Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Beginning

Welcome to 2012! I am still a bit in shock that this year has arrived. It feels like only yesterday I was writing a post about my intention (rather than resolution) to stay open to all the possibilities New Zealand held in store. Now, back in the United States, it is time to reflect on that and set a new intention for 2012, a new chapter for sure.

I wrote in the 2011 New Year’s post about not knowing where I would be living 5 days after arriving in New Zealand. I ended up being invited to stay where I lived the first four nights, and that home turned into a friendship and eventually a house-sitting opportunity. I tell this story not because it matters to anyone where I lived while in New Zealand, but it perfectly illustrates what being open to new possibilities brings into life. It brings us opportunities we never imagined possible, but that open doors to places the universe wants us to go. My 10.5 months in New Zealand was opportunity after opportunity like that. 

For me, 2012 is full of new adventures, the most obvious, of course, being the new job. As I mentioned in the first post about the new job, I have no idea how this is going to go. The first week was rough, really rough, but it was only the first week. Going forward, however, seems scary and unknowable, and not in the exciting way that was the new possibilities of a new country, especially one as beautiful as New Zealand. But there is a different kind of excitement and opportunity that comes with doing the work I have been preparing to do for nearly half of my life.

So this year’s intention is to trust myself. It was difficult to even type that. It was difficult to trust myself enough to think it possible to trust myself going forward.

But this is where the practice, the yoga, becomes the most important. For years, I have been growing the yoga bucket, filling it with tools that can hopefully work when it really matters. The real test is not whether we can practice when the going is easy. The real test is not whether we can meditate at a retreat or on a mountain top away from life. The real question is whether we can remember to respond rather than react when we feel like life is beating us over the head with a baseball bat. It is in those moments that it is most necessary to have a full yoga bucket.

And as we learn to live in a state of composure in the most difficult circumstances, we learn to trust ourselves. In many ways, learning to trust ourselves is learning to be open to internal possibilities rather than external possibilities. Rather than trusting the external world to present opportunities, we trust ourselves to know what needs to be done. So, I guess this year's intention is not so different from last year's, but the focus, the nexus is slightly different. 

For me, yoga has made trusting myself (and the universe) easier, but certainly not easy. Prior to leaving New Zealand, I had started a daily meditation practice. It was just ten minutes per day, but I can feel a huge difference having let it slide these past three weeks. That is part of my necessary yoga bucket, the refill I need to go inside enough to trust myself. So, while I do not want to make a resolution to meditate every day, I put forward this intention: to trust myself and the path I am on. I'm going to stay open to trusting the universe to present the how. 

What is your intention for this new year? Happy 2012! May the year be full of love and peace.


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Being a Yoga Lawyer

"I am a lawyer." Those words used to be hard for me to say. They are especially hard around yogis and those who tend to shun mainstream definitions of success. For a long time, I would answer the question, "what do you do?" with "I work for a judge," but that is no longer true. I am now, officially, a lawyer.

The other day, in a yoga class, someone asked me that question, and I said it, "I am a lawyer." Her response was simple, "I don't like lawyers." She then went on to clarify that I am not THAT kind of lawyer, but I got her point. It has been made to me many times.

Lawyers are simply unloved to many people.

This is unfortunate on many levels. First, I do not believe that because I represent children I do good law and those who represent corporations do bad law. We all do law, and there is a place and need for all of it in the world. I worked at a commercial law firm one summer. I learned two very important lessons: the people working there were great people doing their best for their clients, and that was not my path in life. It just did not speak to me, but I enjoyed my summer there nonetheless. I enjoyed seeing how corporate law works, and it fundamentally changed my view on the world in which we live.

Second, it is difficult to be in a profession so despised by so many. There is a reason lawyers have the highest incidence of substance abuse of any profession. The work is stressful, but even more stressful is constantly defending what you do to other people. It gets tiring to keep repeating, “not all lawyers are like that,” or “I’m sorry you had a bad experience with a lawyer. That should never happen.” I find myself ignoring people who say that, or worse, becoming defensive. And that brings me to the third point.

Third, the assumption by so many people that all lawyers are awful actually undermines the profession’s ability to deal with those who truly are problematic. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is actually basic human nature. When we feel attacked, our first response is not to say, “you’re right, there is a problem.” Instead, we turn on all defenses. We enter into the emotional fight-or-flight response, which similar to the physiological fight-or-flight response, shuts down all “non-essential” processes in us, and in this case, that means rationally recognizing there are problematic people in the legal profession. Instead, we go into defense mode and just want to find a way to survive.

This is not to say that is the response of all lawyers. By contrast, most lawyers would probably tell you there are some people in the profession who do not play by the rules, or who manipulate the rules to always work in their favor. The truth is that most lawyers are good people and good lawyers, and they exist in all types of the law. But with each rational conversation about how there are honest and less-than-honest members of all professions, it becomes more difficult to have the long conversation knowing it is probably just going to end with the person saying, “yeah, but I still don’t like lawyers.” It just becomes easier to say nothing or get defensive about the work. And as the criticism comes from all sides, it becomes more difficult to filter the true criticism from the hyperbole.

This week, for the first time, I signed a document under my own bar number. I have done a lot of law before this week, but I have always been able to get around the phrase, “I’m a lawyer.” Not anymore. I want to be able to be proud of what I do. I want to be able to tell people I am a lawyer without the look in their eye, or the response, “it’s good to know there are a few lawyers doing good work.” And yes, I want the lawyers manipulating the system to stop. But those are actually separate things.

I started this blog because in the yoga world I was embarrassed to be a lawyer, and in the lawyer world, I was embarrassed to be a yogi. Two and a half years ago (has it really been that long?), I thought it would be easier to be a lawyer in the yoga world. Funnily enough, this blog and other connections, have introduced me to the vast, and I do mean vast, world of lawyers who not only have an asana practice but who practice yoga on many levels. The yogis, however, have been harder to convince. And it does not stop with the yogis. It has been the discussion with so many people.

But with all that having been said, I am glad I chose this work. If nothing else, I finally understand how our political structure became so polarized - on both sides. It is unfortunate because we all have a lot we can learn from one another.


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The First Day

Tomorrow, I start a new job in which I will be representing children who have been removed from their parents because of abuse or neglect. 

