Monday, April 29, 2013

Remembering the Tools

I remember the moment I decided I needed yoga and meditation in my life. I was 19 years old. It was the summer between my first and second years in university. I was having a rough summer, and I needed a way to relax. I had always been interested in yoga, but I had only tried it once myself. Yoga was becoming a big deal in America, but by no means was it yet the multi-billion dollar industry driving yogurt ads it is today. I just knew I needed something different in my life, and yoga seemed like the way to start.

Soon yoga just took over my life. It kept me sane, or at least saner than without it. Yoga became my refuge, both as a practice and as a way to connect to community. And I found a way to bring it into my world as a lawyer, not as a separate thing I did after work, but as a way to further create a professional community. My first teaching experience was at a family law conference, and for a brief time when I was "self-employed" I taught Stress Management Workshops focusing on yoga and meditation.

I attempted to fill my yoga bucket with practice and various tools, hoping to have a reserve for when the going got tough. And for awhile, I did. But then it got tougher.

For whatever reason, I am not recovering correctly from my surgery four months ago. No one seems to know why that is. But the words have begun to change from recovery to chronic pain. My life has gone from one of hiking the self-proclaimed most beautiful trail in the world to wondering whether I will be able to take a 10-minute walk home from Starbucks. And with the change in life circumstances has come the fear, the panic, etc.

I have said it before, and I will say it probably many more times. Something hit me during yoga teacher training. I was not necessarily destined to be a full-time yoga teacher, but somehow I had to bring yoga into some part of the legal profession, and perhaps to other professionals as well. The reason? Working a lot can be hazardous to your health, but it can also be rewarding. We just have to find the place where those two meet and remain healthy.

I made sure to make yoga a part of my life when I started my job in December 2011. Then there were weeks I did not go to classes, but I (usually) practiced in the mornings. Well, sometimes. And then began the nagging hip pain that eventually traveled down my leg and into my foot. That landed me on an operating table. And now I have an excuse - I cannot do yoga. But what does that mean exactly? I cannot do most asana. That is true. But everyone can do yoga. If you can breathe, you can do yoga. I often write about yoga and meditation, but there is no difference. They are one and the same.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine gave me a CD called Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief by Jon Kabat-Zinn. In it, he reminds us that mindfulness is not something that happens overnight. He reminds us that mindfulness is an ongoing process, a training system really. And something about that is difficult. All the tools in the world but somehow they feel beyond my grasp. I understand stress that comes from work. I have never done anything in my life except school and work. I can work with that stress. I do not understand the stress and fear that comes with a body that seems to be failing. I could always push through the pain before. But now I have to deal with it.

But we all reach these moments in life, these moments we are faced to deal with our lives and not run and hide. For some of us, many of the people I see, these moments happen as a result of work, especially in a stressful profession like law, but not only. For some it is the result of an illness, a divorce, the death of a loved one, but we all know these moments. They bring us to our edge. And if I have learned anything from yoga, it is that the edge can move. We can expand and grow. Sometimes it feels like it is impossible. Sometimes we push too far and cause ourselves more pain and suffering. But we learn to read it and understand it, and when we use the breath and mindfulness and awareness, we slowly begin to see we can handle more.

I would love to say I have had that moment of insight seeing my edge expand. But the truth is that there is not necessarily a moment. As Kabat-Zinn reminds us, it is a process. And no, it is not necessarily an easy one, even when you have all the tools. In that sense, it is sort of like practicing law - law school can only teach you so much, but then you have to practice to learn to really do it.

Practice. That's the word. Practice. No matter the endeavor, practice makes us better at it. And no matter the endeavor, there are days (or months, perhaps years) we do not want to practice. But the difference here is that practicing yoga makes all the other endeavors, including a body that does not work, easier. I am honestly not sure what has kept me off the proverbial mat/cushion. But I know that the only way to handle this is to utilize the tools I began learning when I was 19. Ironically, I'm back in the same location I was that summer, at least for another few days. Perhaps that is just the inspiration I need.

How have you gotten back into practice after a long stint away? How does your life change when you do not practice?


© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.

"Remembering the Tools" first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.


  1. Your post: Thoughtful, difficult, and feeling very true ...

  2. Thank you for your blog. its refreshing to see a blogger from the west promote the true essence of yoga and not just the external. ie. asanas, pranayama, mudras

    Practice is so important and keeping oneself centered throughout daily life!

    Keep up the good work and I'll be reading!

    Daniel @ Yoga for the Mind

  3. I think you're onto something with fear and frustration. We (should) examine what part of "self" is nagging, "I don't want to practice today," and sometimes it's the physical effort of asana practice that seems overwhelming; sometimes it's also the mind telling tales. We learn from those eight limbs that everything prepares us for the challenge of Yoga, and it's up to us to accept that challenge and practice that moment. Every moment.

    1. Dan, you say it all in this post. Thank you.