Monday, June 27, 2011

100 shared adventures - where to go from here?

100 Posts! I have a hard time believing it, but this is the 100th post on Is Yoga Legal. From that night in savasana in Tempe, Arizona to a small town on the south island of New Zealand, and every post in between, this has been an adventure. I was unsure what would become of a blog dedicated to yoga and the law. I was unsure of where I would end up, what words would be set forth, and what life would throw at me, and all of us, along the way. One of my friends expressed doubt that there would be sufficient material. Secretly, I agreed with her. But life kept offering new avenues, and conversations kept opening my eyes.

100 posts later, I am sure of one thing: I have learned so much from sharing this community. And for that, I am eternally grateful to everyone who has shared this journey thus far.

This blog was not designed to be a personal blog about my day-to-day affairs but a place to share yoga with stressed out members of the 21st century. It was to be a place to explore what yoga means to us in a modern world. From the philosophical underpinnings, to injuries from asana, to disaster preparedness, this blog has grown and evolved in ways I never imagined.

There were many reasons I wanted to do a yoga teacher training program. The most “superficial” reason was because I was moving to a new city, where I only had a few friends, and I was working for the Court, so I knew that I would have an 8-5 job, perhaps for the last time in my life. A chance to meet new friends and do something I love was a great kick start. I also wanted to teach at the Juvenile Detention Center in Pima County (yes, they have yoga for the kids there), but they told me I had to be certified. Reason number 2.

The most important reason, however, was because I wanted to deepen my own practice. I wanted to learn. The best way to learn, I have found, is to try to teach others. One reason, of course, is that you have to make it understandable if you are going to try to teach others. But there is more to it than that; it is from teaching that we are challenged by others. Many, many people have shared their comments on this blog, both publicly and privately, and these comments have become deep conversations. I feel as though I have gained so much.

The question is whether this endeavor has offered anything to the world. I hope it has. Those discussions make me think it has. But I want to know what would make it more useful. Do you have ideas for helping create a community? Do you want posts on particular subjects? The facebook page has weekly intentions and daily tips, except sometimes when I am traveling without great internet access.

But what else can this community become? The internet has a way of bringing people from all sorts of backgrounds together. We can engage with one another on so many levels. I have learned a great deal, and after 100 posts, I am positive I want to keep this going, but the direction is anybody’s guess, so what do you want to see happen?

Thank you all for sharing this journey thus far. Through teaching, on and off the interwebs, I have gained so much, learned so much, and changed so much.


© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Styles and Practice Areas and Soapboxes!

When I started this blog, I was looking to see if there are ways that yoga and the legal profession overlap. It has, of course, grown into looking at the intersection of yoga and modern life, in all its varieties. One area I have missed, and where yoga and the law can teach us so much, is in our choice of what type we do; there is something for everyone, and we each have our own paths. Yoga has different styles while the legal profession has practice areas, and our choice of these is a great look at our paths in life.

I think the most common question I get asked when I tell people both that I practice and teach yoga is, “do you do that hot yoga, what’s it called?” The answer, my friends, is Bikram (there are other types of hot yoga, but that is usually where the question originates), and no, I do not. The reasons are plentiful, but most of them do not matter to this post (but if we have met in person, and you have asked me this question, you have seen me on my soap box). The easiest, and most PC answer, is that Bikram is not for me. It is simply not my path.

The types of yoga are plentiful, and I could write a book on all of them, as many people already have. Instead, here is a brief overview: Yoga can reference anything from ancient Hindu tradition / religion to modern asana-based mega classes. Asana practices can range from restorative, where you use lots of props, do not get off the floor, and hold poses for 3-5 minutes to Ashtanga, where there are set series, and you work with a teacher and do not move into learning the next posture until you have “mastered” the one you are currently doing. Some styles of yoga are strict about anatomy, e.g., Iyengar and Anusara, and some focus on the internal awareness, e.g., Anusara again. Then, of course, there is the rest of yoga, the yamas, the niyamas, pranayama (breath), and all forms of meditation. See what I mean? Books! And yet, so many people, including those who do yoga, think that yoga is limited to a few different types.

But of course, lawyers are no different. I cannot tell you how many times someone has asked me for help in areas of law with which I have no, and I mean no, experience. Tax law? Torts? New Zealand tenant’s rights? I am dreading the day someone asks me about criminal law, but at least with that, I have friends who work for the Public Defender and the County Attorney. People assume that because I can put esquire after my name, I must know everything there is to know about all law, everywhere. Any doctors have this problem? Accountants? You get the idea; we often think that one word can define someone when in reality that one word opens up a huge can of . . . possibility!