During law school, I participated in a law school clinic focused on representing children in abuse and neglect cases. Since then, I have worked for the presiding family court judge who became the presiding juvenile court judge while I worked for her, another judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals, and done contract work for several family law lawyers. In addition, I just spent a year studying the role of lawyers for children and written a thesis about the topic.

I have been doing yoga for almost 10 years and seriously for more than five. I graduated from Yoga Teacher Training in April 2010, and I have been teaching fairly consistently since then. If it is not abundantly obvious from this blog, yoga means far more to me than asana and breathing. It is a way of life, and my years of practice have fundamentally redefined how I view each and every day. In the most general and superficial sense, yoga has helped me see life through a sense of adventure rather than a sense of fear.

So why am I so afraid to start work as a children’s lawyer? After all, as everyone keeps reminding me, “it’s the perfect job for me.”

Energetically, fear and excitement are the same. We do, however, interpret them differently. In many ways, for me, my first day doing this work is the first day I have to walk the walk rather than just talk the talk. More importantly, I have been studying and learning about children, families, abuse, and neglect for so long that now I know just how much damage can be done to a family by the lawyer taking a wrong step. I don’t want to be that lawyer.

So yes, I’m nervous. But I’m also excited. I get to work with some of my favorite people in Tucson. I get to live back in Tucson, a city I took a few years to love, and then missed terribly for the past two years. I get to be back with some of my favorite yoga people, those who first introduced me to the holistic world it has created for me. And in this economy, I get to work at all. I seem to have hit the jackpot.

This job means seeing some of the most down-and-out people in society, but it also means getting to work with them to better understand their situation and how to break free of it. This is when the yoga becomes most important. It is through yoga that I have learned to stop and notice the everyday beauty in the world, to not take anything for granted, and to be grateful each and every moment. Remembering to refill the yoga bucket is essential when so much of the non-yoga bucket will be full of discussions about abuse and neglect.

The yoga bucket will also be there to remind me that some days there is no right answer. There is, however, always a way to care. There is always a way to share your heart with a child. There is always a way to smile. Some days, that is the best we have to give, and often, that is exactly what is most necessary.

New Zealand was an amazing opportunity to learn about lawyers for children, to see a new system, and to talk to people who have done this work in one of the most progressive systems in the world for years. It was also an opportunity to see unmatched, and often untouched, beauty. Now it is time to put all these years of study and watching to the test. It is time to walk the walk.

So with fear and excitement bubbling together within me, I start a new job. I have a feeling there will be a lot of posts to come about the need for yoga in law.


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Darkest Night of the Year

December 21 was the winter solstice. In the northern hemisphere, it was the longest night of the year, while in the southern hemisphere, it was the longest day of the year. This means that two weeks ago I was going to sleep in daylight, and this week I’m eating early-bird specials in darkness. (For the record, yes I go to bed early, and no, I do not really eat early-bird specials.)

This is a roundabout way of saying that being back in the northern hemisphere has been difficult. I have had jet lag like never before, and I have had significant trouble sleeping. I also have not been doing a lot of yoga, of any variety.

Instead, I have been living out of suitcases, driving from northern California to Arizona, trying to find things I left behind a year ago, trying to catch up with friends, preparing for presentations, finishing the final bits of my thesis, and preparing to start a job on Tuesday. And even then I will be living with other people until I can move into my own place in early January.

And yes, I can feel that I have not been doing yoga. Prior to coming back to the United States, I had started and maintained a daily meditation practice for nearly three months. I took at least ten minutes per day just to sit and meditate. Somehow the northern hemisphere took it out of me. I still do a bit of mediation each day, and I attempt to meditate while standing in lines, sitting at red lights, etc. Those moments become precious. But somehow the daily practice at the same time each day faded with the daylight.

But what does the solstice have to do with any of this? It explains perfectly the body-mind connection and what happens when it gets disconnected, at least in me. My mind may be back to “normal.” It is, after all, normal to me that December is winter and the days are short. But my body is utterly confused. Although my mind never quite got used to the frost in June, the snow in August, or the spring leaves next to a Christmas tree, my body was very used to the sunlight, and ripping it out of that was not easy.

Christmas Tree in Wellington with new tree growth. 

The body being off completely threw the mind for a loop, and here I am over a week later, finally having gone to a yoga class, and finally having slept through the night. And now each day is going to get longer again. 

There is beauty in the solstice. It is a reminder that seasons change, and it reflects our own changes. But it is also a struggle. It is when the Earth is at its most extreme, and that takes a toll on each and every one of us. We are not disconnected from the Earth, and its changes affect us a great deal. Recognizing those changes is, sometimes, half the battle. For about a week, I could not figure out why I was so tired, but then I realized it was the abrupt change in seasons.

The good news is that the darkest night of the year reminds us of something else – the next day is the day when the light starts shining more each and every day. Happy Solstice, and happy holidays!


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Doing Something “Special”

I am back in the United States. It feels strange, but not as strange as I expected, but that is not where I want to focus today’s post. Instead, I want to look back at a conversation I had in Greymouth, the last city I visited on my final trip around the South Island.

By that point in my trip I had already reflected personally and reflected with my fellow Fulbrighters on our experience. For all of us, it was life changing. But something was nagging at me. Something deeper than the experiences, amazing as they were. Why do we need to go to the other side of the world as part of an incredible honor in order to feel our lives have changed?

I am in a unique situation because I am going to the same job I would have started 15 months ago if I had not spent 10 months in New Zealand. But of course our lives are not determined solely by how we earn a living. I could write a book on the ways this experience changed my life. I could write a book on why this entire experience was “special.”

But the nagging feeling remained, and it came into clarity while talking to a fellow traveler in Greymouth. I was talking to a fellow traveler who was less than enthralled by New Zealand (that shocked me enough, but is also not the point of the post). She was traveling as part of a bus tour, and as she reflected on each of the places she had visited, she asked out loud, “what did I do special there?”

Each city in New Zealand is known for something. Waitomo is known for black water rafting and glow worm caves, Rotorua is known for sulphur pools and Maori cultural shows, and Dunedin is known for penguins and sea lions (among other things). And don’t ask about Queenstown, the “adventure capital of the world!” So my fellow traveler was trying to remember what she had done unique in each city, what had been special.

Then the yogi in me came out, and it explains the nagging feeling I have had about the issue whether the Fulbright experience changed my life. Should not every moment, every day be special? Why must we do something in order for it to be special?

Mt. Cook - one of the many places that reminded me how special each moment is.

