Sunday, May 23, 2010

A coffee shop interview

There are tons of differences between the life of a yogi and the life of a lawyer. But there is one I just had not thought about until recently. I had my first interview for a yoga substitution list. We met at a coffee shop. Of course, it was a local place that is part of the new downtown Phoenix. I thought nothing of it . . . until I was talking to someone from the law school. In passing, I said, "I just had an interview at the coffee shop by the market." (We were talking about the market.) Her mouth just dropped.

I had to think about it for a moment, and then I realized she thought I meant that I had a legal interview at a coffee shop. I laughed and told her that it was for a yoga studio. She smiled and seemed to say, "that's okay then." 

For some reason I have been thinking a lot about that discussion. That coffee shop interview was one of the best interviews I have ever had, and during three years of law school, I had a lot of interviews (not so many offers). There is no way to put it nicely; interviews are awkward. During law school, we go through a process called On Campus Interviews (OCI) where the students sit in a waiting room waiting to be called back into the small rooms where interviewers sit for 8 hours interviewing students every 20 minutes. I have heard it likened to speed dating and waiting in a doctors' office - neither an ideal situation for deciding where you could potentially spend your professional life.

Interviews at a law firm are only slightly better. After trying to decide whether to accept the bottle of water being offered (cumbersome to carry but necessary to keep the mouth from drying out), the interviewee is shuttled from one office to the next, forced to interrupt people who would rather be billing time. A plastic smile on both sides, and no one is quite sure who is trying to impress whom. The interviewers have the leg up because it is their turf, but most of them are not experienced at interviewing people. That seems to have been my law firm interview experience.

What a relief, then, to have a yoga interview. First, we were on neutral territory, a coffee shop. There was no need to comment about how cute the partner's family looked on the beach in Hawaii. Second, we both had drinks, and it was expected. We could start by joking about caffeine in the afternoon. But most importantly, we interacted and learned about each other. From discussions of whether to teach yoga in a gym to what the owner likes the classes at his studio to cover, I got to understand the person with whom I was speaking. And she got to know me as well. In addition to the location, we also spent nearly 2 hours chatting.

I realize that no lawyer has two hours to spend interviewing. Instead, we sell ourselves on grades and law review. We are taught what to wear at interviews and given canned questions to ask in order to look interested. Sometimes we are, but rarely in all my interviews did I meet the real person. I met drones. That is certainly not true of all my interviews, but there was something special about the coffee shop. It felt like I was reentering the world. 

Certainly, lawyers can learn from yoga how to breathe deeply, how to de-stress, how to live a more mindful life, etc. But perhaps a good place to start is with a coffee shop interview. What can we learn from each other in such a space? Interviews are, after all, about getting to know the person when everyone seems so similar on paper. Even I laughed at the notion of a law interview in a coffee shop when the woman from the law school expressed such shock at my interview locale. Perhaps, however, that is exactly what is needed. Speed dating is, after all, a lot more pleasant with a nice Iced Coffee than in a cramped room somewhere on a university campus. I think I would actually look forward to interviews if they all occurred over a cup of coffee and conversation.

Namaste and Blessings!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


When asked to describe lawyers in one word, I would argue that few people would choose the word integrity. For all the media portrayal of lawyers, I have found that many, if not most, lawyers, however, practice law with integrity. They must. If I have learned one thing these past five years among lawyers (from the beginning of law school until now), it is that your reputation precedes you. As I mentioned in my last post, yoga is different than exercise and breathing because of the intention we bring to the practice. Another word for intention is integrity.

In yoga, a posture not practiced with integrity can cause physical harm. Instead of the benefits of the postures, we can actually pull muscles and turn joints out of whack. But what does integrity mean in yoga? How does it translate to the law? Physically, integrity means creating a solid foundation in a posture. When we are strong in our core, in our foundation, we have integrity, and the rest of the body relaxes into the pose. Let me repeat that, when we practice with integrity, the practice can be relaxing, even if strenuous. This is what creates the benefit in the physical yoga practice. Integrity in a posture creates the physical environment for safety, strength, and yes, relaxation.

In law, integrity serves the same purpose - a solid foundation. When our actions are done with integrity, people notice. Even if we make mistakes, if we act with integrity, the mistakes tend to go away faster. When we act with integrity, we need not question each action because our foundation is strong. With a strong foundation, we can move forward in our practice with more ease.