Once clearing up the fact that I do not have the answer to every type of legal question on the planet, I then must answer the dreaded question – well what kind of law do you practice? The answer, my friends, is family law. The other answer is juvenile dependency law, also known as welfare. In other words, I do that “emotional” law.

If I had 5 cents for every time someone reacted to my choice of profession with, “but how do you do that? It must be so difficult,” or “I could never do that kind of law!”, I would be able to pay off my loans. In other words, people assume all sorts of things about me based upon my choice of profession, and then within the profession, based upon my choice of field.

I used to be a percussionist, and I would joke that I could tell you someone’s personality based upon their gender and their instrument. But maybe that is not so crazy; different paths in music exist just like different paths in everything, and certain types work for some and not others. We choose particular paths because they work for us. Thus, my reaction to Bikram is just that, a guttural reaction; it is not a tempered response because it is so against my needs from yoga. But I know people who love it. For me, sometimes I need a restorative class, and sometimes I need a flow class. I happen to love family law and working with children. To others, that work is insane.

Law and yoga, therefore, offer something for everyone. They are great teachers by showing us that we all have our own paths in life, and someone needs to fill all of them. The Dalai Lama is the first person to say that not everyone could, or even should, follow his path. We all must find our own. And if it is not glaringly obvious by now, of course that means external to the law and yoga as well. That is why this blog is about so much more than just yoga and law, but they have informed my life in such wonderful ways, and I think they are great examples of the rest of life.

The law, yoga, and life are not one-size-fits-all. They are huge paths, full of opportunities to be rearranged and created into our own unique circumstances. So, I might think Bikram is crazy, but that’s because it does not work for me. You might think that family law is crazy, but that is because it does not work for you. That is not okay . . . It is wonderful, and it is what makes the world such a wonderful and interesting place.

We can choose to judge others for their choices, or we can be grateful that they are doing the work instead of us, allowing space for us to do our own work. That, my friends, is my new soap box!

And look, I found one in a small town in New Zealand. Who would have thought?

What is your path?


© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Playing by the Rules

Rules. Law. Some people might argue they are synonymous. Lawyers, therefore, are usually really good at playing by the rules. The more attention I pay, however, the more I realize how all of us follow the rules, often without even realizing it. This unconscious affinity for the rules that run our lives interferes with our ability to connect to our fellow human beings and causes us to go down the spirals that result from believing in “the otherness” of those outside our “in” crowd.

Recently, I went on a weekend vacation. The thesis writing was getting difficult, and I just needed to get away from my desk. So, I booked a bus ticket and headed an hour north to Oamaru. This post is not about the penguins who restored my sanity; it is about the rules I noticed and what they signify to our lives.

Before I get there, though, let us travel together – in an elevator. How many times have you been in an elevator alone with just one other person? How many times have you talked to that person? Chances are, at least from my experience, that instead of talking to that person, you stand together in that awkward silence, one of you pushing the “Door Close” button hoping to end the awkwardness that much faster. Rule for elevator: no talking to those you do not know.

So what does a weekend bus trip have to do with rules of small talk in an elevator? The bus driver. I booked with one of the smaller bus companies in New Zealand, and along with that came a really chatty and friendly bus driver. As we were driving along, I noticed that there were certain people he acknowledged, those to whom he waved. I also noticed the people he seemed to ignore. So, who was in the “in” crowd? Two main groups: other buses and truckers. Cars got ignored. Rules on the road: acknowledge those whose job it is to drive but not those who are just driving to get from point A to point B.

I have noticed this phenomenon before. My first experience living abroad was in Aix-en-Provence, France. A group of 10 Americans were placed on the other side of the world together. One day, while I (the band geek) and the “other” (a sorority sister) were chatting, we joked that we were like a bunch of kids thrown into a room together; we just got along because there was more that connected us in that foreign place than made us feel different. At home, we would have ignored each other, but on the other side of the world, when we were lonely Americans, we got along great.

While living in France, if I heard anyone speaking English, I would start a conversation. It seemed like a connection, so why not? We could create our own club in an environment where we felt “outside.” Here in New Zealand, almost everyone speaks English, yet I still find myself attracted to the North American accent, or even sometimes any non-Kiwi accent. Over the weekend, I stayed at a hostel, and there I interacted with all sorts of people, including some random French people. Everyone can talk together in a hostel; everyone is officially an outsider in the country. Rule in a foreign country: find other foreigners with whom you can connect, regardless of their home.