Each day, each interaction, each moment represents an opportunity to be special and meaningful. We can hold out waiting for something special to occur and define our lives by those events, or we can attempt to make each moment special and unique. Usually we think about these issues after major disasters or when someone is dying or has died. But why wait for those moments? Do we really need death and destruction to remind us how valuable each moment in our lives really is?

There is no question that my 10.5 months in New Zealand changed who I am. I had an amazing time and saw unparalleled beauty in both nature and people. Being part of the Fulbright program was one of the greatest honors of my life, and I plan to go forward constantly asking myself if I can live up to the vision Senator William Fulbright had for people who travel the world because of his vision. It absolutely changed my life. But I also know that the people who spent the last year working where I would have worked also saw their lives change in dramatic ways. Our experiences were different, but neither was more or less change-worthy than the other.

I do not see this as downplaying how meaningful the Fulbright experience was for me, and I would like to share more about that (and encourage more lawyers to apply), but it is to say that I hope to continue to look at each day as significant, just like spending time reflecting in the New Zealand bush and along the western side of the Pacific Ocean.

How about a new question? How about instead of asking ourselves what we did that was special in a special place, we ask ourselves how we can ensure that we notice the unique specialness of each and every moment?


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Final Lesson from the New Zealand Bush

I ended my epic adventure around New Zealand’s south island in what is perhaps the least exciting and interesting place on the island – Greymouth. It is the largest city on the West Coast, a part of the country known for rugged beaches and rugged people. It is wet. The weather can change in an instant. And it looks out over the awesome Tasman Sea. And I use the awesome in the sense of awe-inspiring. New Zealand is a place where "least interesting" is still amazing in its own right.

The Great Tasman Sea

I am glad I ended my trip in Greymouth. After the sheer beauty of the rest of the trip, it was a nice reminder that New Zealand is not all gorgeous snow-capped mountains and lakes that defy any definition of blue I had ever before imagined. But even in Greymouth, I was able to see the parts of New Zealand I am going to miss. I think chief among those is the New Zealand bush.

Here in New Zealand, what we Americans would call a forest, they call the bush. It is full of trees and plants found only in New Zealand, birds chirping, and my absolute favorite – the koru (Maori word for the birth of a fern), but that is a topic for another day. Today I want to talk about mud. That’s right – with all the mountains, oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, and forests, I want to talk about mud.

You have to understand, I am not a fan of mud. It’s wet, and I don’t particularly like water. It’s cold, and I don’t like being cold. It’s squishy, and that’s just, well, gross.

It may come as a surprise that I decided to walk into a NZ rainforest, up a big hill, in my non-hiking shoes, especially considering they have holes in them. Let’s just say I did not think this through very well. Back when it snowed in Dunedin, I talked about how we can face anything life throwsour way when we prepare. But what happens when you are stuck walking through mud in a pair of holey shoes? It’s simple, really. You put one foot in front of the other and keep on moving.

With each step into the squishy, wet, cold mud, I cared less and less that my shoes, socks, and even pants were getting dirty. The shoes had been destroyed for awhile, and I was already planning to get rid of them, and socks and pants can be washed. My aversion to the mud lessened, and I was able to enjoy the walk, enjoy being in the NZ bush, and enjoy looking out over an overcast view of the great Tasman Sea.

I told you they were gross

Like many lawyers, I tend to be a bit Type A. Yoga has definitely helped me slow down, relax, and enjoy the world around me a bit more. But as much as I have talked about these lessons off the mat, it took a month without much asana to actually find these lessons all around. It took hiking in rain, walking over swing bridges, and hiking through mud to realize our general aversions matter a lot less than the beauty that surrounds us each day.

I still think it is better to be prepared and ready for what life might throw our way. But I have also learned that when we are not prepared for particulars, the more our reserve bucket is full of internal preparations, the better we really can cope with anything. Sure, all I had to cope with was a bit of rain, a lot of wind, and some nasty mud, but a year ago, these things would have brought me to tears (or at least close). Now they bring a smile to my face and a sigh, “yup, I’m in New Zealand!”

I finished writing this while sitting at the Auckland airport waiting to board my flight back to the United States, and the departure screen listing the flights telling everyone what to do is right in front of me. The flight for San Francisco currently says, “Relax.” Fitting, really. A year of being upside down and trying to find yoga in everyday life on the other side of the world has taught me that we can learn to relax, smile, and remember that we can handle whatever life throws our way.

 Departure Information

Kia Ora, New Zealand! I will be back, but until then . . .


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

A year of gratitude

If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is "thank you," that would suffice. 
– Meister Eckhart

I wanted to write this post after Thanksgiving because as much as I love Thanksgiving, I would prefer to see the same type of gratitude fill our lives each day, rather than one particular day per year. Just before I came to New Zealand, I read a book called, 365 Thank Yous. It is a book written by a judge in CA about a year of writing thank you notes. While I had begun to focus on gratitude before reading the book, reading it sufficiently focused my attention for the entire time I have been in New Zealand. Gratitude became the foundation for my thoughts, rather than an afterthought. After nearly a year here, I can say it has made all the difference.

There are few things as important as saying thank you and recognizing all we have in life for which we can be grateful. My list from my time in New Zealand could fill a book, so I will spare you all the details, but I can tell you it runs the gamut from the random people who have offered me rides without my even knowing them when the walking conditions were long and difficult (and it happened again after writing this but before posting it), to a supervisor whose vision for my thesis exceeded anything I ever dreamed possible, to friends and family new and old who made the lonely times on the other side of the world far less lonely, to everyone who reads this blog, to Kiwi hospitality, to Fulbright New Zealand and the US Embassy for keeping me safe post-earthquake. I am grateful for all the people who helped me get here and all the people who have made my stay here not only informative but amazing beyond words. Oh, the list could go on and on . . .

But why does it matter if we feel gratitude? Why does it matter if we remember to say thank you to the people who help us out along the way? The second question may be easier to answer, and it is very, very simple. Saying thank you when someone offers you a kindness is simple respect and good manners. A bit silly to say, perhaps, but how often do we forget to do it? How often do we just expect that someone, or an organization, is there to provide for us, and we forget that there are still people involved in the process?

Do you thank bus drivers? Waiters? Janitorial staff? Do you thank people for gifts? Kind words? An ear when you need someone to listen? Do you thank other lawyers when they pick up the phone to let you know you made a mistake instead of filing a motion? Two simple words, maybe a quick email, or maybe even a short card are all it takes, but the act of saying thank you helps the person notice you took a moment to care and acknowledge that they did something for you. It helps them see that they matter to you.

