Sunday, May 12, 2013
Monday, April 29, 2013
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.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Saturday, April 13, 2013
And that is when we start exploring.
I have spent hours and hours reading about the illio-psoas, the piriformis, the quadratus lumborum, the sciatic and femoral nerves, and the spine. Our bodies are an amazing network of muscle, nerve, and fascia. And on top of all of that, we hold memories in our bodies, and those memories affect how the body itself operates and the pain we feel.
Prior to experiencing this for myself, I sort of understood. I understood that our bodies are fascinating and intricate and difficult. But I did not fully understand. To fully understand anything, we have to experience it for ourselves. Interestingly, people have always said the same thing to me about lawyering. As someone who loves theory and research, I have had no less than the top researchers in the field tell me I need practical experience to be a better researcher.
The old saying is that practice makes perfect. I would suggest that instead, practice makes understanding. Sometimes that is understanding we want. When it comes to pain, we may not want it as much. But there is no question that we can learn from it either way. I feel like I can now picture my psoas and how it attaches to the spine and the thigh bone.
In many ways, pain is the ultimate form of experience. It is experience we cannot ignore. We can sometimes mask it with medication, but generally, if the medication is used as a mask, the pain returns. Pain has a way of literally stopping us in our tracks and forcing us to take note of where we are. I cannot say that is fun, but it is an opportunity to learn and a way to experience on the deepest levels of our bodies.
As someone who has spent so much time in my head, both in yoga and the law, my body is forcing me to experience in ways I never could have imagined. That experience may not be coming in the form I would have chosen, but I am also learning more about the body and how it works than I ever could have without this experience.
How have you been forced to experience the body? What have you learned as a result?
© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.
Friday, March 22, 2013
As I mentioned in the last post (quite some time ago), there are certain ideas that seem to follow us everywhere. I have been trying to think of what to write for this post for awhile. I have been traveling, and the main reason for the travel was to attend the 6th World Congress on International Children's Rights and Family Law in Sydney, Australia. There is a follow-up conference specifically dedicated to children's views in Auckland on Monday (NZ time). It is no secret I love conferences, but I felt like I had run out of things to say about them, especially considering I was not teaching yoga at this one.
But then the answers came, as they tend to do. Generally speaking, when I travel, I am one of those people who wakes up early and gets out of the hostel before most sights are even open. I prefer to walk cities, partially to save money, but really, so I can see everything there is to see. I am one of those people who attends conferences from morning until the close of the day and hates being late to sessions, let alone missing them. (That might be because I have been the final presenter on more than one occasion, and I like when people stay for my presentation, but I actually think it has more to do with wanting to gain everything I can from my time there.) That has always been my story about my travel and conference experience, and I wanted that to be my story on this trip.
So what does this have to do with this blog? That story is nothing like what I experienced this time. My story had to change. And the universe has been feeding me information about stories and their effects on us all week long.
First, there was this TED talk called "The Danger of a Single Story." I have watched a lot of TED talks while I have been here because I have hurt too much to see the sights and been too exhausted to do too much work (though I have, of course, done some). Then there was this blog post about whether we listen to our body's stories or our mind's stories. And then I saw that one of the first Western-recognized African storytellers, Chinua Achebe, had died, and I read a wonderful tribute to him here (full disclosure - a dear friend of mine writes that blog). And of course, there is yet another yoga teacher sex scandal involving none other than Mr. Bikram himself, sort of the antithesis of the popular view of yoga, but sadly becoming more and more common.
It seemed the universe wanted me to look at the stories I have been telling myself. Lawyers are taught that stories are our bread and butter. Stories are how we win cases. If we cannot tell a compelling story, we cannot make our clients human enough for the court, or in many cases, the jury. Stories are what I love about conferences as well. I have my story of the work I do, but it is through conferences, particularly international conferences, where we can expand our stories. We can learn from one another and see the work we do from different perspectives. We can learn from one another and begin to do our work with more focus on the fuller picture. I cannot say full picture because I am not sure we ever get that, but expanding our stories brings us a fuller picture. In some ways, we can learn to improve what we do, and in others, we can actually learn that what we do is pretty good. But we can never know which it is going to be until we hear the stories from everyone involved.
And this is what we learn on the yoga mat. In the yoga blog post linked above, the author talks about listening to her body instead of her mind. It is when she listens to her body that she makes decisions she does not regret. I have written before about learning to trust the body and not the mind, but I think it always bears repeating. We live in a society focused almost exclusively on listening to our minds. Our minds often tell us what we "should" do, not what will actually help us in the long run or even the short run. But how do we learn to listen to our bodies? As a yoga teacher, for years, I thought it was about quieting the mind long enough, and the body would give us easy answers. Most yoga traditions are focused on quieting the mind. While asana is the physical part of the practice, listening to our bodies is not only about listening to our bodies. It is really about listening to our intuition as opposed to what the mind wants us to hear. It is just that our bodies are often the medium through which our intuition comes to us when we are on the mat. Thus, listening to our bodies is a metaphor for listening to the deeper, and fuller, story of our lives.
That is, however, much easier said than done. Sometimes the answers come immediately. We have all had those experiences where we just know we have to do something. But sometimes when we want the answers the most, it is when they are least likely to come. And that, perhaps unfortunately, is when the mind goes into overdrive. It tries to examine all the possibilities. It listens to all the advice there is. And of course that advice is often contradictory. Psychologists who work with children often say that if we do not tell children the truth about what is happening in their lives, the story they make up is going to be much, much worse. Our minds are sort of like those children. Our intuition knows the truth, but it is not always accessible, just as adults often hide the truth from children to "protect" them. But then the stories we tell ourselves are far worse than the truth.
I wish I had an easy answer here. Sure, it's easy to say, "just ignore the mind, and listen to the body/intuition." But sometimes that simply does not work. The mind continuously gets in the way. Something is blocking our intuition. We continue to tell ourselves the same stories over and over again instead of reaching out for the new story, the one that can actually lead us where we need to go. At this conference, I left sessions early, and I missed the last three. I just could not sit there any longer. I barely saw any of Sydney, and I had never been here before. But that is what my body told me to do. It is not the story I expected to live, and there was quite a bit of disappointment is not living the story I expected. But there was also a sense of knowing it was right and necessary. And the rest of the story is that there is always next time.
What stories do you tell yourself? Do you get upset when you cannot fulfill them? What do you do to expand on your stories, to hear others' stories?
© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.