. Well, the universe has intervened again. We are currently on break for two weeks from the yoga teacher training program, and our homework over break is to write about one of the yamas and niyamas each day and journal about how we could use them as themes for yoga classes. I will spare you from my postings each and every day for the next ten days, but I will write them, and they will be posted at a rate of probably two per week, and over the course of the next month, I hope you share your thoughts and ideas with me and each other.

So what are the yamas and niyamas? Well, the easiest and most relevant explanation is that they are like the yoga ten commandments. They help guide the yogis actions with himself and with the rest of the world. They guide the yogi practitioner on the spiritual path. Specifically, there are five yamas and five niyamas, and they are the first and second of the eight limbs of yoga. As reference, asana (postures)is the third limb and pranayama (breath work) is the fourth limb.

Lawyers also have a code of ethics, and it has always been the most difficult part of the law for me to reconcile with the rest of my life. First, when you start talking about lawyer ethics, the joke, of course, is that lawyers have no ethics. I am going to refrain from going down that path, but the perception exists, and I believe there is a reason it exists. By no means do I believe that lawyers have no ethics; I actually believe lawyers have wonderful ethics. That is, if those ethics are judged by the code. I see the Code of Ethics as a floor, not a ladder. (For you non-lawyers, a common legal argument is that something is a floor, not a ceiling). I say ladder here because that is exactly what the yamas and niyamas are. They are the ladder that begins the yogic path. They are the foundation, but they also travel along with the other limbs, providing guidance along the entire path, not just the baseline below which the yogi hopes to never fall.

By contrast, a lawyer can go an entire career without violating the code of ethics and be far from moral. Any ethics (sorry, Professional Responsibility) professor with whom I have spoken says that if you judge your actions by the Code, you miss the point. The Code, therefore, is a floor. It is the bare minimum by which you will not be disbarred. It does not create a higher path, a pursuit, a ladder to something greater. There are, however, many legal organizations that do strive for this higher goal. One of them, Phi Delta Phi, is known as the legal ethics fraternity. At one time, a majority of the United States Supreme Court were members. There are also the Inns of Court, a group of lawyers, judges, and often law professors and law students to discuss issues of professionalism and ethics in the profession. These organizations use the Code as a baseline and look for ways to be the best professionals, guided by something different than a Code. They create their own ladders.

I used to differentiate between ethics and morals in my head, saying that the Code of Ethics could keep you out of trouble, but morals should guide your actions - at least mine. I do not want to get into those semantics. If ethics is what you strive to achieve, that is great. But should it be a floor? Should you strive to walk the line as closely as possible? I would say that the vast majority of lawyers I know go far beyond this minimum. In fact, I can think of only one or two who walk that line with any regularity. But that is not the point. The point is that there is a difference between expecting the minimum from people and asking them to achieve their best. That is a semantics argument I am happy to make.

The following analogy may first appear to make no sense, but please bear with me.  When I lived in France, you had to buy your plastic bags at the grocery store. They cost between 3 and 5 cents - certainly did not break the bank - but I would rarely see people leave the grocery store with more than one plastic bag, and usually they brought their own. That was just the way it was. In the United States, you get 5 cents at many grocery stores (or the chance to win $25 at Trader Joe's), and I rarely see people take their own bags to places like Safeway, Albertson's and Fry's (Trader Joe's and other natural food stores are an exception, but for a different reason, I think.) The difference is the mentality between "saving" five cents or spending an extra five. Saving five cents is not much of an incentive. It takes a long time for that to add up to any "real" money, but they are not going to make me pay an extra five cents for a bag when it should be free! That's the difference between the floor and the ladder.
When you offer people a floor, what's the point of going higher? They must look externally for motivation and insight. When you offer people a ladder, promising spiritual enlightenment as the result, people act differently.  So, going back to basics on this blog, I am going to begin to explore that ladder.

Here is a taste of what is to come . . . a list of the yamas and niyamas:

Ahimsa - nonviolence
Satya - truthfulness
Asteya - not stealing
Brahmacharya - dedicated to the divinity of life
Aparigraha - non-grasping

Shaucha - purity
Tapas - burning enthusiasm (this could explain Spain)
Santosha - Contentment
Swadhyaya - self-study
Ishvarapranidhana - Celebration of the spiritual

Before I go, I would like to thank the universe and my yoga teachers for nudging me, through a homework assignment, to go back to where I always wanted to be.

Blessings and Namaste!

