Sunday, February 28, 2010

A community of energy

The energy of a room is powerful. How many times have you been in a great mood only to enter a room full of depressed people and your mood falters? How often have you been the person bringing people out of their gloominess by recognizing this pattern and sticking to your happy guns? There is no question that the energy around us affects us. The more we recognize it, the better we are able to use it to our advantage and protect ourselves when we feel too weak to stop the energy of others from invading our space.
A yoga class is a perfect example. On more than one occassion, I have been in a class where everyone, and I mean everyone, seems to be doing their asanas perfectly. By perfect, I do not mean that they look like the cover models on a Yoga Journal magazine, but the perfection emmanates from the heart. The word yoga teachers often use to describe this is "integrity." Everyone in the class is practicing with perfect integrity. In one class, I remember the teacher saying that because everyone was practicing with such integrity, even the person in class who had never practiced yoga before looked like she had been practicing forever. The class energy was strong. I have also been in classes where, try as they might, the teachers are unable to drag people out of their tired, sleepy state. It does not mean that there is less integrity, perhaps the integrity is stronger - everyone is listening to their bodies and not pushing beyond their means. In those situations, however, the teacher often slows the pace of the class to be in line with everyone's energy. 
I am a sucker for this energy. In a class this week, I felt stronger than I have in months, and my practice felt beautiful. Just last week, I was in a class where my practice, and that of those around me, felt off. There is no other way to describe it. Something was just not right. Each day is different, but we often forget that one of the reasons for that difference is our internal energy and the energy influencing us externally. That is a powerful on-the-mat yoga lesson to take into the world, especially in this age.
Among the various professionals, lawyers need to be extra mindful of this energetic influence. Lawyers, like doctors, need to be both empathetic as well as disconnected enough to see the entire picture. Lawyers on opposite "sides" need to zealously represent their own clients while maintaining a professional and respectful attitude toward each other. This means that lawyers are being influenced and pulled in at least two, but usually more directions, and without having the internal reserves necessary to stay centered, they can and often do become enveloped by external influences. It is so easy to get caught up in the client's story, for it to become the lawyer's story as well. In an adversarial system, the energy breeds conflict. 

Lawyers are by no means the only people affected by this energy balance. Since 9/11, the energy of fear has taken over, especially certain cable "news" programs. Each moment is full of energy shifting faster and faster and faster, and we are losing our ability to keep up, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But if we are influenced by energy even in a yoga class, what can we do about this? Are we destined to be without our own energy? Are we destined to be pulled and warped? I don't think so.

The reason the community of energy is so strong in a yoga class is because that is why we take yoga classes instead of practicing in our rooms, alone. The shared space reminds us that we influence others and can be influenced by them. Then, within that space, each person has his or her own practice. The influence is there, but each breath, each posture, comes from the individual student. When we are in tune, in balance with one another, the class works. When one or more people is doing something out of balance, everyone feels awkward.

Off the mat is no different, as long as we are conscious of the energies around us, as long as we recognize when we are being pulled down by others and when we are pulling down those around us, we can stay true to ourselves and hold our energy in a space that feels right both internally and externally. This can sometimes be the hardest thing to face. At some point, we have to stop blaming others and take responsibility for our own actions. Some days are easier than others, and on those days, we can help guide others to their integrity. Some days, we need people to drag us along, or better yet, to lift us up.

One week from today I teach my first yoga class, and for all the preparation I do, I know that everything will be dictated by the energy of the room. This week, however, I am going to be extra conscious of the energies surrounding me, from people to news to yoga classes to my own internal energy. As we all move faster and faster, I invite you all to stop, even if just for a moment, to evaluate how you are influencing, and being influenced by, the energy of that which is around you.
Namaste and Blessings.

Monday, February 22, 2010

For all the words . . .

have written a lot on this blog, albeit not as frequently as I would like. For all the words, however, these past two weeks have been intense - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Before going into the discussion of the niyamas as I did for the yamas, I want to take a moment to recognize what may be the most important lesson in yoga, and the one that is potentially the most important for modern society, especially lawyers. For all the words we write and speak, for all our good intentions and beliefs, for all of our hard work, sometimes we get slapped in the face and kicked in the gut. Sometimes we fall out of postures, and sometimes even when we know that life has a funny way of working out, we freak out, and we fall. But just like on the mat, we can get right back into it.

