Thursday, April 22, 2010

Are you united?

just realized that I have been writing this blog for several months now, but I have failed to consider what the word yoga really means and why that matters. So here goes. Yoga means "to yoke." It has also been translated as "union," which is probably a more pertinent word in the 21st century. In real words, this means that yoga is about bringing parts of ourselves together, and then bringing the external and internal words together. It is about bringing balance to our physical selves, and taking that balance into our lives. Using the imagery of yoking, yoga helps keep us together. When my life sometimes feels overwhelming, and I have too much to do, I find that yoga helps me rein everything in, hold it together, and create harmony within my life. Not always, but yoga always makes helps me work to obtain the more perfect union.

Growing up in the YMCA, this same idea was represented by a triangle, with the sides signifying Spirit, Mind, and Body. The triangle balanced on its point, representing the balance between the three. That triangle has always stuck with me, and it guides my ideas about yoga today - uniting spirit, mind, and body. Yoga helps make that point possible and helps keep the triangle from falling over.

But how do we take this idea of uniting into our professional lives? Sometimes it is called work-life balance, how we unite our home lives with our professional lives. When we yoke in all the aspects of our lives, we can work from a place of stability. Yoga can help us find the balance between carpools, court appearance, grocery shopping, client visits, and oh yeah, sleep. This blog is about that union. It is about bringing yoga and the law, yoga and the modern world, together. As I open up more to this idea, I have found that, at work, yoga is more respected, and I'm overjoyed about that. I have a nagging suspicion that my lawyer friends think all I talk about is yoga, and my yoga friends think all I talk about is being a lawyer. Both worlds, so different, yet so important to who I am. But I have struggled with how to unite them, how to express the true essence of yoga.

I went to law school in order to help children (long story for another day). I was not sure that I wanted to practice law, but I found myself fascinated by it, including areas of the law I never dreamed I would enjoy - contracts and business entities. I fell in love with constitutional law, and I refused to miss my Separation of Powers class even for important meetings. In other words, I was hooked on the law in general, but I still wanted to do work with children. I currently work at the Court of Appeals, and one of the many reasons I wanted to work there was to see all aspects of the legal profession at work, to make sure I was not determining my professional future based on ideas I had when I was 16. 

But my current job offered me another opportunity - time. That is something lawyers rarely have. I work 8-5 - perfect for obtaining a yoga teacher certification at night. And as the months of no sleep and yoga community mixed with sitting in a windowless office under florescent lights staring at a computer screen all day, I realized a new calling - bringing yoga to lawyers and eventually to other modern professionals. I know that yoga can make a difference in the workplace, and I want to be a part of that difference. 

But professionally, I have been more and more convinced that I really do want to do legal work on children's issues, and this week that dream came one step closer to coming true. I was awarded a scholarship and am going to spend ten months in New Zealand studying family law. My hope is to spend that time learning how New Zealand created a family law system that recognizes children's rights, helps families, and reduces conflict. Then I want to come back to the United States and help set up similar systems here. 

But I still want to teach yoga to lawyers. 

What to do? How about some yoga, some yoking and uniting?

It is time to bring all these ideas together, the passion to work for children's representation in the law, and the passion to help the legal profession function better with all that yoga can provide. So different you think? Not at all. The uniting force here is a desire to make the legal profession work for more people. I fell in love with the law in law school because it has the power to change lives for the better. I fell in love with yoga because it has the power to change lives for the better. Not so different anymore. A better system of family law could definitely benefit from yoga. I may not know how it will pan out, but both will happen.

Yoga is about union. Who is to say that we cannot take seemingly incompatible ideas and make them one? The true essence of yoga is to create a whole out of all these parts of ourselves. What areas of your life need some yoga, need some uniting? I bet they are more possible than you ever imagined!

Namaste and Blessings!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

So what comes next?

So, we come to the end of the niyamas with Ishvara Pranidhana - self surrender, or surrender to the Divine. TKV Desikachar, in Heart of Yoga, defines it as "[p]aying more attention to the spirit in which we act and looking less to the results our actions may bring us." When we bring the intention of the yamas and niyamas to our actions, from ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (nonstealing), Bramacharya (dedication to the path), Aparigraha (nongrasping), Saucha (Purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), all the way to Svadhyaya (self-study), we can let go and surrender to the Divine, the Universe, the knowing that life will work itself out. How fitting that I write about this today (of course).

Last week, we finished our yoga teacher training program. I have no teaching gigs lined up, but boy do I have some ideas about starting my own yoga-lawyer business! I am still waiting to hear about whether I will receive the Fulbright (though I should know soon), so I have no idea whether I will be spending 10 months in New Zealand studying family law. No matter what happens, I'm not positive what I will do in August when my current job ends. For the first time in my life, however, I know life will work out. I will find a way to teach yoga to lawyers, then expand it to other professionals who need yoga for the physical benefits, but far more for its other benefits. I will find work. Life has a way of working out when we bring the right intentions to it.  For example, I have witnessed people in my life who hoard money and end up losing it all. I have watched people give and give, only to continue receiving. Just like dogs can smell fear, I think that people can as well, and those who want to prey on others "smell" that fear and take advantage. Our intentions in life are, therefore, guiding the outcomes that we cannot control.