But what about the first question? Why does it matter to us if we feel gratitude? That goes back to the power of positivity, the power ofthe mind. There is no question that if you want to see unhappiness and destruction in the world, you can find it. We can also choose to focus on it. But then we just start seeing only that bitterness. If, however, we focus on the gratitude, we start to see just how amazing life really is.

I cannot tell you the number of times people have offered to give me a hand (or a lift) when I needed it. People have taken time from their incredibly busy schedules to explain the NZ family law system to me, helped me send out surveys to the lawyers for children, helped me get ethics approval, asked me tough questions about my thesis, given me a bed or a meal, or just offered a smile and a bit of old-fashioned Kiwi friendliness.

I’m going to need these memories going forward. At the end of this month, I start my new job representing children who have been removed from their parents by the government because of abuse and/or neglect. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the job and the people with whom I will be working, but there is no denying that working in that field can make me question humanity at times (and not always because of the parents’ actions).

All lawyers live in a mindset of disaster cleanup and disaster prevention. We are trained to expect the worst. Perhaps, therefore, it is even more necessary for lawyers to take a moment to reflect on gratitude and remember the good that does exist in the world. But really, for everyone, as the news gets more dramatic and depressing, remembering all the reasons we have to be grateful is not only good, but vital, to our survival.

So, outside of the week of Thanksgiving, for what are you grateful? What little moments, events, and people remind you of the good in the world?


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

In Our Element

As I have mentioned many times here before, yoga has helped me tune in with the natural world a bit better. Perhaps it is because I simply pay more attention, but I actually think I understand and feel the natural world more. I also crave it more. If for no other reason, that is one of the best parts of being in New Zealand. The natural world abounds here like nowhere else I have ever been.

Of course, that can have consequences, as I mentioned in thepost describing where I was attacked by a sea lion. But more often, I find I learn something about the world, and about myself without having to fear for my life . . . too much. The other day, I was kayaking in yet another of the beautiful cities in New Zealand, Kaikoura. In Kaikoura, snow-capped mountains meet native bush meet Pacific Ocean.

This was my first time kayaking, and as I mentioned before, swimming is not something I do well, so I guess I was putting myself slightly into harm’s way, but once nice thing about traveling alone is that when you do crazy things like kayaking, you often end up being paired with the guide, as I was. (As a digression, he did almost capsize the boat a few times while looking for paua [abalone] for his dinner that night and when he stood up in the boat to look at a crayfish cage, but we did not capsize, and I got back to shore without getting wet.)

We were hoping to see the orcas that had graced the coastline earlier in the day, but they were nowhere to be seen, even when the seals got in the water. Oh well. But it was from the seals that I learned my lesson. Seals are incredibly playful and with romp and swim with humans while in the water. On land, however, they are aggressive and dangerous and according to several signs around town, they will inflict “infectious bites.”

So what’s the difference?

On land, the seals feel vulnerable. They do not move as quickly as they do in water, and in the very recent past, they were hunted to near extinction while lounging and sunning away on the rocks. In water, however, they are quick, secure, and in their element. It is almost as though they have multiple personality disorder when it comes to interacting with humans, but really, it is about feeling safe.

A seal playing in the water near our kayak (next to some massive kelp)

Humans, and indeed lawyers especially, are no different. When we feel threatened, we become aggressive, inconsiderate, and sometimes vicious. While we will not (hopefully) inflict gangrene on anyone through a nasty bite, our interactions are infectious, and combined with misunderstanding and confusion, lead to the downward spiral of our relationships (and our emailexchanges).

But when we are in our element, when we feel secure and understand ourselves well enough, we can handle the exact same situation with more ease and control. We know that humans are the same whether they are in the water or on land, but to seals, the two experiences are entirely different. Filing a motion, replying to an email, and having a conversation with your boss are all the same situations whether we feel secure or do not, but our responses to them very significantly depending on how secure we feel.

In many ways, yoga and all I have learned from it have helped me find that sense of security more often. I certainly do not feel it always (and I know of no one that does), but the ability to respond rather thanreact becomes easier over time. In that way, yoga has helped me find my element and become more playful rather than aggressive. Apparently, however, I still bring out the aggression in others when they are not in their element (though sea lions are different than seals).

Do you notice a difference in your responses when you are in your element vs. when you are not? What do you do to bring yourself into your element and safety?


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.

Monday, November 28, 2011

It’s the little things

I have been traveling a lot recently. Not only have I been taking advantage of my last few weeks in New Zealand, but I attended the NZ Family Law Conference, and I had a final meeting for Fulbright, along with Thanksgiving dinner at the US Ambassador’s Residence. I will continue to travel for the next few weeks until I head back to the United States, and then when I get back to the US, I will be homeless until January 8 even though I start work on December 27.

View of Queen Charlotte Sound with a koru (fern opening). This represents so much of my time in NZ.

I’m sharing this itinerary as a long way of saying there is not a lot of time and space for yoga, especially because I stay at hostels and not hotels when traveling. I am really hoping this is the last trip of my life where I do that, but I digress. All the traveling, lack of personal space, and lack of a quality night sleep can add up. But that is when one of the best lessons I have learned from my yoga teacher here in Dunedin kicks in.

It is the little things that make a huge difference. This is just another of the yoga paradoxes: sometimes the less you do, the more results you see.

My teacher’s favorite example is relieving low back pain by lying on the floor and moving the pelvis forward and back, which is sometimes used as a preparation for bridge pose, but here, it is useful in its own right. It helps relieve the lower back muscles. It is simple, easy, and fairly quick. Plus, it results in massive change in the low back. I have used it a lot since I have been doing 6-hour hikes carrying a heavy pack.

This lesson is, of course, one that translates into life off the mat as well. I hear from people so often that the reason they do not do yoga is because they do not have the time. They often think it takes a huge commitment. In truth, the only commitment necessary is the commitment to take a few moments for yourself . . . even for five minutes per day.

So often we think that only the big things are worth doing. We are only going to go to the gym if we can stay for an hour, we are only going to do yoga if we can go to a class, and we are only going to write to a long-lost friend if we can find the perfect words to say. We feel we must do it all or it is not worth doing. Thus, we end up only doing the things that matter to us when we can “find the time.”

