Oklahoma Bar Journal
The Benefits of Yoga to Enhance Your Law Practice
By Katy Jones
Just exercise more. Eat right. Meditate. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Stop worrying so much.
Being told how to have less stress in your life causes even more stress. Just sitting there ... thinking about everything you’re supposed to be doing to be a better you. Then some friend who smells like patchouli and never seems to have a job tells you to come to yoga with them. Humans really are the worst.
Yoga gets an interesting rap. It’s one of those things we are either wholly against for no real reason at all or something we treat like it’s our religion. It doesn’t have to be either of those. It can just be something you do when you need it, however often that may be.
I’m here to help you with that. I’m a lawyer. I teach yoga. I’ve been impassioned about and disillusioned with both vocations, but I do know for certain that each helps the other.
HOW TO DO IT
When we think of yoga, we either get a picture in our mind of a bendy, lululemon-clad, upper middle-class woman or a skinny East Indian dude with dreads and one foot propped over his shoulder. Yoga is actually an all-encompassing name for the “8-limbed path,” which is a guide to living your best life. One limb is the physical movements, but another is the more important aspect of a yoga practice — your breath. How you breathe can change your life. Combine that intentional breath with movement and getting your mind right, and well, now you’re onto something.
So, let’s do it. You’ve got this magazine in front of you at your desk. Go ahead and stop slouching over it and sit up straight. Lift up through the crown of your head, plant your feet solid and elevate your heart (literally). Get as long as you can from belly button to sternum and keep the front of your throat open. Stay seated tall, and exhale through your nose (or mouth if the nose doesn’t feel right), fully emptying your lungs. Hold for just a second at the bottom of that exhale. Then, inhale through your nose from the bottom of your belly, expanding your ribs out like gills, then up into your chest. Hold at the top of that inhale. Maybe a slow count to four for each inhale and exhale works better for you. Do what feels easiest. Repeat this cycle at least four more times or as needed. If it feels good to do so, close your eyes. Note how you feel after each breath.
You just did yoga. Hippie.
We usually think of yoga as the asanas (physical movements) combined with that pranayama (breath). The majority of yoga studios teach asana classes, but those worth their salt will always guide you through a pranayama practice first.
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE
Attending a yoga class will be different everywhere you go. Those of you in Oklahoma City and Tulsa are lucky because of the abundant amount of studios to check out. Many offer a free first class or introductory deals. Take advantage. If you don’t like one, don’t decide then and there that yoga is not for you. You’re a lawyer. You know to exhaust all options. Go try out another place with an open mind.
If you’re not keen on the group class settings, you have other choices. My personal favorite is www.yogaglo.com. This site is full of qualified teachers, and you can customize what you want. You can pick meditation, intense physical classes, pranayama-focused classes, restorative classes, 10-minute classes, 90-minute classes, etc. It’s cheap, has a free 15-day trial and offers unlimited options to do anytime convenient for you. Unlike YouTube, YogaGlo has professional instructors, and you don’t have to sift through the unsavories to find the prize like you’re at a garage sale. YogaGlo doesn’t pay me, by the way. Maybe they should.
I’VE READ THIS FAR, BUT I STILL DON’T KNOW WHY I SHOULD DO THIS. I’M A BUSY PERSON...
My friend, as far as we know, you’ve got this one body and this one life. You obviously work incredibly hard to be successful. You’re bright as can be. Don’t ever lose an opportunity to feel better and do better. That’s where this practice can help you. You’re probably not going to lose 40 pounds in a month just by starting yoga and becoming more mindful. You’re probably not going to immediately make more money or win more cases. This is not a quick fix, but, eventually, just as any practice tends to work, you will become better at your job.
We come equipped with this cool component called the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve with the widest distribution in the body. This guy is a real workhorse; it regulates major body functions, including breathing, heart rate, digestion and how we “take in” and process our experiences. You know that gut feeling you get? That’s your trusty vagus nerve.
Vagus nerve functioning is critical to optimal physiological health. If your brain and body are more resilient under stress, you have an easier time moving from an excited state to a relaxed one. You can quickly bring yourself down from “fight or flight.”
Here’s the good news — if you have low vagal tone and are more sensitive to stress and disease, you can train your body to improve. You do this through a yoga practice. This is where all the statistics about yoga helping those with depression, diabetes, chronic pain and anxiety come from — increased vagal stimulation. Resistance breathing (such as we did at the beginning of this article) increases parasympathetic activity, resulting in increased vagal tone.
So, if you actively start and make time for a practice, could you have a cooler mindset in trial, more patience with your spouse and make wiser decisions?
I STILL DON’T KNOW...
The ABA has put out a book on yoga for lawyers, yoga festivals have classes specifically for lawyers and some state bars have even approved CLE credit for yoga courses. Medical schools from Harvard to Stanford have researched the effects of yoga on mental and physical health with overwhelmingly positive results.
We see the statistics on poor health in attorneys constantly. This is not a field for the faint of heart. Google “physical health and lawyers,” and you’ll see a plethora of self-care tips combined with reasons why we’re all drunk and depressed.
Time spent improving yourself is never wasted. Yoga is one of those rare, completely safe bets. Don’t overthink it. Give it a try, and get ready to grow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katy Jones is an OBA member who resides in Tulsa and teaches yoga at Cherry Street Yoga and the Tulsa County Public Defenders’ Office. She runs a nonprofit, Root to Rise Inc., that provides yoga and meditation classes for those who have been through traumatic experiences with a focus on incarcerated men and women. She prides herself in the ability to teach to all walks of life and abilities, and she believes in you. She graduated from the OCU School of Law in 2011.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 88 pg. 445 (March 11, 2017)