Therefore Ishvara Pranidhana is the pinnacle of the first two limbs of yoga, the yamas and niyamas. It is what we can do once our intentions are set by living the other nine yamas and niyamas. Of course, it is no easier than the others, as we have previously explored them. It is scary, really scary. Society, especially for lawyers, teaches us that we should be in control. Or we go to the other extreme and just follow along, without really understanding why. That is "safer" than the surrender described by Ishvara Pranidhana, but it does not help us live our lives to the fullest. Following others is easy, and it is safe like sitting on your couch all day, never getting up for fear of what the world holds. Yoga, once again, guides us to the balance between the two and provides the stepping stones for how to reach it.

With Ishvara Pranidhana there is the intention created by the yama and niyama steps before the surrender. We give each situation our best and let go of the outcome. In other words, we are here for the journey, not the destination. The destination will be what it is, and whatever that is, it is perfect. As I have said many times, the universe has a funny way of working out. It's pretty easy to see how this relates to lawyers and other professionals. When we do our best, bring our best selves to our work, the outcome will be what it needs to be. This allows us to let go of whether we win or lose a case, and helps us to see the best outcome for everyone. Perhaps it is not worth spending $100,000 in attorney's fees to get a $20,000 jury verdict. When we are only outcome-oriented, we might miss that, but when we focus on our intention in each action, we can rest assured that the correct outcome will become apparent to us.

So, with this, I surrender to the universe . . . at least for today. Each day is a new struggle, not only to have the intention with our actions, but to trust that life will work out. It goes back to the age-old question - do we have free will? I think this helps answer it - yes and no. We have the free will to bring the right intentions to our actions, to our lives, but we simply cannot control for every variable, and there is some deeper energy that helps guide the outcomes of our actions. Of course, if you just sit on your couch, you are going to get a very different outcome than if you go out into the world and do what brings you to your highest self. Once you are there, how can you go wrong, right? (If only it were always that easy!)

I have no idea what these next few months hold for me, but I appreciate all of you who have helped me find my way here. I can honestly say that I am excited no matter what happens, and I hope to continue sharing about the yoga-lawyer-modern world connection with so many of you. May our interactions help guide us all to our highest selves and our best intentions and may we surrender our need for a particular outcome.

Blessings and Namaste!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Svadhyaya: Tree Pose around the world

I just got back from Rocky Point, Mexico with a bunch of people from the yoga teacher training program. My class ended on Thursday, and Friday we left for Mexico. The second-to-last niyama, svadhyaya, which translates to self-study in English, has been a major focus of the YTT program, and this trip helped shed new light on it for me. In yoga, svadhyaya is one step before self surrender or surrender to the Divine. In law, self study is where we do all the prep work before walking into a hearing, a trial, a meeting, etc. and using that knowledge to be our best. For all of us, self study helps prepare us for whatever life throws our way. For me, the new understanding begins with vrksasana, tree pose, on a beach. 

I have decided that my business cards need to feature me doing tree pose in a suit. I want to show that yoga can be done anywhere, by anyone. Why tree pose? Well, I have a confession - it's my favorite. I know, I know, we are not supposed to have favorite postures, but I do. I love trees, love them. When people from CA move to AZ, they often say they miss the water. Me? I miss the trees. My favorite thing about MI in college was watching the trees turn colors, seeing and feeling the trees around me. This weekend by the water was awesome, but my heart belongs to trees. In yoga, tree pose symbolizes more than just a tree for me. It is a balance posture; it requires a balance between strength and flexibility; it symbolizes the balance between our connection to the Earth and our connection to the heavens as we reach up. And it can be done anywhere, even in a suit. But I digress . . . 

What does tree pose have to do with self study? On this trip to Mexico, everything! We did yoga on the beach, during the day and at night. There were people around, and sure, it was much different in the sand than on a sticky mat, but we did it. Then a friend and I got stuck at the border, for over an hour. Antsy and annoyed, she suggested we do yoga. Yep, right there in the street! It was awesome. I felt so much better afterward, and I had a blast doing it. I got another picture in tree pose. My friend came up with a great idea; I'm going to document my yoga through tree pose, wherever I am, whatever I am doing, just be a tree! Find that balance, that connection, everywhere. See how it feels in all sorts of situations. 