The truth of the matter, however, is that rather than the big moments, our lives are defined by the small ones. Each moment is a choice to do something, and our choices in each moment matter. Especially at this time of year when we are bombarded with mass consumerism, big holidays, and serious gluttony, taking a moment to recognize the little parts of life that matter is especially important. Ironically, it is the holiday season when we are “supposed” to pay attention to the little things that we lose sight of them.

Instead of recognizing gratitude once per year, remember to say thank you every single day. Instead of just sending a card once per year, take a 10 minute walk and call an old friend. Instead of popping the painkiller for the low back pain, lie on the floor and give yourself a 5-minute massage. These little moments add up, and they remind us how deeply connected we are. They also begin to make massive changes in our lives.

What are your favorite little things to keep you going each day?


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Finding Community Across the Pacific

This has been an intense week. A week ago, I was in themiddle of nowhere, without internet, without a phone, even without showers (though strangely the huts had electricity during certain hours of the day). This week, I have been in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city at around 1.3 million people. The contrast was stark and not altogether easy for me to handle. To be totally honest, the thought of going back to the huge United States is a little overwhelming right now, but I am excited to be heading “home” soon. Just 2.5 more weeks in New Zealand. I cannot believe it.

I could not have asked for the New Zealand Family Law Society to have its conference. I was lucky to be able to attend, and it was incredible. I hold a special place in my heart for conferences, and it was at afamily law conference in Denver where I first taught yoga outside of teacher training. Conferences are about learning, but more importantly, they are about networking. Actually, I do not particularly like that word. Conferences are about coming together. They are about community.

And conferences on the other side of the world are about realizing (or perhaps realising) how similar we all are. In some ways, especially in a major stretch of metaphors, conferences embody everything I think yoga has to teach us as professionals. On the surface, conferences seem almost the antithesis of good yoga. They are intense, people rarely sleep, and at least at the conferences I have attended, people eat and drink far more than they should. I am, of course, the exception . . . or not.

But deeper down, conferences allow people to step outside their daily lives and take some time to reflect rather than live in a world of constant reaction. For a few days, the “other” lawyers become your friends again. Debates that sometimes devolve into zero-sum arguments in practice become opportunities to ask questions of each other, engage together, and discuss all the possible issues. No final decision has to be made. Everyone gets to be confused together. Hopefully, we can also be inspired and reinvigorated together as well. And this happens because we get away from the downward spiral of email and see each other’s faces, and talk, laugh, and debate together. We get to step away from daily life, and in doing so, we can put daily life into perspective.

But the best part is about building new community and reminding ourselves of the community in which we already exist. In that vein, I saw some friendly faces, both people I first met here in New Zealand, and people I have met in the US from both New Zealand and Australia. I also met many new people. Yoga is not just about asana and meditating and learning stress management techniques. It helps us step outside our lives long enough to realize how much we all have in common, how connected we really are. Conferences give us the same opportunity. This week, I am grateful for having had that amazing opportunity on the other side of the world. What an incredible beginning of the end of my time here. Now I just might need some more “traditional” yoga to recover from the conference.

What do you do to step outside your daily routine and find community?


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Power of Life

I grew up in Northern California. It has the perfect climate for an abundance of life, including trees, birds, mammals, flowers, etc. After growing up in California, I went to the University of Michigan where squirrels and birds frolic in the plethora of trees. But then I went to the University of Arizona for law school.

Prior to relocating to Tucson, I had only been there twice. I love the beauty of the rocks, but over time living there, one thing became abundantly clear – I missed trees. The lack of trees started to grate on me. It seemed almost too metaphorical for law school and the legal profession.

But then I opened my eyes. I started taking yoga seriously in law school and started taking it very seriously my third year and while studying for the bar exam. It was then that I noticed how amazing the desert really is. Life exists where all reason says it should not. My favorite example is the Ocotillo cactus, which people often cut down and use to make fence posts. Rationality suggests that cutting down the cactus would kill it, but each spring these fence posts come alive and grow leaves and even flowers. It is incredible.

Living in New Zealand since January has been healing for me. This country does not lack for trees. So it has been easy for me to forget the desert lessons, but last week, I got my reminder . . . this time on a volcano. If people did not know before February, they now know that New Zealand is earthquake prone. What is less well known, however, is that its largest city, Auckland, sits on a few (read 52) volcanoes. I’m starting to wonder why anyone lives in this country . . . but I digress.

Last week, I visited the most recent eruption. It is an island called Rangitoto, which was created 600 years ago when the volcano erupted. It is an island, therefore, made purely of lava. There is no dirt. There were no trees. There was no life.

Today, Rangitoto has the largest Pohutekawa (a NZ tree that flowers at Christmas time, so it is called the Christmas Tree) Forest in the country. I was expecting a day walking on lava. Instead, I got a day walking through lush forest. In fact, the only lava you could really see was in the lava caves and along the road where the trees had been cut down to make the road. There are even NZ fern trees.

A view of the lush landscape on the island looking back to Auckland City.

A view of the crater, full of trees.

A NZ fern tree.

In 600 short years, out of molten lava came a beautiful forest. If the ocotillo cactus is not a great testament to life, the lava forest should be. It may sound cheesy, but I like to think of these examples when life seems incredibly difficult. Sitting in an office all day, devoid of nature, it can be very easy to forget how powerful life and nature can be. It is necessary to step outside and remind ourselves. Yoga is about being present and taking stock of the world around you. Sometimes that is the best way to remember how powerful life can be. Where do you most notice the power of life?


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Getting Away for Real

Last week, I went on my first backpacking (called tramping in New Zealand) trip. It was on a track that the New Zealand Department of Conservation deems is the “most beautiful track in the world,” the Milford Track. I have no way to determine that, but I can say that it was absolutely amazing.

All sorts of things could have gone wrong. Along the track, you sleep in huts with anywhere from 8-20 other people in a room with you. The region, Fiordland, gets around 200 days of rain per year, snow can appear on Christmas Day (the middle of the summer in New Zealand), and when it rains, it can really, really rain. I heard stories of people trudging through water up to their chests, having to be taken off the track in a helicopter, and having to spend several hours in non-sleeping huts because it was too unsafe to leave. And to add to my fears, my ankle is still sore from a year-old injury, and based upon a 10-hour hike my friend and I did two days before we set out for the tramp, my knee was not loving me either.

