Friday, October 14, 2011

Finding the Residue

“But once you begin to observe and pay attention and be brought into the present, it is profoundly powerful. It almost doesn’t matter what does that for you, yoga or something else. The techniques, the asanas, are not the yoga. The residue that the techniques leave is the yoga. When we begin to look deeply at our speech, our posture, our breath, our thoughts, our choices, or our values, and observe those with compassion and a certain distance, we are changed forever.” – Judith Hanson Lasater

This quote comes from an interview Judith Hanson Lasater did on YogaDork the other day, in two parts (here and here). I have always liked her style, and the interview is very interesting, though focused on what it means to be a yoga teacher today. Thus, it may not speak to many people who are not yoga teachers.

Her point in this quote, however, is vital to lawyers and other professionals. If you read this blog often, you know how important I think it is to tune into the breath, to stop for a moment, and breathe. Personally, I believe it is the #1 stress management technique we have at our disposal, if for no other reason than the fact that we can do it anywhere and at anytime. We always have our breath, and it does not take years of practice to learn to breathe. It is both the first and last individual action we take.

The breath is also the quickest way to bring us into the present. Researching and writing legal memoranda, phone calls to clients, and answering emails are all ways to think about the past and prepare for the future. Unlike focusing on the breath, these tasks of everyday life take us out of the present. Yoga, by contrast, through asanas and breath awareness, bring us back to the present. As Lasater points out, yoga is not the only tool for this; I know plenty of people who run and swim for similar reasons.

But so what? Why should we care if we are always somewhere other than the present? Why should we care if our minds are running in a million different directions?

There are many, many reasons, but I like where Lasater takes her answer. Yoga, by bringing us into the present, helps bring us a healthy distance from those thoughts. We can look at them and recognize they do not define our being; instead they are simply thoughts. Like a good lawyer who is asked to look upon a case dispassionately, focusing only on the relevant facts for the case, when we come into the present through the breath or asanas, we can look upon our thoughts going by in hyperspeed for what they are: thoughts going by in hyperspeed.

From that place of distance, ironically we find compassion. We can see these thoughts as what our mind does to stay busy. We can recognize when we get lost in the same story over and over again, and let that story go. We can recognize when other people get stuck in their stories over and over again, and we can find compassion for other peoples’ stories, even if we disagree with them.

In today’s political climate, with protests spreading around the world (yes, there was even an Occupy event here in the small town where I am living in New Zealand), more and more people are turning to their stories, whatever they are. I have watched some great yogis and Buddhists speak at these protests (here, here, and here), and their message is always the same – it is not about deciding what you are against; it is deciding what you are for!

Seane Corn, a yogi, asked people to be FOR unity and love. Robert Thurman, a Buddhist, asked the protestors to have compassion and sympathy for the bankers. Marianne Williamson, an author, asked people to keep it smart, nonviolent, and growing. But my point here is not about the protests and what they should be. The point is that it is through awareness of our breath and our asana practice that we can find the ability to have compassion for others, even the ones we are “supposed to hate.”

For lawyers, this means seeing the “other side” not as an enemy and a battle to be fought and won, but as a person with a story, a mind on hyperspeed, just like each of us. For all of us, this means seeing people with whom we disagree as human beings, worthy of our compassion. It does not mean we never get annoyed with others (just drive with me if you want to see someone get annoyed too fast). But it does mean that when we catch ourselves in that moment of annoyance, and perhaps hate and vitriol, that we stop and remember to look dispassionately and then with compassion.

The residual benefits of yoga, therefore, become the most important. What do you do to stop yourself from going down the path of vitriol? Can you find compassion for your own thoughts? For others?


© Rebecca Stahl 2011, all rights reserved.

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