© Copyright 2009. Rebecca Stahl. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


"You are the only lawyer I actually like." This is one of the most disheartening sentences I hear, and I hear it often. Lawyers get a bad rap. Yes, there are lawyers who are unethical. Yes, there are lawyers who are only out to make a buck and ride the ethical line as though it were a tightrope. But like so many professions, there are amazingly good people who are lawyers. From Gandhi to many of the people working in Legal Aid to the people in large, civil litigation firms who use their jobs to help people navigate the fearful and uncertain legal world. All of these people are lawyers, and all of them aim to really help people. And while I hope to be a lawyer that people can and will respect, I sure hope that I am not the only one. Being a lawyer is an amazing profession, and it is through misconceptions about all lawyers based upon hearsay about some laywers that provides the lawyer misconception.

When I tell people I do yoga, the most often reaction I get is that I must be really flexible. When I tell people I don't really exercise, if they know me, their first reaction is, "but you do yoga." As I have said before, yoga is not just about the asana to me (though as I also said before, the asana practice has new meaning for me). Yogis come in all shapes and sizes, all degrees of flexibility, and all degrees of standing-on-one-hand-while-their-legs-are-in-full-lotus ability. Those who can barely touch the floor in a forward fold probably outnumber those who can even put one leg behind their head. The covers of many yoga magazines and the image of Jennifer Aniston selling her yoga teacher provide the yoga misconception.

The general misconception, then, about lawyers is that all of them embody this evil empire, with no regard to the rest of the world. The general misconception about yogis, then, is that they all embody the ability to reach their legs over their heads while standing on one finger. Of course, neither is true. So what do we do about it?

Yoga teaches us to look inside - of ourselves and of others. Nearly all yoga classes end with a simple gesture - a head bow -and word - "Namaste." Namaste has many, many meanings, but it essentially means, "from the light that is within me, I honor the light that is within you." We learn to see that this light really does shine within us all, and once we begin to see that, we can move beyond these misconceptions. Then why do I hear from so many yogis that I am the only lawyer they like? Well, we're all human, and yoga is not an overnight answer to our societal misconceptions.

Again, what can we do about it? Most importantly, we can live our own truths. Good lawyers can continue to help those in need, whether that need is civil rights or a contract dispute - both are noble. Struggling yogis can continue to struggle, whether with a forward fold or meditating for more than five minutes - both are part of yoga. Living these truths will allow more and more people to see that they exist. Holding them, taking pride in them, and being them, will prove to others that they are really the foundation of the law and yoga. The law is essentially about doing good, and yoga is essentially a practice, not perfection. Thus, these misconceptions lead to misunderstanding the heart of both worlds, not just individuals within them. The more people that vocalize their truths, against the grain of yoga magazines and Enron scandals, the more people outside those worlds will learn to appreciate the truth.

This blog began as a way for me to honor both of these worlds, and to help me find a way to understand what drives these misconceptions, and therefore, ways that we might debunk them. I find it my job to defend lawyers to yogis and vice versa, but instead I want it to be my job to bring them together. Recognizing the inherent misconceptions is the first step. I want to learn to fully embrace the fact that I care deeply about people and the law, and I want to fully embrace the fact that my leg hurts in asana practice and my mind wanders in meditation. It will get better, and I will find a way to ensure that families and children are treated well in the legal profession. (Disclaimer: there are many noble paths in the law, including civil litigation, but my path is with children and families.)

Thank you all for your support and love. In what ways do you find yourself believing that which you know is not true about an entire group? Do you find yourself caught up in that misconception about yourself? Do you hold yourself to a higher standard as a result? As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.

Namaste and Blessings!

© Copyright 2009. Rebecca Stahl. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A fundamentalist yogi . . . what?

