Monday, April 16, 2012

Theory and Practice

I’m a practicing lawyer. Somehow, this statement still sometimes takes me by surprise. Until yesterday, however, I could not really put into words why it has felt so strange. And then it hit me . . . while doing yoga, of course. For years, I have been preparing to be a lawyer. For all those years, I have been studying the work I do now. And now, all of a sudden, I am actually doing it.

Interestingly, I have stopped doing as much yoga. It is easy to blame that on a lack of time. I work a lot. And when I am not working, I am catching up on reading, or I am making dinner, or I am sleeping. But lack of time is not really the answer. I get up early enough every day to do at least a short practice, and very often I just do not do it. 

But why? What is it about doing that is, all of a sudden, so difficult?

It is no secret that I am an academic at heart. I loved law school, went to NZ to learn more, and eventually want to work in policy or teach. Even in yoga, I greatly miss teaching. All of my mentors, however, have told me that I cannot do the policy and teaching until I actually practice law. I agree. So here I am. I enjoy the work. After all, it is what I went to law school to do. But it is definitely outside of my comfort zone. I was a student, a teacher, or doing academic-like research and writing for 25 years (preschool excluded). Being in my head, away from the practice itself, is my comfort zone.

But what does any of this have to do with yoga?

The times I have had the most solid yoga practice were the times I was studying for the bar exam, working at the Court of Appeals, and while writing a thesis. Those were the times in my life I was most living in my head as part of my day job. Yoga was the counterbalance to that world. It was my “doing” in a life of “theory” and learning. Yoga Teacher Training was a time where yoga was both. I studied the doing and the theory of yoga together. I read everything I could find about yoga, and I had a daily practice as well. It was during those 9 months that my yoga practice felt the most complete. It is also when I started writing this blog. Yoga, like law, has both sides. You can study all day long, but there is a practical side, what we usually see in studios and yoga classes.

In yoga classes, from asana to meditation, yoga is about being present, watching the monkey mind, but not getting caught up in it. Being a practicing lawyer, by contrast, is all about getting caught in that monkey mind. On that level, therefore, yoga and law balance one another. At a different level, however, they are both a balance between theory and practice. They are both a practice, and it is the doing of the practice that makes the theory worthwhile. They both require doing in order to test the theory we all espouse. 

There is a major tension (call it a chasm) between those who practice law and those who write about how to practice law from the comforts of their academic offices. Law schools are being pushed to change their teaching methods to become more practical. They are being ridiculed for failing to teach students how to actually be a lawyer rather than just think like a lawyer. I get that argument, but I still get excited about presentations on being a lawyer and books on how to practice yoga.

And this is where the yoga lesson hit me. Yoga teaches us about balance. That means a lot more than learning to stand on one foot. For the legal profession, and I am pretty sure most professions, that also means finding a balance between theory and practice. I think we all have a lot to learn from one another. In that time of balance between theory and practice in my yoga life, I thought the chasm I would have to overcome would be the one between yoga and law. Funny how now, I find myself out of my comfort zone in both for the exact same reason. Perhaps it is time to turn back to that lesson of balance -- the balance between theory and practice and finally bridge the chasm that has defined so much of the world for years.

Where do you find yourself on this spectrum of theory and practice? Do you see it in your profession? Do you see it in your yoga? What do you do about it? Honestly, I am looking for ideas, so thoughts and comments are greatly welcome.


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.


  1. Hi,

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    Thanks and have a great day!

  2. "The times I have had the most solid yoga practice were the times I was studying for the bar exam, working at the Court of Appeals, and while writing a thesis."

    The truth is that many of us do our best work under pressure. We need this "push" so that we can rise to the occasion. If there is no sense of urgency we become lethargic. Its the fight or flight mechanism of our ego that makes it happen when we are just about to hit rock bottom. If you are familiar with other peoples success stories, they all share a similar theme: I was just about running out of money, about to die, lost everything, and then ___________ happened.

    Yoga is the same way : )

    1. That is very true. Sometimes that push can be too much, and that is where we need to be careful to continue to tune into what we need.