But I refused to allow the fear and concern to control my thoughts. Instead, I have been “practicing” for this track all year long. I have gone out in the rain without being upset about it. I have done long hikes up beautiful mountain passes. I have been sleeping in dorm rooms in hostels. And I have been meditating and doing yoga, mentally preparing to look on the bright side and just go with whatever happens.

We had amazing weather. The other hikers were awesome. And I even did not get too badly attacked by the sandflies (think mosquitoes but even more annoying). For four glorious days, I let the vacation responder answer my emails. I told my family and friends where I would be. I went offline . . . for real.

And I was rewarded with this:

The final point on the track. We made it!

Tree Pose at the top of the pass!

Mountains and bush and fields. It was absolutely amazing!

I got off the track and wanted nothing to do with my email, and nothing to do with facebook. I had over 800 unread items in my Google Reader, but I did not care. The world did not fall apart while I was not paying attention. Certainly things happened, and there was news that interested me upon my return to civilization, but I finally found the perspective to completely turn off.

It felt amazing.

There is no question that people are asked and expected to be constantly connected. We liken our phones to addictive drugs (crackberries). It is no secret that I struggle with this. I have struggled with my addictionto the news (and let’s be honest, to facebook as well), and my fear of going offline. I was so worried about being disconnected that I gave my parents specific instructions on how to get in touch with me if something went drastically wrong.

But as I finished the last few miles of the track, I found myself not even concerned about what my inbox held. Of course, I opened it up and found all sorts of junk mail and a few great emails. I learned about the news I had “missed.” I even signed into facebook and saw that one of my friends had a baby.

Interestingly, I am still traveling. I am now in Auckland and attending the New Zealand Family Law Conference beginning on Sunday. I will be traveling quite a bit after that. I’m less concerned now with how I will stay connected. Instead, I’m searching for hikes and ways to get away. I leave New Zealand in just over three weeks, and I will be back to work before the end of 2011. But thinking about that takes away from my enjoyment of today.

On the track, I had to constantly remind myself to be there and not in my head about conferences, child abuse, and international travel. There is no doubt that my mind wandered away from the New Zealand bush and mountains, but being completely offline and totally away gave me some perspective on the addictive lives we lead. Surprisingly, my shoulders have never felt as relaxed as they felt carrying a 40-pound pack over 3,000 feet over a mountain pass in gale-force winds.

How often do you turn off? How often do you get away? Do you let yourself? What have you learned when you have?


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chasing Paper and Ingrained Perceptions

There are a few films every law student should see. At the top of the list is “The Paper Chase.” It depicts Harvard Law School in 1973 and helped define the popular culture definition of law school generally. It is, of course, an Old Boys Club and a time when the Socractic Method, and the fear associated with it, dominated the law school curriculum, and therefore, the legal profession itself.

Today, people still discuss the legal profession and law school as though they are identical to the 1973 model. I see a similar pattern in business, medicine, and many other professions. I fall into the trap constantly, including the post, “You’d be proud of me.” There is an ingrained perception that all lawyers fit a particular mold. There is an ingrained perception that business models from the 1970s work in the 21st century. There is an ingrained model that allopathic doctors must remain detached from their patients.

But the world has changed. Our discussion needs to shift as well.

I can only speak personally about law, but I see it in so many other fields as an outsider. My law school class had people who expected to be lawyers all their lives, people who wanted to change the world, and people who just showed up because it seemed like the thing to do. Personally, I fell somewhere between categories two and three, though my teachers growing up may have placed me in category one. Law firms today continue to ask associates to work obscene hours, but they also fight to have the best family-friendly offices, offer hours for pro bono work, and spend time and money building a name in the community. The law, and the people who practice law, are changing and growing. But the conversation often remains stuck in the 1973 model.

One of the biggest shifts in the legal field has been the inclusion of yoga and meditation. Last October, I attended The Mindful Lawyer Conference, and there is legal education popping up all over the country focusing on meditation. I am even teaching yoga in the mornings during at least two law-related conferences next year. In other words, the legal profession has shifted drastically.

But the stereotypes remain, and they remain to our detriment. Those of us who practice law and believe we are outside the old stereotypes feel like outsiders when, in reality, the outsiders are those who remain beholden to the old paradigm. I used to be the person feeling like an outsider because I do yoga, meditate, and want to share it with the world. But if I have learned one thing from writing this blog, it is that I may still be in the minority, but we have reached critical mass.

And I do not mean just people who do yoga. I mean people who want to see a new paradigm emerge in the professions that once were dominated by 1950s visions of the world. Yoga and meditation help me formulate how I envision that new paradigm. Others see it as a family friendly, more human-to-human focus, and more “balanced,” whatever that means to the individual person. There is no question that the world is changing. There is no question that professions are changing. I know I will continue to get stuck in the old paradigm discussions, but I want to see the conversation shift.

The more of us who speak out and share our visions, the more we can structure it and create it. “The Paper Chase” defined an era, and it remains a good movie. But I prefer to think of it as an historical relic. I’m not quite ready to see “Legally Blond” be the new paradigm, but I know it is time for something new.

How have you seen your profession, whatever it is, change over time? What vision do you have for it going forward? Please share in the comments. I would love to see what others are thinking, and I think sharing together will help shift the field.


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The fight-or-flight response done right

This post could also be called “A reminder that stress is good.” It is very common to hear people talk about the dangers of stress. But we rarely talk about why we have stress and the good place it has in our lives. The truth is that we would not be here as a species if it were not for stress. Another way to explain stress is the fight-or-flight response. When teaching Stress Management for Lawyers (or Professionals), I have often used the hunter-gatherer scenario. But this week I got my own reminder of the good stress can do in our lives.

When I was applying for the Fulbright scholarship to study family law, I was trying to decide between applying in New Zealand and applying in Australia. There are many reasons I chose New Zealand, but one of them was the lack of large animals that cause significant injury. While Australia is full of spiders and snakes and unimaginable creatures that can kill you in an instant, New Zealand has nothing of the sort. Their spiders are friendly, and they have no land snakes. None. Plus, they have penguins.

It was during a search for said penguins where I had my “stress is good for you” reminder. I live in Dunedin, New Zealand, which is the country’s fourth largest city, and it is known for rowdy students and cold flats (that’s housing to us non-Commonwealth folk). It also is connected to the Otago Peninsula, one of the greatest places to see penguins, fur seals, Royal Albatross, diverse marine bird life, and sea lions. The easiest place to see the penguins without a tour is by going to a beach inhabited by many sea lions. I have been there twice this week.