Yoga is not only about asana (postures)! This statement is far more controversial (and dangerous) than it appears at first glimpse. The people who started Bikram Yoga have a goal to make yoga asanas an olympic sport, to be judged on who does the postures the best. When I tell many people I do yoga, their first reaction is usually either, "wow, you must be really flexible," or "that's weird stuff and not for me." Usually, however, the reaction is about the asanas, and many people consider yoga to be a good form of exercise.
Personally, I started doing yoga for emotional reasons; I needed a way to center myself, de-stress, and get out of my head. I learned asana from my sister-in-law and early on discussed meditation with her and my brother. That was yoga. In law school, I attended my first yoga classes, and while the asana practice was important to me, I found my home in the classes with long periods of meditation or savasana (corpse pose). Yoga and meditation helped me get through law school and take two bar exams without freaking out about them (for the most part). When confronted by people who considered it exercise, I became defensive, always pointing out that yoga for me was about the spirituality, not the asana practice. After all, asana is only one of the eight limbs, and only two or three of the yoga sutras discuss asana.
Of course, my body suffered. I was going through the asana motions without fully engaging in them. I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it. Somehow I had convinced myself that asana was not an integral part of the practice while I continued an almost-daily asana practice. My practice got "better," as in I could go deeper into the poses, but I was not using the correct muscles, and my body let me know. And then I started the Yoga Teacher Training. I wanted to deepen my spiritual understanding of yoga, so I found a school where that would be a central theme. I also wanted to learn more about asana, but I kept telling myself that was not my number one goal. For those who entered the teacher training with an exercise mentality, I'm sure that the class seems deeply spiritual. For me, the class's focus on asana and everything else has finally allowed me to give myself permission to truly enjoy the asanas.

This new focus on asana (without letting go of the rest) forced me to see a less-than-yogic part of myself. I realized that I had become a fundamentalist yogi. I was so convinced that asana is only one part of the practice that I had essentially ignored its power. But there was my body reminding me that I had better pay attention. In last week's class, the spiritual, emotional, and physical came crashing together, and my fundamentalism slammed me in the face. Throughout the teacher training, I have gained a new appreciation for asana, a new love of the physical practice. But it was not until I was forced to confront how ignoring it had caused me such physical pain that I realized how much I truly had ignored it. I had become judgmental about asana, and while it may be only one limb of the practice, it is still one of the limbs. All eight are essential. All eight lead us to our highest selves.

During teacher training, we were placed into groups to present on one type of yoga, so we could gain an understanding of many of the most common types of yoga being taught in the United States. Of course, coming into class, I would have loved to have been assigned Viniyoga or the Himalayan Institute, both yoga practices based more on the spirit than the physical. Instead, I was assigned Ashtanga Yoga, more commonly referred to in the United States as Power Yoga. The universe has a funny way of working out.
Ashtanga Yoga began in Mysore India by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who studied with Krishnamacharya. At the time, Krishnamacharya was teaching adolescent males, who benefited from the physical asana. Pattabhi Jois believed that we must learn the physical asana before we can begin studying the spiritual aspects of yoga - our bodies and minds must be open to it. Thus, for him, the physical practice was the beginning of the path to spirituality.
Many people would probably argue that yoga and fundamentalism do not mix, but anyone can be a fundamentalist about anything. When we fail to see the entire picture, when we decide to defend only one aspect of the whole, we lose the ability to think objectively and to learn from that which we are choosing to ignore. I can think of no better example than the legal profession. Lawyers get paid to see only one side of the story, to present only one side of the story. To do otherwise may be unethical. In law school, we are taught (at least at the U of A) that the best way to help your client is to know the other side's argument better than he does and to anticipate arguments the other side will make and rebut them. In practice, however, I see lawyers calling the other side's arguments ridiculous, unfathomable, and other choice words that need not be repeated. Those statements are usually made, however, by the very people who would be making the same argument if the other side had just hired them first. So, are lawyers nothing more than trained fundamentalists? If so, what can we do about it?
Fundamentalism arises when we start to take things personally. The legal arguments that turn into "that's ridiculous" are made by the lawyers who get too caught up in the client's story. My views on asana were too caught up in what other people thought about my yoga practice, about it being exercise and not spirituality. I will refrain from commenting on other religious and political fundamentalism because that could fill several tomes, but the idea translates. It's when we let ourselves get too involved, too intertwined with whatever the belief is, that we become fundamentalists, and when that happens, all hope of discussion is lost. Whether a lawyer or someone who loves Macs instead of PCs (come on, we all know a fundamentalist Mac user), this hook of the personal, of the judgment, is where the pain arises.
Instead, something will force you to see the other side. For me, it was my leg. While limping out of yoga classes, I realized that I had ignored an essential limb of yoga (no pun intended). I had ignored an essential piece of my spirit. It just happened to be physical. My leg still hurts, but like any path, it cannot be attained over night. What did change overnight, however, was my attitude to the asanas. I have a new love for the poses, can play with them, laugh at them, and learn from them. In this week of gratefulness, I am deeply grateful for my body's not-so-little hints that I was missing the mark. The trick now is to remain unhooked from that place of judgment and continue to love the entire path. I'm sure that if I forget, I will go limping out of many classes to come.


© Copyright 2009. Rebecca Stahl. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Taking it to the edge . . . and beyond

The yoga paradoxes continue. Yoga teaches us to go to our edge, but not beyond. What is this edge? In a posture, it is the point where "awareness" becomes "pain" (as my teacher so eloquently puts it). Awareness is when you feel the muscles, feel the stretch, feel the strength, feel the core. Pain is where you cannot walk, where you want to cry. This edge is not, however, static. As our practice grows, the edge moves. As our awareness increases, and our bodies adapt, they can go farther. As we recognize our bodies changing, the mind, heart, and spirit follow (or guide - sort of a chicken/egg argument).

I learned this week that there is a huge difference between knowing this in your head and knowing this at the deepest level of the soul. Like many lawyers (and many others who have gone through 20+ years of education), I live my life in my head. That is what I have been trained to do. That is what society teaches us is best. We are taught that just being, doing nothing, these are signs of sloth. We should be more productive. For years, as my yoga practice has evolved, I have spoken often of its benefits, of letting go, being at peace, and breathing. I have spoken of relaxing and the physical benefits that yoga can create. And I have been in acute pain. I hold my tension in my shoulders, and recently it has moved to my leg. Not awareness, but pain. Though my brain was telling me one thing, the ingrained learned responses were doing another, and my body was none too happy about it.

In the middle of class on Thursday, I winced in pain, and the teacher saw it. From across the room, she mouthed, "if it hurts, don't do it." Well, duh! But that is when the light bulb went off. That is when I finally got it - inside my being, not in my head.

What do we prove by going so far? To whom are we trying to prove it? Does showing up at work earlier than everyone else and staying later than everyone else make you a better employee if you are unable to be productive because you are so tired? Is it possible to be productive when you have neglected your body to the point where you cannot even sit through interviews? I once had an interviewer stand the entire interview because his back hurt so much - why would I want to work at his firm? Prior to class on Thursday, I had been less than fully productive at work. Friday, I was a maniac and got more done in one day than I think I got done all week. There's the yoga paradox - when you finally let go, finally give in, the world opens up, and you suddenly have all the time you thought you had lost. My working edge had shifted. I had reached it earlier in the week, but on Friday it moved, and I was able to move, and work, with it.

As I sit here today, the leg has not miraculously healed, and even with my best intentions, the shoulder is still tight. But the pain is subsiding, and the awareness is growing. My personal practice today was slow but nearly without pain for the first time in months. The lawyer in me thinks that I can learn anything by reading about it. I mean, that's what we do as lawyers, we read. The societal American in me thinks that I can be successful by being "perfect" and "productive." The yogi in me knows that neither of these work. On Thursday the yogi pushed its way in a little bit farther. And yes, the lawyer and the societal American started to do better. This is a topic to which I know I will come back often, as Thursday's kick-in-the-butt was just the first of many. But it was still huge. Lest we not forget, "the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step." Until Thursday, I thought I could take that step in my head. Today, my feet are on the ground, and they know which way is forward.

Going beyond my edge did nothing for me except cause me pain. Going to our edge, and being aware of it, is how we grow. It is at the edge that we learn, that we hold steady, that we build strength. Then the edge moves, and we grow with it. Going past that edge causes pain - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This edge is an important place. It is at the edge that we see ourselves at our very best and risk being our own worst enemy. When we learn to recognize our edge, anything becomes possible. In this week of Thanksgiving, I am so very grateful for finally understanding this on a deep, deep level.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me, for your support and your comments.

Blessings and Namaste.

© Copyright 2009. Rebecca Stahl. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I have always been intrigued by hugs. I was slightly surprised and extremely moved the first time I saw two teenage guys hug one another - I was at a Jewish camp, and I thought that it could only happen there. Most guys thought themselves too tough for such displays of closeness. My family is very huggy, and it was not until I went to college that I realized how important those hugs really are. I can remember the first hug at college. It was a big deal; it meant I finally had a friend. There were probably thousands of hugs after that, and each time I see those college friends, we embrace.

Both times I lived in France were nearly devoid of hugs. I remember being so excited when some friends from Ann Arbor came to visit; there were lots of hugs (not to mention when my parents came). And then I moved to Arizona. Let's just say that law school was not hug central for me. For the first time I lived alone, and I did not open up to people at school with hugs. They came - infrequent but there. (Now, those law school friends are huggers; it just took some time.) And then I started doing yoga. At first, I was anonymous at Tucson Yoga, but law school required more frequent attendance at the yoga studio, and before I knew it, I recognized half the people in most of my classes. Out of nowhere, the hugs began. They were greetings and goodbyes, quick and long, and sometimes reassurances, but they were always a sense of connection.

