By Sara Sawyer, Manager, Small Law Firm Marketing at Thomson Reuters
Published December 4, 2017
You’re probably wondering, “How does yoga fit into running a Small Law Firm?” Good question. As you already know, practicing law itself can be stressful. So, layer on top of that that you run a Small Law Firm. This is definitely a winning combination of chaos that can breed stress. So, read on to learn how yoga isn’t just about the physical postures. That a simple pause and breath can decrease everyday stress, increase productivity, and allow you to continue to be the amazing attorney you already are and achieve true work/life balance!
Let’s agree that stress symptoms can affect your physical body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. You have that demanding client, you can’t get those invoices out, etc. The more we try to control the outcome, the more anxious our minds and bodies become. When faced with a stressful situation, our natural response is to frantically try to manage what is happening. Over time, our bodies will speak to us. Stress that's left unchecked can contribute to many health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.1
The goal is to turn your frantic state into a relaxed one, eliciting the “Relaxation Response.” The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress (e.g., decreases in heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension).2
When you trigger the relaxation response:
Pause. Sounds simple, right?! Well, the simplicity is what’s difficult. The first step into eliciting the relaxation response is to consciously (and after much practice, unconsciously) pause. Pause is a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving toward any goal. What if in the middle of a stressful situation, we take our hands off the control and disengage? This can be done in any situation by pausing and noticing our inner experience – in that moment. When we pause we don’t know what will happen next, but by doing this we interrupt our habitual behaviors and become open to the possibility of new and creative ways of responding to our situations. Obviously, you can’t just step away and ignore the situation. But give yourself that moment to take a step back. Now breathe …
In yoga, pranayama means breath. It is the formal practice of controlling one’s breath.3 At any point our business and personal lives can seem overwhelming, even in the day-to- day events and decisions. During these times, the lessons we learn about breathing in yoga can be helpful. Below are two breathing techniques that can be used, depending on the situation:4
How it's done: To start, inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four (all through the nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath). Practicing this technique will calm the nervous system, increase focus, and reduce stress.5
When it works best: At the office, on the road, or even in the courtroom. This is also one technique that’s especially effective before bed.
How it's done: To start, inhale for a count of four 4 ... 3 … 2 … 1 …, then hold for a count of seven: 7 … 6 … 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1… and finally, exhale for eight: 8 … 7 … 6 … 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 …1 …
When it works best: Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react. Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension. It’s great for mild to moderate anxiety and everyone can benefit from it. One word of caution: Dizziness is never the goal. If holding the breath ever feels uncomfortable, tone it down to just a few seconds at most.
Both these breathing skills can be applied to a variety of life’s circumstances. But they’re particularly useful when your mind is racing about that challenging matter or knowing you have a bunch of administrative tasks to catch up on. Taking a moment to pause and breathe purposefully won’t change your circumstances, but it will likely change your perspective and make space to create a mindful strategy to face any challenging situation.
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When you mindfully pause and breathe, you’ll be able to notice how the mind reacts to thoughts, sensations, and information – seeing past the old story lines and habitual patterns that unconsciously guide behavior. This creates space to deliberately choose how to speak and act6. This practice doesn’t need to be a 10-minute session. Over time it can become second nature and part of your everyday decision-making process: stepping back and practicing a pause, utilizing a breathing technique and ultimately forming a mindful reaction or strategy. Here are simple steps to help you strategize mindfully from a stressful situation:
No matter what situation we may be in, we can benefit from taking a moment, a few moments, or even an hour to reflect on our next move. We need to take the time to step out of the unmanageability, stop running from our experience, and rest in the present moment.7
Breathing and pausing are all wonderful skills to practice and use anytime and especially during challenging times. Since much of life can’t be planned for and predicted, one way to be ready when life’s curveballs come at you is to make sure you’re being proactive and doing the most you can to prepare for tough times.
In yoga there are thousands of poses and techniques to learn. If you find a trusted and knowledgeable yoga instructor, you’ve taken the first step towards a solid practice. So it is with your Small Law Firm. You don’t have to know everything yourself. If you can find a trustworthy and innovative resource, you will have everything you need to practice law and grow your business!
7Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, P.H.D., 2003, pp 52-54