These past few weeks have really tested my stress and anxiety levels. Between being extremely busy, worried about presentations, worried about work, and preparing to teach my first yoga classes, not to mention the regular stuff that comes up, life has been intense. And for all the years of meditating, qi gong, and asana, I have felt sick to my stomach, and I have not been sleeping well. But I have fallen out of asanas before. I have had bad weeks before. Tibetan Buddhist Meditation teaches that when a thought arises during meditation, you think to yourself, "thinking" and go back to the breath. There is no judgment about the thought; it is just a thought. Yoga is no different; when you fall out of an asana, there is no judgment. You just get back into it. But here is the best part - the more times you fall, and the more times you get back into it, the better the body remembers how to stay in the asana. Before long, you are doing that which you once thought impossible. Your words and practice become knowing and wisdom.

So, even on the tough days, the words have meaning. They help bring us back to the truth. Lawyers speak and write a lot of words. We are a profession defined by words. But what do we do with them? Do we use them as a means to an end? Are we careful about what we say and how we say it? Some days, we are better at living up to our words than others. We can prepare for a hearing, a trial, even a meeting with "the other side" until we are blue in the face, but when the moment arrives, we must let go and trust in our training and practice. For all the words, we must trust that all the falls along the way lead us to where we need to be.

This is nothing new. The difference with yoga is that instead of saying "when you fall off your horse, brush yourself off and get back on," yoga is the path that helps us know how to get back on. Each limb is another tool. So far, we have discussed the yamas on this blog - the first limb, the connection to others. Next up is the niyamas, the second limb. The niyamas are about connecting to ourselves, finding the peace within. Then we learn how to breathe with pranayama. Each tool helps us remember what to do when we fall, when everything seems so out of whack. The tools remind us that deep down the universe is working.

Today I went to two yoga classes, and after each of them I felt a little better, a little more at peace. And I'm starting to feel strong again, in asana, in pranayama, and those are reminders that the words are working. These thoughts that flow forth on this blog may not be the most profound writings on the planet, but they are reminders to me, and hopefully to you, that the junk that arises is just that, junk. The truth is deeper, and our words, whether about yoga, the law, our anger, our joy, our love, our pain, whatever, are the guides that keep us plugging along. 

After all, this is a practice. May your practice help guide your life to peace.

Namaste and blessings.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Yes, it has been a long time again - life has been getting in the way of my practice, but there is no better yama to discuss this than Aparigraha, which means non-possessiveness or non-grasping. And I have had a lot of ideas on what I want to write for this post, but today the universe intervened again and a new idea was spawned. My dear friend from college, Anna, is a freelance writer and this week published her interview with a Russian poet. The poet was raised a musician but one day stopped writing music and started writing poetry. And I remembered my own story, the one that got me here - full of not grasping. So waiting led me to exactly where I need to be, though definitely not without some painful grasping and breakdowns to get in the way.