After the February earthquake in Christchurch, I was hugging people I had never met. With each aftershock, we held each other closer. Disaster was at hand, and we had little to make us feel steady. Just yesterday, Christchurch suffered another terrible jolt (another 6.3, the same magnitude as the one in February), which I felt over 200 miles away in Dunedin. I was in a room full of people. We all looked at each other, discovered there had been another terrible blow to Christchurch . . . and then went back to our desks, to our work. Rule for non-disaster situation: get back to business as usual.

So, what are the rules? Where can we engage people and where can we not? Where can we look to each other for stability, and where do we push people away? Where do you let yourself interact with strangers? Supermarket? On a plane? Walking down the street? In traffic? Have you ever hugged a stranger?

But, if all these “rules” tell us anything, it should be that the divisions we create are arbitrary. What if we chose to break them? What if we chose to make everyone an insider? What if we consciously chose to find our common similarities rather than awkwardly push the “Door Close” button on our interactions with others? What if we made these decisions before disaster strikes? After all, lawyers prepare for disaster.

Are you willing to break the rules? Are you willing to push “Door Open”? Are you willing to engage with "the other"?


© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Frost in June?

I have written before about patterns and samskaras and about the differences about living on the underside of the Earth. I am pleased to report that I have learned to look right before crossing the street, and I almost always walk on the left side of the sidewalk. I would like to say that I am adapting fairly well, and to be honest, I worked hard at both of these upon arrival. I wanted to overcome the neural connections and create new neural pathways.

But there seems to be one difference to which my subconscious simply has not yet adapted. The seasons. On the spring/autumn equinox, I mentioned how weird it was that most of the world is celebrating moving into spring, as we are celebrating moving into Autumn. I thought I got it. I thought it was inside of me, but time and time again it catches me off guard. The first time I noticed it was when I started reading all the graduation speeches, and my gut reaction was, “but it’s fall, how are people graduating?”

Then this morning, on my walk down a very steep hill, I almost slipped . . . on frost. Yes, there is frost in June. There is nothing odd about frost in late autumn, but in my worldview, there is something that is strange about frost in June. I am starting to realize this samskara is deeper than I thought.

Then I realized that it is okay.

This is not the only brick wall I seem to have hit here. For the first time in five years, I have a flatmate (of course, in my prior life, this person would have been referred to as a housemate or roommate). I was not looking forward to sharing space with someone when I moved here, but I knew I would be able to do it. I was adamant, however, that I did not want to share groceries. This may seem odd to many people; I have a friend who tells me how much she wishes her housemates would share groceries, at least some of them. It may seem silly and a bit juvenile, and I can share the house and adapt to her cleaning schedule, but my food and cooking are personal and mean a lot to me, so I drew the line there.

Yoga teaches us to find our edge, but to not exceed it until we can do so safely. We also can learn that some bodies simply are not designed to move in particular ways, and the edge may take years to move, or it may never get surpassed. Generally, though with breath and time, our edge moves. We gain flexibility and strength, not only on the mat, but also in our lives. We learn that we can handle it better when the boss yells or the clients call complaining or there is an emergency hearing scheduled for the next day. We learn that the breath and time provide us the tools to move beyond our edge safely and effectively.

And then sometimes we cannot. That is okay . . . with a caveat.

My friend made a good point to me when we were discussing the groceries issue. She said, “part of being on a Fulbright is testing your boundaries.” Of course, our mutual friend in Kenya on her Fulbright is probably testing her boundaries a bit more than I am here in New Zealand, but the point is that my friend is right; expanding your horizons really is part of being on a Fulbright. So, does this mean that I am going to start sharing my groceries?

Not this week. Instead, I realized that I am already so far outside of my comfort zone by living with someone again, by having to look right, and by looking up to see a constellation that does not exist in the northern hemisphere, that my food, my comfort, needs to be mine.

Part of why I prefer not to share groceries is because I eat a bit differently than other people, and I worry that others will not like what I eat. So, I prefer to cook myself. But I took a first step – I made dinner for my flatmate and a friend one night. That dinner went well. It is a nice first step, but it was just that, a first step. I have not evolved into a grocery-sharing, flat dinners sort of person. At least not yet.

