One in a Series of 17 Posts about Power for Women Lawyers and Others
When I became a lawyer nearly 14 years ago, I envisioned celebratory dinners to toast successes in court, parties, and fundraisers. What I got, like many of us, was a sore back, frequent headaches, and exhaustion. Instead of lifting glasses of champagne, I lift heavy files (often several in a bag along with a computer and whatever I need for the day).
If I could have seen the future, I would have spent my time before law school lifting weights rather than reading idealistic tomes. Logistics hit hard—for lawyers, travel to and from the courthouse cuts into time writing, talking to clients, and otherwise running a law office. For women, long court dates and commutes can disproportionately put family schedules and commitments at risk.
Mid-2016 found me depressed and just about ready to give up. My back pain—partly the result of childhood scoliosis, three rods, a virtually complete spinal fusion, and pressure on my heart and lungs (reducing their capacity)–was making it hard to walk from a parking garage to court. Standing for a hearing often meant I needed bedrest the next day to catch up. Practicing law provides lots of excuses to get bent out of shape, but my back got a 20-year head start!
Around the end of summer, I saw link about a yoga teacher who has had success with people who have scoliosis. I felt skeptical. I saw yoga as indulgent, materialistic, and trendy—a relic of middle-class life, not a path to wellness. However, the yoga teacher seemed fresh and direct and her featured client was an 80-something woman who had corrected a forward hunch—not the scrubbed and radiant Starbucks-sipping face I associated with yoga!
By November, I was in Jersey City, worrying about the Chicago legal system crumbling during my absence, for my first consultation. By December, I again left the (surprisingly un-crumbled) world I knew for a two-part class.
After my first visit, just one or two poses enabled me to begin walking with almost no pain. Since my posture addresses mindfulness throughout the day, new ways of sitting while waiting for a court date and doing other work increase my ability to be productive.
This blog will not include poses. I am not a yoga teacher, and I might accidentally prescrible a yoga handstand to use while waiting for court—and that would tragiclarious. I’ll save that information for opposing counsel, but I am happy to provide an introduction to my teacher upon request.
I have picked up a few lessons that I think would help anyone, and in the spirit of the New Year–and knowing you don’t want to read 17–here are 7:
1. Our backs rest and repair themselves while we sleep. Use cushions to keep your knees, elbows, and ankles aligned at night. Negotiate with your cats and dogs to have room to stretch out fully on your bed (this may require use of a certified mediator).
2. Take time to look at nature (hopefully outside your bedroom window) and breathe 10 breaths while setting an intention each morning. Mentally drawing horns on opposing counsel is probably not the best way to direct your mind, but do what you can.
3. Save the pain for your opponents—yoga is not about pain and feeling the burn. My teacher put it best: “A conversation with your body.” I don’t think she meant the conversation was making your body scream “uncle.”
4. Hydrate! Healthy tissues, including vertebrae, need water. The recommendation is not to pour your water over coffee beans first. I struggle with this, but am working a a glass of water with citrus in the morning.
5. Soak! A relaxing ritual can mean soaking your feet, using essential oils, and applying lotion. This is new to me, but the idea is to NOT go to bed plotting revenge—baby steps, baby steps!
6. Make friends with corpse pose (easy to find on the Internet); it is so antithetical to our drive to be productive that it is a little revolution to do it for 30 breaths.
7. Limit screen time. I think for lawyers, this one may be hardest. The idea of establishing a “quit” time for each day is hard—there is always another email to answer. While I have a “quit” time, I am working on achieving that four days per week. This leaves room for staying up late to make deadlines, and I can meet half the goal on weekend days.
If, like me, you find yoga to be a little intellectually distasteful, take heart! Just as a coffee drinker can make conscious choices about fair trade and organic brews and avoid the ugly chains that litter the suburbs and downtown, yoga can be understood on different levels. Albert Camus did yoga to try to address his chain-smoking, anxiety, and clausterphobia with yoga (with an appropriately chain-smoking yogi). I don’t know if it worked; he knew he looked good and fit a certain image with a cigarette between his teeth, so maybe yoga brought him back to himself.
Camus wrote in his paper blog that he kept in his suitcases (Notebooks, 1951-1959), “But you need to breathe. And you need to be.” Let’s raise a glass to a new victory: never perfect balance, but stumbling a little more purposefully into 2017!