Doing yoga is much simpler on a mat or in an ashram. There are few distractions, and the set-up works. These are great places to learn how to do yoga, to learn to look inside, to start to find our balance, to become yogis. But all that study, including the self study, needs to leave the mat. I came to yoga to find some peace of mind one summer when my life looked like it was falling apart. Yoga started for me as a personal journey of discovery - how could I break free of all those restrictions? Yesterday, I was doing yoga in the middle of a street in Mexico! The day before I was doing yoga on a beach! All these years have helped me find that ease and peace in these situations. I try to live a yogic lifestyle, and I do asanas wherever I am, even walking down the hall at work (I'm working on doing tree in the hallway, but I'm not yet brave enough). And each of these moments is another way to study ourselves. We see our limitations, we break through some, and continue to work on others. But the more we turn inward, the more we practice, the easier it is to just live it. Not easy, but easier. Sure, the waves come in and knock us down, but we get better at getting back up and holding our own the next time.

What does tree pose at the border have to do with lawyers? Lawyers, as much as anyone, need to be able to go with the flow. At a moment's notice (or ruling) a case can change. A new piece of evidence can appear, and everything changes. The more solid the foundation, the less traumatic these new situations are. The more we have studied the case and the more confidence we have in ourselves, the easier it is to adjust when things change immediately. This does not, of course, apply only to lawyers. Whoever we are, the more we truly understand and can tap into our deepest selves, the better able we are to adapt to our new surroundings. It's a lot easier to do downward facing dog in the sand when you have done it 1000 times on a sticky mat. It's a lot easier to handle life's adventures when you know what life is like without them.

Sometimes we falter in these new situations, and that is okay, but sometimes you get sheer beauty . . .

May your own self study guide you through the waves of life.  

Namaste and Blessings!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


As much as I love little appetizer plates at Spanish restaurants, this post is not about them. Tapas, the third niyama, translates into many words in English: austerity, self-discipline, burning desire, motivation, and dedication. Ironically, this post has been one of the most difficult for me to write. I have been busy, again, but I have also been unsure how to put these thoughts on here. Over these past couple of weeks, my dedication to self has faltered, and it seemed a bit hypocritical to write about motivation and dedication when I felt so flat. But then I got back on the mat, I got back into work, and I got back into life. I got some tapas back.

I cannot think of a more salient teaching for lawyers. For all the drama displayed on television, being a lawyer is a self-motivated, and often lonely, profession. Being a lawyer can can mean being holed up in an office, working on files for people you see rarely, finding law on the internet, and digging through mountains of documents to find one that just might be relevant. From studying in law school to preparing for trial, being a lawyer takes self motivation.
But tapas is about more than self motivation and dedication. The word itself comes from the sanskrit tap, meaning fire or heat. Through our dedication, even austerity, we are motivated to turn inward and improve ourselves. Tapas is the niyama before self study, swadyhaya, so it prepares us to enter self study. We must have the dedication to get to that point. At first glance, motivation and austerity seem to be polar opposites. Austerity is defined as the state of being austere, which has several arguably gloomy definitions of its own: 1) "stern and cold in appearance or manner," 2) "morally strict," 3) "markedly simple or unadorned," and 4) "giving little or no scope for pleasure." (All references to the Merriam Webster Dictionary online.) But this is the problem with translation. Tapas means all these things because it reminds us that we may feel like we are giving something up, but in the end we are (hopefully) gaining from it. While austerity can have this negative connotation, it is really about clearing and freeing. We can live in this crazy world when we clear our clutter and concentrate on what really matters.

It can be really hard some days to remain motivated for yoga, to constantly come back to the mat, to the breath. There are days I do not want to do yoga. Those are probably the days I most need it. And when I do it day after day, bring myself to the mat, I bring the yoga into my life. When I forget about the mat, I forget about the yoga in my life. But coming back each day reignites that fire, clears away the feeling that I'm too tired, too sore, or have too much else to do.

Being a lawyer is no different. Many lawyers got into the business to do some good. And some days it can seem like the same old routine, one day after the next reviewing documents, writing motions, sitting in a windowless office. But then that hard work pays off - and I do not mean only financially. Some lawyers are lucky enough to change the world with new legal theories. But not everyone gets to participate in cases like Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade. Instead, lawyers help individuals, everyday. When we remember that, all the junk is cleared away, and the goal remains - be of service.

So tapas reminds us how to clear our minds of the distractions that keep us from our work, our practice. When that fire is lit, we can concentrate, and that is when the lawyer finds the "smoking gun" and the yogi gets into a handstand (still working on that one here). Merriam Webster just does not do tapas justice because it is not the ascetic life we seek, but one where we are not distracted and discouraged by that which surrounds us. Tapas reminds us that there is more to be found than what we see on the surface, and that is something we can take into every aspect of our lives.

So, here I am clearing away my distractions of the last few weeks. That fire has been lit again, and I'm so grateful to be able to be back on here, sharing a journey and learning from all of you. I have some big ideas in the works, and I cannot wait to share them, but that is for another day. I know that it will be the tapas that will guide me. 

How can you bring tapas into your life? What really matters for you? What do you need to clear away to find your internal fire? May that internal fire be lit for you, providing you with the motivation and dedication to find yourself at your best, whether in the law, on the mat, or wherever you are in your life. 

Namaste and Blessings!