Once Justice Stevens announced his retirement, just weeks before his 90th birthday, the web erupted with stories of his time on the bench. I have read several articles about him, but the one word that comes up again and again is integrity. Here is what President Obama had to say about Justice Stevens: "When President Ford was faced with a Supreme Court vacancy shortly after the nation was still recovering from the Watergate scandal, he wanted a nominee who was brilliant, non-ideological, pragmatic, and committed above all to justice, integrity, and the rule of law.  He found that nominee in John Paul Stevens." Justice and rule of law go hand-in-hand with being a lawyer, but integrity is what makes a lawyer great. 

Integrity is not easy. It takes constant vigilance. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our back leg droops in standing postures, and we tweak a knee. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we misinterpret the law and make a mistake in citations. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we scowl at the grocery store clerk instead of smiling. But each time we act with integrity, we get stronger. Each time we make a conscious decision, the next time becomes that much easier.

Integrity is (yes, I'm going to say it), integral to a yoga practice. Without it, we cause harm. As we learn to cultivate integrity in our asanas and our pranayama (breathing), we learn to cultivate integrity in our lives. As Justice Stevens and President Obama have proven, there can be no higher calling for a lawyer. 

Namaste and Blessings!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why Yoga?

This blog is about yoga and professionals, about yoga and lawyers. But why yoga? What is so special about yoga? For the physical benefits, could we not just do stretching and walk? How is a yoga breath different than a regular breath? Is yoga a religion? These are questions I hear often, and of course they are valid. And the answer is much simpler than even I would have once imagined. 


Yup, just one word. Yoga is about bringing intention to our movements, our breath, and our actions. Many yoga classes, in my opinion the best ones, begin by setting an intention. The intention can be anything, from a desire to be more flexible, to a desire to have the strength to traverse difficult life events. But setting the intention sets the yoga practice apart from stretching and other forms of exercise. It is what we learn from setting this intention that allows us to take yoga off the mat. 

I do not like that phrase, "taking yoga off the mat." It automatically assumes that doing yoga anywhere, whether asana or pranayama or following the yamas and niyamas, is out of the ordinary. But if we start from the notion that yoga is about intention, it begins in our lives, and the mat is nothing more than a space where we are less likely to slip, literally and figuratively. As it is oft-noted, yoga is much easier in an ashram than it is on the streets of Phoenix or in a courtroom. 

But we can bring our intentions to every aspect of our lives, and we can bring our mats to any location. Today was a big day for me; it was the first time that I taught yoga to professionals in a meeting room. We moved a table, set up some mats, and did a practice. Even though most of us were on mats, it was not a traditional place for yoga. Nope, the rest of the day that room was filled with discussions about family law. But for 60 minutes, the intention was different. At the risk of stating the obvious, this was not a traditional yoga physicality, it was bringing yoga into the world, which we usually explain by taking yoga off the mat, but instead we used our mats in a new environment. I did not start this blog to write a blog; I started this blog to start a discussion about how yoga can help professionals, especially those in the legal field, but certainly not limited to them. Today's class was the first expression of that intention. 

What does intention mean to our everyday lives? Well, everything. We can bring intention to brushing our teeth the same way we can bring it to a legal argument, the same way we can bring it to an asana practice. When we start exploring our intention for our actions, we are forced to examine whether they are serving us or not. We are able to stop, even momentarily, and think. That is a luxury in this information-laden, nonstop culture. Where 140-character twitter updates dominate our lives, we can throw out random thoughts with little thought of their consequences. It is easy not to take people seriously with nonstop information.

I find, however, that when I bring intention to my actions and my words, people respond with more respect and understanding, even if we disagree. And I personally think it is because the people with whom we interact recognize our intention as a sign of respect. It is worth your time to stop and think before just shoving more information at them for no reason. Intention permeates our being and becomes a deep aspect of who we are. Intention to treat the opposing litigants with respect and dignity goes far in the law, and can often lead to agreements. Not always, I realize that. We cannot control how others react and/or respond to our actions. But we can control our intentions. And far more than the specific actions we take, our intentions shine through. They are reflected in the non-verbal aspects of our communication where most of our communication occurs.

And yes, we can learn this intention on the yoga mat. And yes, we can take it off the mat. But why draw the line? Each moment of our lives is deserving of intention, whatever that intention is, mat or no mat, yoga studio or conference center. When our intentions are pure (meaning not diluted, not pure vs. bad in some way), we tend to receive that which we need in life, whether it is a deeper forward fold or a trip to New Zealand. This idea of intention is, for me, what sets yoga apart from all other experiences and what allows it to be so useful in our daily lives. Because we can bring intention to every moment, we can do yoga at any moment. Intention is not about what religion you practice or how flexible you are; it is about living each moment with a purpose.

Namaste and Blessings!