Last week, I stayed after my yoga teacher training class chatting with another student (considering class ends at 9:30, I usually bolt out of there, but this was an important conversation). We were talking about drug addicts, dangerous neighborhoods, and prostitutes. What, you ask, does this have to do with hugs? Well, everything!

I have spent a lot of time in courtrooms watching people who presumably once loved each other have such contempt and hatred for one another that they cannot sit next to each other and are willing to tell the world (aka the judge) every bad act the other one has ever committed - numerous times. I have spent just as much time in courtrooms watching people fight to keep their children, often losing or giving up that fight eventually, because drugs have become easier than facing reality. I have heard both these groups of people called a lot of names. My professional career is dedicated to making the system work better for them and their children. But all that time in courtrooms, I wanted to do the one thing I absolutely could not do - give them a hug.

There has been one other time in my life where I was told I could not give someone a hug. I was a camp counselor. As a society, we have become so fearful of pedophiles that I was told by the powers-that-be that hugs were off limits to the kids. At the time, I worked with school-age children and preschoolers. How do you tell a 2-year old she cannot sit in your lap? How do you tell a crying 6-year old you cannot give him a hug? How do you tell the 10-year-old who is just happy to see you that she cannot hug you? Well, I didn't. Luckily, I didn't lose that job, but I decided that I was not going to tell those kids they couldn't get a hug.

But a courtroom is different than the playground. Sadly, the parents in the courtroom were in just about the same emotional state as the children on the playground. But the rules are different, and this time I followed them. But I couldn't help thinking, how much better would these people feel if instead of an order, we gave them a hug? Hugs have been shown to work miracles; people travel from all over the world to meet Amma, the spiritual leader who gives hugs. But what would a client do if his lawyer hugged him? What would a patient do if her doctor hugged her? Our knee-jerk reactions to these questions are, "that's unethical!" Maybe it is. That's sad, at least in my opinion. Luckily, I have also seen those happy endings, especially when parents get their children returned to them, and their cases are dismissed. And yes, I have seen hugs on those days. Perhaps that is why those who work in juvenile court love it so much.

But a hug can melt away sadness. A hug can be the support someone needs. A hug can be a source of new strength. Who are these people I saw so often in the courtroom? They were people who had fallen out of love - no more hugs. They were people who had lost their children - no more hugs. They were people who felt all alone in the world. I know; I have been there. That first hug in any new home is powerful. It's a sign that you belong. It's a reminder that we really are all interconnected.

And yes, my (almost) first new-friend hug in Phoenix was at the end of a conversation about drug addicts and prostitution. (I actually thought it was the first until I remembered one at the end of another YTT class from one of the teachers.) My part of that conversation was based exclusively on what I learned in the courtroom watching all those families being torn apart. What better way to honor them and their stories than with one of my first Phoenix hugs? This blog is about connecting yoga and the law, finding a way to do both. And here, I have an answer. While I may never be able to hug someone in court, yoga has taught me that energetic hugs are almost as good. I send one to each of you reading this and to all those families, past, present, and future.

Who have you hugged today?

Namaste and Blessings.

© Copyright 2009. Rebecca Stahl. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tuning Out

While practicing qi gong the other day, there was water running in the background. Even during a pose where envisioning water running, I was tuning out the actual running water. A few days later, while doing the same pose, the sprinklers came on. The universe has a way of smacking us in the face when we don't want to listen.

Tuning out seems to be our modus operandi. It is so much simpler than being present and focused on what is in front of us. Yoga, meditation, and qi gong have helped me tune in these past few years, but of course that tuning in easily becomes tuning out in this culture . . .  even while engaged in those activities. 

There is no question that tuning out is absolutely necessary. If we did not do it, we would probably lose our minds. We are aware of only a fraction of the information our brains receive every second. But tuning in can benefit us and allow us to be more aware of the world we inhabit. When I was a young child, my family dubbed me "wrong way Becca" because I could not make sense of directions, always turning the wrong way and getting lost. When I moved to Michigan for college, I would constantly call my parents (who had not lived in MI for 20 years) to ask for directions. But then I moved to France, and all of that changed. I had no choice but to tune in and be vigilant in France. I was more scared to ask for directions than to tune in. Then I traveled in Poland, Germany, and Spain, all places where I could not have asked for directions if I wanted to--I simply did not speak their language. All of a sudden, I had a good sense of direction . . . or I had just started to pay attention. It is no surprise that I started doing yoga the summer before I first lived in France. 

