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!