The first time I went, the Department of Conservation volunteer gave us the instructions, which included: stay 10 metres away from the sea lions and 200 metres away from the penguins. She also told us what to do if for some reason a sea lion starts charging. I heard the word run, but for the life of me cannot remember if she said RUN or DON’T RUN!!! This is why we need to talk in positives! Most of the time, sea lions look like logs on the beach. And even when they are moving about, they are so used to humans they don’t do anything but give us funny looks.

This is an example of what not to do around sea lions!

But sometimes they want to “play.” While walking down the beach, my friend and I saw a female sea lion playing with a male sea lion. We kept our distance and just kept walking toward the penguin viewing hide. About 30 minutes later, having not seen any penguins, we started walking back up the beach. That’s when the female sea lion took an interest in us. That’s when she started “playing.” I don’t know about you, but playing with a 300-pound creature with really large teeth is just not on my list of things to do . . . so we ran. Then we stopped and held our ground. According to my friend, I “held my ground” while walking backwards. The sea lion kept following.

Luckily for us, there was a sand bluff, and my friend is a runner. She ran up the bluff, and the sea lion attempted to follow her. By then, she was already exhausted, and she just sort of collapsed. That was good because I was not on high ground, though by then I was farther away from her. (For the record, I did not want to leave my friend, but the sea lion managed to get between us because I’m such a slow runner, so it was safer for us to split up, but my friend and I could see each other the entire time.)

We both, or I should say all, escaped unharmed, but my friend and I ran about halfway down the beach before we finally stopped (and before she almost tripped over one of the males lying lazily on the beach looking like a big log).

Then we got to the other side of the beach, and there was a penguin up on the rocks (yes, they climb, and it’s really quite impressive). There were, of course, several more sea lions near us, but they were asleep and ignoring us. I said to my friend, “my adrenaline is coming down.” Her response was, “mine came down awhile ago.”

And that, my friends, is stress done right. We have a stress response to save our lives. We are supposed to fight or flight, and I have to remember to look up which one it is for my next trip to the beach. We are supposed to get excited and stressed at times. But the stress is also supposed to dissipate when the problem goes away. We are supposed to come down from it.

Penguin! It's the blue/black blob to the right of the green bushes.

The problem in the modern world is that so many of us live in a state of constant, or chronic, stress. The stress hormones never come down. We never get a chance to come out of the stress response and back to a state of calm. And perhaps more importantly, if we are in a constant state of stress, what happens when the really big event occurs, and we need the benefits of stress, but we are already so burnt out we cannot muster any more of the good stress? That is when we end up “playing” with sea lions instead of blogging about what is, in retrospect, a really funny experience.

How would looking at stress as a good thing change your perspective?


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Is your head on straight?

Do you sit at a desk a lot? Do you carry a bag on one shoulder? Do you use a cell phone without a blue tooth? Is your head on straight? I mean this literally, of course.

Generally speaking, the head should be directly above and between the shoulders when the neck is neutral or comfortable. Ideally for the spine, the ears are directly over the shoulders, and the chin is about parallel to the floor. But have you ever looked at a person sitting at a computer? General computer head placement has the jaw reaching forward toward the computer screen and the ears inches closer to the screen than the shoulders. And I’m not sure why, but many people tilt their heads to one side or the other.

Are you wondering where your neck strain originates?

In a recent yoga class (ok, two recent yoga classes), my teacher looked at me lying in savasana and informed me my head was tilted to the right. When she finally told me it was straight, it felt wrong. I felt like I was leaning to my left, and there was a ton of pressure on the left side of my head. But then a funny thing happened. My neck, jaw, eyes, and back all started to relax.

When we place the neck in a compromising position, we pull everything out of alignment. The rest of the body has to compensate, so our shoulders move up to our ears, one side of the rib cage takes more strain, or we pull up on our lower back causing it to hurt. Oh, and of course the jaw tightens to compensate for the overworked neck muscles.

So what can we do about it? This post is part of the series At the Desk, but this tip needs to be first done away from the desk – at a mirror, unless of course you have a mirror at your desk. But stand in front of a mirror for a few minutes and instead of noticing the bags under your eyes or your pasty skin from being inside all winter (sure signs you have been writing a thesis for too long), notice whether your head is on straight. Trust the mirror and your eyes, even though the neck might feel funny.

Then hold the neck in a truly neutral position for 1-2 minutes. How does your neck feel? How does the rest of your body feel?

Then head back to the desk, and remind yourself over and over again to keep your head on straight. It is one of the hardest things for me to do at the desk, but I constantly remind myself to put my ears over my shoulders and ensure the spine is straight.

Is your head on straight?


Is your head on straight? is part of the series At the Desk, which focuses on practical tips from the yoga world (and other interesting finds) to help those of us stuck at the desk all day long. If you are interested in other tips, click the label “At the Desk,” and if you have any specific questions you would like to see discussed, send them my way.

© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

“You’d be proud of me”

I hear this from people frequently. When they go an entire day of eating healthy, or when they go to a yoga class, people will often say to me, “you’d be proud of me.” It always makes me cringe.

We live in a world where people are always seeking the approval of other people. How many lawyers or doctors do you know who went to law school or medical school because that is what they were expected to do? How many of us actually questioned whether university should immediately follow a high school graduation? That is what was expected, so we did it. We played by the rules.

In many ways, it is easier to live life our lives when they have been designed by someone else. We do not have to think too hard about it. I remember graduating from law school thinking, “this is the first time I have had to make a conscious decision about what to do with my life. Before this, everything has just fallen into place.” And then my first job (thankfully) fell into place, and the cycle has continued.

Law is one of those professions where we want to make someone proud of us. We have mentors and colleagues and judges and clients we must constantly try to impress. When I took the California bar exam, my biggest fear was not that I would not pass it, but that I would let down the people who had made it possible for me to take it in the first place. (For the record, I did not have a job in California, so passing or not did not affect me or my livelihood.)

But is this situation healthy? Does it serve us? Personally, I do not think so.

Yoga is about going inside; it is about finding out what you need in the moment, not yesterday or tomorrow, but now. A few weeks ago, I listened to a guided meditation, and the teacher stated (rather emphatically, I might add), “when you close the eyes, you are going inside. Some people close the eyes to block out the outside, but in mediation, we close the eyes to see what is on the inside.” His tone turned me off, but his message has stayed with me.