In a world of twitter, facebook, RSS feeds, and sound bites instead of news, if we did not tune out, I think we might explode. But when tuning out becomes the norm, we have to relearn how to tune back in, or we will become "wrong way people." I think you're going to start to see a trend in my posts here; we need to find a balance between tuning out and tuning in. We need to recognize that which we need to tune out in order to focus on that which is important right in front of us. I just spent 3 days in Reno at a family law conference, and I was amazed by all the wonderful new information being presented. I was also amazed at all of the hunched shoulders in the rooms, focused on their blackberries instead of the presentations. Ok, I was not actually amazed, but how can we learn to tune into the wonderful information being presented when we are more focused on our twitter and email accounts? I am guilty of it as well, and the day I presented was tough because I had to actually pay attention instead of check my email. But I learned a lot that day from the other presenters, and I'm glad I was able to tune in.

Just like my sprinklers, however, tuning out will cause the universe to force us to tune in. For lawyers, this means a malpractice suit for failing to file a claim before the statute of limitations runs. For students, this means getting sick during finals or every vacation because of ignoring the body's pleading for some TLC before that. For all of us, tuning out means missing the most important parts of life. It means missing the falling leaves in the fall (ok, not in Phoenix, but I can dream, right?) and the beautiful full moons this time of year that lit the harvest for so many generations before electricity.

Finally, tuning in allows us to exist from our essence and not our frantic, caffeinated selves. As professionals, we can only be there for our clients (or customers or colleagues) if we tune into our own guidance. When we tune in we can see all that is important in front of us. Tuning in helps guide our ability to tune out that which takes away from what we need to be seeing. 

There is a lot more to say about tuning in . . . what do we see when we finally do? What are we willing to tune out consciously in order to tune in consciously? How do we reenter this world and balance the two? But these are for another day? For now, I ask you, what have you tuned out instead of facing? What results have you seen by failing to tune in? As always, I love hearing from you.


Sunday, November 1, 2009


"Work hard. Play Hard." It's the motto of many, but is it exactly what is harming us?

When I started walking I was very, very pigeon-toed. I have been told that I was tripping over my own two feet. This worried my parents and the doctors, so they decided to fix the problem--I wore a brace on my legs, which every night would turn my feet out. Eventually, I was walking normally, the brace was removed, and except for photos of this strange contraption, it is no longer a part of my life . . . or is it? My body appears to be telling me differently. As I grew up, I continued to be slightly pigeon-toed, and I was very conscious of it, so I worked hard to walk straight. Enough yoga classes where I turned my feet in a direction they did not want to go, and my leg started to hurt, and it got to the point where it felt like a pulled muscle. What started as a good idea--not tripping over myself for the rest of my life--led to pain in my leg (and if you want the details, yes, a pain in my butt as well). I had overcompensated.

We all do it; we overcompensate for that which may or may not harm us if we were to just let it be. Overcompensation is just another form of going to the extremes. I started this blog by saying that I have found dualism as a defining characteristic of my life, at least these past ten years, and one of my favorite songs is Billy Joel's "I Go to Extremes." In one of my favorite quotes in the song, he says, "Either I'm wrong or I'm perfectly right every time." It is this all-or-nothing attitude that defines so much of modern life and leads us to overcompensate--to work hard and then play hard.

The legal system is the epitome of overcompensation. At its core, justice is designed to help people, and help people it can. Let's not forget Brown v. Board of Education and NY Times v. Sullivan (where the Court said that it was okay to print the Pentagon Papers). But like any fix, it can, and has, gone too far. As a lawyer, I have spent most of my time studying and witnessing family law and juvenile law. This is where emotions enter the picture, and all bets are off. I have seen divorcing spouses spend $50,000-100,000 arguing over $10,000. Talk about overcompensation!!!

From the outside looking in, that seems crazy, and it probably is, but it is not, by any means, abnormal--even outside the realm of family law. We all get caught up in this overcompensation. What appears to be a good idea--a cleanse perhaps--can result in severe health problems, and even death. Getting back at your ex-spouse can seem like a good idea until you realize how much emotional (and financial) energy is wasted. Overcompensation and extremism result from knee-jerk reactions to our everyday events and lead us to results perhaps far worse than the original problem.

It makes perfect sense that we would overcompensate in a world of extremes. We are seeking to balance whatever is "wrong" in our lives. The most accessible yoga teaching I have ever received, in fact teaches doing just that: "If you're feeling down, move around. If you're feeling great, meditate." The yoga classes that have sprouted up at Juvenile Detention Centers do not result in those kids saying that they loved the physical aspect of the yoga. These kids, who spend their lives on the streets, in gangs, and doing crazy drugs, love to meditate. In the name of balance, we act as pendulums going from one extreme to the other.

But what happens when compensation becomes overcompensation? How do we recognize it? How do we, shall I say, center ourselves? We have to learn to put on the brakes. In the yoga teacher training class these past two weeks, we have discussed the tailbone as that break. When standing, the tailbone is the center of the body, and when it is down, we can reach high into the air while remaining grounded through our feet. Physically, the tailbone keeps us from overcompensating in any direction. Emotionally, it is not quite so obvious, but a deep breath and a little reflection can go a long way. Stepping outside the situation, removing yourself from the back-and-forth for just a moment can provide the insight to at least acknowledge what is happening. From there, we can determine the next step from, hopefully, a more centered perspective.

Perhaps we need to trip over ourselves a little bit in order to find the balance between the extremes.

© Copyright 2009. Rebecca Stahl. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Letting go

Letting go is the yoga paradox--the more you let go, the deeper you can get into a pose, the breath, and meditation. It is only through letting go that we can really attain our edge and grow. Part of letting go, which I have only recently come to understand, means utilizing the body and breath correctly. In a posture, this could mean relaxing the face muscles (sometimes I manage to pull this off) while engaging the core. The core engagement allows the hips to open. How does this relate to lawyering (to all you non-lawyers out there, lawyering is not a real world, but we lawyers use it anyway)?

Before I get to that let me share a personal story about my knee. Since I was in Marching Band in high school, I have been told to stand straight without locking my knees. After watching someone pass out from standing too long, I took that to heart. Fast forward 10 years, and I'm doing yoga, once again without locking my knees . . . or so I thought. I have been having a crazy pain in my hip, it pops when I do hip openers, and more recently I have noticed that my calf muscle is really, really tight. Last Thursday, in my Yoga Teacher Training class, we were doing hip openers. I actually really love these, but we were doing them correctly, or trying to. The first hip opener we did was one of the most common yoga postures, and one I had never before considered a hip opener--a forward bend. When done correctly, the hips should open. Great, but why was my knee/calf hurting? My knees were bent, so I wasn't locking my knees, right? Wrong! While physically my knees were in the correct plane, my left knee was energetically locking. The light bulb went off. I realized that I had been doing this for years, and I began to let go. It was hard, and by no means did I fully succeed that evening, but I have continued to work on it. Yes, in our culture, we have to work on letting go . . . ah, the irony. Anyway, in a class this evening, we were doing a lot of lunges and forward folds, and the entire time, I worked on energetically opening the lock in my left knee while correctly engaging other areas of my body (thighs and core), and it started to work. My foot went deeper into the ground, my hip started to open, and you guessed it, my forward folds got deeper . . . all because I had let go. Laying in corpse pose at the end of class, my leg began to tingle, and I got a little scared that instead of making it better, I had somehow hurt myself. But then I relaxed and remembered that this is just the feeling of energy finally moving through stuck places. It can feel wonderful and scary all at the same time. I realized how this all relates to lawyering (and so much else).

Letting go is a very scary thought to lawyers, and it should be--it could lead to a malpractice claim. We are ethically required to represent our clients "zealously." Zealous does not really embody release. Instead, lawyers get caught up, holding onto their clients' views as though they are the views of the lawyer. But there is, of course, a point where zealous becomes too zealous and itself becomes unethical. What if lawyers energetically let go? What does that even mean? In lawyering, the physical posture consists of court documents and court appearances, client phone calls, and interactions with the "other side" (that is a discussion for another day). Essentially, it is communication. But the art, the energy, of lawyering is deeper than that. The energy is where those communications are formed. Taking a step back, letting go of the blinders mind-set, could open the lawyer to new communication forms. Even law school teaches us that we need to know the other side's argument better than they know it. What that is really saying is that we need to be open to views that might harm our clients. Those views very well could lead to the aha! moment. That might be the moment where it all comes together.

And what about the client? What about outside the legal world? What happens when we step back and see the world from another perspective? We might have all the physical attributes we need, financial success, food on the table, a relationship, the "right" views on the world, etc. But are we able to go into them to our full potential? Just like in yoga, the only way to go deeper is to let go and engage correctly. Engaging correctly requires refocusing and sometimes even letting up long enough to realize what needs to be engaged. Instead of black and white, letting go allows us to see the gray areas, the nuances. It is only from this place that we can fully understand others.

Is this scary? You bet! Does it go against much of what we are taught in a world of sound bytes and Glenn Beck? You bet! Does that make it even more important? Well, I think you get the idea. Just in the time it has taken to write this, my calf has tensed again, though it was bursting with energy when I sat down. Yes, my calf tenses when I sit--our perceptions are that deeply ingrained in us. But now I am aware of it, now I am aware that it was not the manual transmission on my old car causing the hip pain, it was my own holding on.

In what ways are you willing to let go? If you feel so inclined, please share in the comments.
Blessings and love.


© Copyright 2009. Rebecca Stahl. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

In the beginning . . .

I have been thinking about starting this blog for quite awhile now. I have wanted to find a place to share my path and what I have gained. Just in the past few weeks, however, have the specifics become evident. I just started a Yoga Teacher Training program, and while thinking about how I want to teach in the future, I was once again overcome with the desire to bring yoga to the legal profession, both lawyers/judges and the clients/litigants.

Since entering law school, I have struggled with being a lawyer-yogi. Lawyers have a tendency to view yoga either as fitness or just plain weird, and yogis have several pre-conceived notions about money-hoarding, unethical attorneys. While these are gross generalizations, I found myself bombarded by them, struggling to exist in both worlds, not only because I "had" to, but because I truly enjoy them both. Yoga was a spiritual sanctuary, where my body and mind were free, while the law provided the intellectual nourishment that I have craved my entire life. Deep down I know that the law can provide real justice, and I am driven to find ways to make that happen more often. And so, as I began a new legal job and entered a program to one day be able to (legally) share yoga with the world, I decided to chronicle my attempts to join the two. As we studied the first Yama (an ethical standard and how we conduct ourselves externally in life--one of the 8 limbs of yoga), Ahimsa (non-violence), I found myself thinking how wonderful it would be if more lawyers and their clients approached their cases with non-violence. And the idea of "Is Yoga Legal?" was born! Is Yoga Legal? will be a place to explore yogic principles and how they can be applied to the law, as well as daily life.

So why start typing today, more than two weeks after the idea was born? Well, today I went to a T'ai Chi discussion where the topic of what I "do" in life arose (I hate when that happens). I told the teacher that I work for a judge (one of the benefits I want to gain from this writing experiment is to get to the point where I can respond, "I'm a lawyer."). His eyes sort of lit up, and he honored the fact that it is a difficult struggle trying to live between the two worlds, but that it is a beautiful practice. My heart melted, and I felt safe . . . safe to be this dualistic me. (Must drop footnote here---by duality, I do not mean separate from the universe duality, but in this phenomenal world where we eat, breath, sleep, play, and work, I live in what feel like parallel universes.) Today's teaching focused on staying centered and balanced, not just during practice, but always. There is no doubt that this has been my goal for a long time, but for whatever reason, I was scared to share my two worlds with each other. Centering and balance are the only way to live within them simultaneously.

I have been struggling with this duality for a long time. My senior year in high school, my english teacher asked us to write a final paper about ourselves, based upon an -ism. I chose dualism. At the time, I thought I was unique, but looking back, what 18-year-old is not a study in duality? But I digress . . . As yet more proof of how beautiful and perfect this world is, that same english teacher is the first person with whom I ever practiced T'ai Chi.

So, I have come full circle, and it is time to face my duality, to understand it, and to share this journey. In the beginning, it is said that G-d created the Heaven and the Earth. T'ai chi and qi gong focus on bringing heaven and earth qi together, within the person. I want to use this blog to finally unite my dualities, to become one not only with everyone else, but with myself. And I want to share that unity with others. While my existence in typical, American society is based mostly on my interaction with the legal world, the ideas here will hopefully transcend the law and will be a place to explore yogic principles, such as non-violence and so many more, and how we can utilize them every day, whether arguing in an adversarial environment or standing in line at the grocery store.

I look forward to sharing this journey with you, and thank you for being a part of it.

Namaste and blessings!