When I was young, I wanted to go to Stanford to play basketball (to those of you on my teams, you know this was never going to happen, but I can dream, right?). It was not until I was in 8th grade and drumming on the basketballs that I realized music was the path for me. My freshman year in high school, I signed up for basketball tryouts but never went to them - instead I took 3 band classes my senior year and spent more time with my band teacher than my parents. After being rejected from music school, I found my way to a small liberal arts school located inside the University of Michigan. I continued to play music but only in Marching Band and the non-music major Pops Orchestra. I fell in love with traveling through those years and absorbed the world, spending a total of 13 months living in France, and I decided to go to law school because my dad and my band teacher thought I would make a good child advocate.
I did two things in law school: study and yoga. I had learned about yoga prior to law school, but there is no better time to practice than when you are hunched over books surrounded by the law all day. I started going more often. But that pull to yoga was in direct contrast to the life I was beginning to live in school. I remember telling people that I had never made a major life decision on my own. I went to the University of Michigan because my family went there (it was my choice, but it was not a difficult one), I went to France to teach because I was accepted, I went to law school because people said I would be good at the law. In law school, however, I found myself stuck. I did fairly well academically, so doors should have been open, but the job market and my distaste for life at a law firm (for me, not for others) meant those doors were being slammed in my face instead. I took the rejections personally, thought I had made a hugely wrong decision, and wondered how I was ever going to get out from under a mountain of debt while working at Starbucks. I literally did not know what to do, until I let go. 
I was blessed with what I consider the best opportunity upon graduating from law school. I clerked for the Presiding Family Court Judge in Pima County, who was transferred to be the Presiding Juvenile Court Judge while I was working for her. I saw the nitty-gritty of the family and juvenile courts. I met attorneys practicing in the area where I want to practice, and I saw what worked and what can still be improved. In short, I found my path. And that job literally fell in my lap. I had been rejected from job after job, and my resume suggested that should not have happened. But the universe had different plans. I found out about the job with my first boss from about five different people, including a friend of hers, one of my professors, career services, the Dean of the law school, and even the judge herself. The universe was right, as usual, and it was an amazing year. My current job, while not quite as universe-driven, is still right where I need to be. It allows me to see the entire legal process and how the law operates in the absence of face-to-face contact. I have a new appreciation for the law as law, and a fresh understanding of where my future legal career will take me.
Perhaps most interestingly, my current job has given me the opportunity to drum on basketballs again, but this time moving away from music and towards yoga. I have been saying for years that I miss playing music, and I do. When I moved to Phoenix in August, I decided that I was going to do a Yoga Teacher Training Program. Classes are Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The first week I was working, one of the other judges sent out an email that the orchestra with which he plays was looking for percussionists. Rehearsals are Tuesday evenings. I fretted for about 2 minutes. I saw myself drumming on basketballs and knew that the Universe was speaking to me again. I chose yoga, without regret. Might I seek out an opportunity to play percussion again? Of course. But I had to stop grasping onto that past. And it was then that I realized that I really never have made a decision in my life. I know the answer when I let go and listen. The only times I have been distraught about what to do are the times when I try to decide against what my heart says, when I allow societal norms to dictate my decisions, when I grasp onto a particular outcome instead of allowing my life to unfold. This job and that decision have allowed me to be in a place where I see how important it is to me to integrate law and yoga in my life. These are not either-or decisions - I know that they must coexist.
On the mat, I have learned also to grasp less. As I mentioned in my New Year's post, many yogis have a tendency to grasp with their toes in postures. But when we let go of that, sink into postures, and feel the strength, support, and energy of the Earth below, we truly find the pose. Not grasping is, however, different than no direction and not using your feet in a pose. Quite the opposite. The feet are the foundation in standing postures. Direction is how we ensure that our lives are fulfilling our passions. Not grasping is about trusting. You trust your feet enough that you don't hold on with your toes. You will not fall. And if you do, you will catch yourself. You can stop trying to dictate the outcome of the universe and open up to the possibilities knowing that if you are following your passion, the doors will never cease to open. I used to be scared to death that I would not find a job, and I would be crushed by law school debt. But now I know that somehow life will work out. The average lawyer changes jobs 5 times in his career, and most lawyers change jobs at least once within 5 years of law school graduation. We are not a profession designed to hold onto our past. The law changes, society changes, and we move along.  
I have no idea how I will integrate my passion for helping children in the legal context with my passion for yoga. I know that one catalyst to becoming a teacher was my desire to teach yoga in a Juvenile Detention Center, but that is only one way. I know I will find others. In class this week, we talked about how you can teach yoga and keep your day job. One of the most uplifting statistics I read during this recession is that enrollment in both Yoga Teacher Training programs and attendance at yoga studios is up. Yes, that expensive habit called yoga is attracting more and more people each day. People are willing to take the plunge, step off the known path and into one that might be a bit scary, but it is full of possibility. As I wait to hear about whether I will get to go to New Zealand on a Fulbright scholarship, and I wonder what I will do for money once my job ends in August, I am no longer having the freak out sessions I had my second and third years in law school. I am here for a reason.

Of course, some days my toes grasp the mat a little too tightly, I forget about the mountain of support I have in the world, and I worry that August will roll around, and I will find myself jobless and in debt. This is why yoga and the law are a practice. These yamas are a bridge, and each new job is also a step along the practice of law. Interestingly, what makes lawyers ethically competent is the ability to read and learn. We never know the answers, we just continue to get as many tools in the toolbox and trust our instincts and our colleagues to do what is right.

Namaste and Blessings.