On some level, I appreciate when people say, “you’d be proud of me” to me. It makes me feel like we have a connection worth continuing. We are close enough that we care about the other person’s opinion and want to share ways we connect. The assumption is, I think, that I would be proud because it is something I do as well and something I take seriously, which is why people say this to me most often when it involves food choices or yoga.

But I cringe because it also implies people feel I am being judgmental, or that we are all judgmental. It implies we need others to be proud of us to do things that are generally “good.” But what I would really love to see is people determining what works for them. It should come as no surprise that I think yoga can be good for everyone, but that does not mean I think everyone should do yoga. 

I am the last person who will say that what others think should never matter. I believe we live in a world together for a reason, and we need to understand and respect each other in that world, so what we think and do together is vitally important. But when it comes to the internal, when it comes to “being proud” of your life choices, I know I am going to be most “proud” when we all start asking ourselves what works best for us – not superficially, but deeply.

I get giddy when I meet people doing yoga for the first time. I realized recently, however, that it’s not because there is another person out there doing yoga. It’s because there is another person ready to try something new to see if it works for them. I hope those people are proud of themselves. Rather than seeking approval from the external world, or pushing it away when it becomes too overwhelming, what if we closed our eyes and asked ourselves, “what would make me proud of me?”


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Even Breaths

I have a yoga teacher who starts nearly every class in a similar fashion; she asks us, “is it easier to breathe in or to breathe out?” Inhales and exhales have different energies. On the inhale, we are filling our bodies with what the world has to offer. On an exhale, we are letting go of stale energy and anything in our bodies that no longer serves us. Over the course of our lives, we will have exactly as many inhales as exhales. Our first experience of the breath is an inhale, and our last experience is an exhale.

How often do you notice how they interact? How often do you notice which is stronger?

Lawyers and other professionals have a tendency to live on the edge and to struggle to find balance. It is no coincidence that one of the hottest topics in the professional community is work-life balance. The ubiquity of the topic indicates just how out of balance so many of us really are (and yes, I include myself in this category somewhat more than I would like). 

There are countless ways yoga can help us find balance, from asana (including tree pose) to noticing the equinox’s effect on our balance systems. But the simplest technique is to turn back to the breath. The breath and breathing is no foreigner to this blog, but somehow this simple technique has not yet graced its pages. And instead of focusing exclusively on the reality of balance, it focuses on the quality of balance, more easily expressed as evenness. 

The simplest technique is to bring evenness to the breath, evenness to the inhales and the exhales. Try this. Close your eyes (after you read this paragraph) and just notice your inhale and your exhale. Notice which one is longer and which one is stronger. They may not be the same one. Then consciously start to bring even them. Count the length of each, and try to inhale and exhale to the same count. Then slowly start to increase the length of each. See if you can double it from where you started.

Simple, right? All you have to do is breathe and count. Bringing evenness to the breath is a quick way to take control of our out of control lives and bring some semblance of balance back to them. A simple breathing technique cannot pick up the kids from school on time, but it just may help you slow down enough to focus and remember what time they have to be picked up. It can remind us that we carry this sense of evenness within us at all times. We just have to remember to tune in and notice.

The best part about this technique is that it can be done anywhere. Whether you are sitting at your desk or stuck in traffic, evenness in the breath can help you bring the quality of balance to your day. Just do it with your eyes open if you happen to be in your car.

What is your favorite way to bring evenness to your day? Do you notice a difference between chasing balance and finding evenness?


Even Breaths is part of the series At the Desk, which focuses on practical tips from the yoga world (and other interesting finds) to help those of us stuck at the desk all day long. If you are interested in other tips, click the label “At the Desk,” and if you have any specific questions you would like to see discussed, send them my way.

© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Back to Basics

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” – John Wooden

It is sort of hard for the current me to believe, but there was a time when I wanted to go to Stanford for college to play basketball. Sadly, I stopped growing at about 5’6” (167 cm), and more importantly, I was never very good. But that did not mean I did not try, and I went to a basketball camp a couple of times, which was run by Steve Lavin, an assistant coach for UCLA, where John Wooden’s legacy has lived for years. So this is how a lawyer-yogi quotes John Wooden and knows what it means. The man was, and remains, inspiring. I went looking for him (specifically the quote above) when I wanted to write this post, and I found several gems. Expect him to grace the pages of this blog over the next several weeks.

But today’s topic is “back to basics.” I have talked about this before (here and here), but I have also been thinking about it a lot this week.  All of the yoga teachers whose classes I attend know that I am also a teacher. So do many of the other people in the classes. But many people in the class are “better” at asana than I am. I have very problematic hips and a serious fear of handstands, so my asana practice comes and goes. Some days (ok, most days), I think I have more to learn than the first time I stepped on a mat.

And that’s the best part! 

It is very easy to get complacent in life. It is very easy to think, “I have done this before, so I can let my mind wander as I do it again.” It is really easy to fall into our patterns and samskaras. To be honest, driving on the left side of the road is starting to feel natural now, and I find myself being less and less conscious as I make wide right turns.

But yoga is about noticing the subtleties and noticing how each day is different. Sure, you can “do” vrksasana (tree pose), but how is it different today than yesterday? What muscles need to work differently now to hold you in space? Is today a day where I feel balanced and comfortable in the pose, or is today a difficult day where I wobble back and forth?

I have taken a couple of meditation classes here over the past few months, and one of the yoga teachers asked me, “do you not have a practice already?” To be honest, I have never meditated every day in the past. I start and stop. But that was not the reason I took the classes. The woman who taught the first class said it best, “you can never take too many introduction classes.” That was her way of saying, “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

Going back to basics keeps us honest in everything we do. We learn to be better lawyers, librarians, psychologists, athletes, and people when we constantly forego what we “know” and remember that we always have a long way to go. This is not a nihilistic view that we can never be good enough at anything. Instead, it is a recognition that we can always engage more deeply with ourselves and learn to do things better. The more we learn, the more we can tune into the subtleties. After all, we know “the devil is in the details,” so when we take the time to tune into those details, by continuously going back to the basics, that’s when we do our best.

John Wooden was right. We may think we know it all, but that’s when the going gets great! That’s when we can let go of trying to do it, and actually begin to understand. Where do you go back to basics?


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.