So why do I share all of this? Is it just so you think that you can know about my weird habits? No. The point is that recognizing we each have our limits is important, but so is recognizing that part of what keeps us from getting trapped and controlled by those limits is consciously choosing how to respond to those limits. Recognition is great, but then what do you do once you know? Do you want to stay there forever?

First, ask yourself why it is a limit. What is holding you back from moving past it? Be conscious about the reason. On the mat, this might be simple – you need to engage your core. Off the mat, it might take some more introspection. Second, ask whether it is supporting you or hindering you? Is it truly something you need at this moment, or is it something getting in the way of your growth? Third, if it is in the way, ask yourself if you are ready to move past it now. Even if you know you want to move beyond it, today might not be the right day. There may be other issues you need to address first. If not today, what you might need to do to make yourself ready? When might you be ready? Next week? Next month? Next year?

Then keep breathing. When you are ready, the breath will guide you to the next step of working through the samskara.

But most importantly, we have to recognize that just because we have our edge, our limits, and sometimes our brick walls, does not mean that our way is right and those who think otherwise are necessarily wrong. It may make for a difficult living situation, but it is not because either party is doing something bad or trying to hurt the other person. Instead, when we recognize that we have our edges and limits, it is vital that we recognize that others do as well.  Someone else might be struggling just as much as you are.

This means consciousness. It means consciously deciding whether we need our limits to keep us in some semblance of safety or if we can let them go and grow some more. Most importantly, the point is to see our patterns for what they are and to work with them without judging – not judging ourselves or others.

You never know, one day you might just wake up and find that frost in June is normal.

What are your limits? Do you consciously decide whether to hold them or let go of them?


© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Light Within

Namaste. It ends every post on Is Yoga Legal, and it often ends a yoga class. For some people, it is the only Sanskrit word they know . . . or at least can say. But what does Namaste mean? And why does it grace the end of these posts? The last two posts (here and here), focusing on turning inward, are perfect segues into a discussion about the word and meaning of Namaste.

At its most basic, Namaste means “Greetings,” and it is accompanied by anjali mudra, a hand position where the hands are at the heart in what many consider a hand position for prayer. More specifically, Namaste translates as “I bow to the spirit within you.” A modern, western yoga translation I often hear is, “from the light within me, I honor the light within you.”

Heading up the abstraction ladder, and the reason the word ends each post, Namaste is the recognition that we all have the same light within us. In the modern world, this is easy to forget. As lawyers it is even harder. The law places a small v between one side and “the other side.” A little letter, perhaps, but it has huge ramifications. It distances us from others, makes us believe that there is a wall between us and others, and allows us to dehumanize others, even just for the moment of the case.

But how does that affect our lives generally? How does it affect non-lawyers?

We all now communicate on email, and probably use some other form of social networking such as facebook or twitter. Even this blog puts a wall between you, the reader, and me, the writer. Our constant email communication is the best example of the reduction of our concentration on our internal light / spirit. Our email culture has gotten so fast and cut off from our connection that someone once actually thanked me for saying hello at the beginning of each email and signing each one with my name.

Moreover, our constant stress keeps us from even seeing our own inner light. In other words, we lose sight of ourselves, and we lose sight of the fact that we are more connected to others than we often think. We place these walls because they make life quicker. They do not, however, make it easier. They cut us off from our very essence, and as the last two posts have discussed, that internal presence is vital to our survival.

Namaste is different. It is a conscious greeting, a conscious decision to connect with another person, even just to say hello. But it requires recognizing that we have our own internal light. It is a greeting, but it is also a connection. It is a slight bow, a gesture along with a word (sometimes people actually leave out the word) that is a simple statement of, “I recognize that you are a fellow human being, and for that reason, I honor you.” It is a way to bring together rather than to push apart.

But this recognition requires going within. It requires taking some time to turn inward and getting to know your own inner light. And this is what yoga teaches us to do. It helps us bring humanity back into our lives. It reminds us that we are more than our blackberry emails that inform people there might be typos because we do not have the time to fix them, just like we do not have the time to say hello and goodbye. Instead, we learn to take the time – for ourselves and each other.

So, Namaste! From the light within me, I honor the light within you. I honor and appreciate the fact that you take the time to read these posts. But most importantly, I hope you are taking the time to honor yourself, that you are taking the time to turn inward and recognize your internal strength and light. Some days are more difficult than others, and on those days, the sharing of Namaste is all that much more important. Simple yes, but just as that little “v” between the sides of a case has huge ramifications, so too does the word/gesture Namaste.

How do you honor your internal light? How do you share that with others?


© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved