Yoga Is So Much More Than Stretching

Editor’s Note: Welcome fellow lawyer, and yoga teacher, Aman Costigan, to the pages of Brilliant Legal Mind. As someone who loves yoga, she’s the perfect person to start off our month-long discussion of the practice.

Yes, yoga helps with our flexibility and stretches out our body. But, it’s so much more to yoga than just that.

Did you know that yoga can help us run energy (prana) in the body? And, that we can use props and other yoga equipment to ease pain in our body? 

If you didn’t, don’t worry. You’re not alone. I didn’t learn any of this until about 8 years ago and yoga has been life-altering for me. So now, I’m sharing all that I’ve learned with as many lawyers as I can. 

Prana (aka chi in Chinese medicine) flows naturally in our bodies and with yoga, we can move that energy to experience calm, clarity, rejuvenation and healing. 

Keep reading to learn about prana, why you care about it, how you can benefit from it and other practical tools and practices you can start right away to reduce stress. 

Legs up the wall 

After teaching 15+ yoga classes to lawyers, I was surprised to learn that the favorite yoga pose for lawyers is: legs up the wall. 

I thought for sure it was going to be a more involved shoulder stretch or pose with props. But, lawyers love simple — probably because the law is complex enough! It could also be from all the sitting and standing we do that has our spine craving connection with the floor. Our bodies also love the blood circulation from having our legs up the wall. 

Here’s how you can do it: 

1. Find a wall and yoga mat, if you have one

2. Sit sideways to the wall (i.e. one hip up against the wall)

3. Turn in a circle and then wiggle yourself into the wall. My pelvis is not lifted up off the floor

5. I lengthen my spine/back on the floor so my vertebrae have space between them 

6. I breathe into my back and into my mat

Do it for however much time you have. If you don’t know what to do between Zoom calls, why not do some legs up the wall?! 

Bee breathing to Calm the Habitual Thinking Mind 

Ever feel like your brain never shuts off? Or, it’s constantly thinking and worrying?!

This is something I hear from lawyers that I teach often. But, I’ve got something for you that can help and you might fall in love with it like other lawyers have.

In this video, I show you exactly how to do the bee breath and share the benefits of it. Calming the habitual thinking mind is just one benefit!

Toe Separators

Some of us wear high heels, run or walk and taking care of our feet is so important but often not done. We put a lot of pressure on our feet and toes, and sometimes it’s nice to show them some TLC for all they do for us.

Toe separators are easy to use. When you first use them, they can feel a little “ouchy”, but after a few minutes, they can start to feel so good for the toes.

Toe separators: 

– Create better alignment in the toes

– Create space between the toes and joints

– Help spread apart toes and helps boost blood flow in the toes and area

I use the Joya Toes brand and they are on Amazon. You can view them by clicking here 

Tongue Scraper 

I bought mine at a yoga retreat I went to last year. I’ve been using it since then, and I just love it! It helps me start and finish my day feeling fresh and clean. 

The benefits of a tongue scraper may surprise you. Here are the benefits of tongue scraping:

– Balances mind & body

– Improves digestion

– Strengthens the immune system

– Eliminates bad breath

– Kills unwanted bacteria

– Stimulates internal organs

– Sharpens sense of taste

I have a copper tongue scraper. I’ve heard they are generally the best.

What is toning?

Toning is sound that moves energy in the body quickly. Yoga is another way to move energy in the body, but it’s just not as fast. Other ways of moving energy include getting outside in nature, gardening and music. 

With our stressful careers, toning and moving energy in the body remove stress, emotional blockages and particles stuck on the energy bodies (in yoga they are called the nadis and in Chinese medicine, they are the meridians).

When energy moves, it begins to release anything that’s caught in the nadis. Once it begins to release, we can experience peacefulness. It also allows us to open up to what’s coming through us and to hear things like our deepest desires, our intuition, our gut feelings, etc. 

Through practices like this is how we find our authentic true selves – over time and with practice.

Toning is not for everyone, but I highly encourage you to try it at least once. If it works for you, incorporate it into your week. 

How to Practice Toning:

It’s super easy. Here are the 3 steps: 

1. Find a comfortable spot that you can be at for 4 minutes, uninterrupted. To do this, you can sit, lie down or put your legs up the wall.

2. Click this YouTube video link and press play. 

3. Close your eyes and just listen to the toning sound. When your mind wanders, just let it, and gently return to the sound of her voice. 

Author Bio: Aman Costigan is multi-passionate and is working on building her own empire of freedom. In addition to being a lawyer and Partner at Shores Jardine LLP in Canada, she felt called to share a yoga practice she was drawn to 8 years ago with other lawyers, so she started Beyond Yoga for Lawyers. Aman believes her yoga practice has been life-altering. It has given her coping mechanisms that allow her to be less anxious and less reactive in daily life and to live a more intentional and authentic life. Aman’s next offering of Group Yoga Classes for Lawyers starts September 15 and ends November 3, 2021.⁠  The deadline to register is Friday, September 10, 2021 so don’t wait — sign up while you still can by clicking here.

Connect with Aman Costigan at:

Instagram: @beyondyoga_for_lawyers 

LinkedIn: Aman CostiganPrivate Facebook Group for Beyond Yoga for Lawyers

How Mindfulness Helped Me Savor the Final Days of Summer

Even though it’s still hot outside, the days are starting to get a little shorter, kids are going back to school, and the stores are filling up with Halloween decorations. The signs are all around – summer is winding down.

The sense of summer ending and the change it brings can bring anxiety and even sadness. These feelings are intensified this year as another wave of COVID-19 surges and spending another winter cooped up and masked seems like a real possibility.

As a busy mom and lawyer I am no stranger to these feelings. As I write this I’m staring at one seems like an endless back to school to do list: are everyone’s vaccines up to date? Do the kids need new school clothes? Have I filled out all the school forms? The list goes on and on. Even if you don’t have kids, you might be thinking about that trip you didn’t take, squeezing in as many outdoor social events as you can, or even that meeting tomorrow or the dirty dishes in the sink. 

One of the things I find appealing about mindfulness is the idea that meditation can literally rewire our brains. Which means that we can use mindfulness and meditation to reprogram our brains to slow down, stay present, and enjoy the final weeks of summer.

I ran across a mindfulness tip to help enjoy summer by Jay Michaelson that he calls “meditate when you’re not meditating.” The concept is that you practice mindfulness while going about your day.   I love this because it’s a reminder that, yes, sitting and meditating is important to develop the habit and to reap the long-term benefits of mindfulness, but it’s also an active process of integrating it into our daily lives. Michaelson calls this the “real secret sauce of mindfulness.”   

So, here a few tips to meditate when you’re not meditating to help you stay present and savor the last days of summer.

Get Outside

The simple act of getting outside helps me find a few minutes to soak up a little sunshine and warm weather. Maybe that’s 10 minutes on your porch in the morning sipping your coffee, eating dinner outside, taking 5 minutes to chat with your neighbor on the sidewalk, or a quick stroll around the block after dinner. Whatever it is getting outside to truly appreciate and enjoy the warm weather can go a long way in savoring these final weeks of summer.

Ask “what can I let go of”?

This is a mantra of mine that has been a life saver when I’m feeling overwhelmed and my endless to do list feels like it’s keeping me from enjoying the last days of summer. By asking this simple question – what can I let go of?  I can create a little space in my day to have a little fun or enjoy a little sunshine.

For me, when I’m trying to enjoy summer, it can mean having frozen corn with dinner instead of chopping veggies. This simple switch can give me 15 minutes of kicking the soccer ball in the yard with my kids. Or it might look like leaving the dirty dinner dishes in the sink to take a short evening walk or walking to the new gelato shop for dessert.

There’s always something we can let go of today to give you even an extra few minutes to enjoy the day.

Just Slow Down

Slowing down is also one of the most challenging bust most rewarding mindfulness practices I’ve incorporated into my day. It’s also where Michaelson’s idea to meditate when you’re not meditating really comes in.

We all know that feeling: you’re trying to wrap up some work emails, you’re thinking about what’s for dinner, and, if you’re like me, you probably have a 9-year-old telling you in great detail all about his latest Roblox exploits. I can feel my stomach getting tight, my jaw tensing, and my mind starting to race. I’m starting to feel impatient and I’m just about ready to snap at said Roblox loving 9-year-old.

This is where a mindfulness practice kicks in. I notice these feeling coming up with gentle awareness, notice where the tension is in my body, take a deep breath, and turn to my 9-year-old and say “I need to finish this email and then you can tell me about Roblox.”

Ok, sometimes I just snap and I have to take a break in the bathroom to reset, but sometimes I manage to slow down and not react. All it takes is one moment to notice your racing mind and slow down and take it in – even for just a minute or two.

For me, my secret sauce for enjoying the end of summer is going to be finding even just a few moments every day to slow down, be present, and have a little fun.

Why Cultivate Compassion? Because It’s Not the Weight You Carry but How You Carry It.

Founder’s Note: I found Laura where I found a lot of other wonderful people I have never met in person: LinkedIn. She posted great content about compassion and so I connected with her. When she offered a CCT course this spring, I signed up even though it ended the week after I finished Mindful Self-Compassion training. I was a bit afraid I would be sick of compassion by that point, but Laura’s style of teaching was so real, practical, and filled with heart that I ended up being even more enthusiastic about it. Please welcome Laura to the pages of Brilliant Legal Mind and check out her bio below for information about another CCT course she’s offering this fall.

In late February 2020, I traveled to New York City for a compassion workshop. Having grown up in the New Jersey suburbs, it felt like coming home. The city’s sights, sounds, and smells were as familiar as my heartbeat and the first bite of a folded slice of pizza brought me right back to childhood. As people jostled on the subway and scrambled up the stairs that Saturday night, the coronavirus still seemed like news from the other side of the world. Thousands of bodies crowded around Times Square, oblivious to what was just around the corner. We could not have imagined how soon and suddenly our lives would change, and how much strength and courage we would need to summon in response.

We all have done brave, hard things over the past 18 months – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse – and we still have a ways to go before this journey is over. But we can do it. As humans, we are wired not only to be able to do hard things, but to do them with love and, when we do, we tap into a profound and renewing source of strength, courage, and connection. Wisdom traditions, art, and even science call this capacity compassion. It is our ability to both be aware of suffering and willing to relieve that suffering. Viktor Frankl described it this way:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Man’s Search for Meaning

Compassion looks different for each of us in the changing circumstances of our lives. Sometimes it is yielding. Other times, fierce. Sometimes it calls us to make difficult sacrifices for others. Other times, to make the bold choice to take care of ourselves. Whatever its expression in any given moment, compassion is how humans have survived and made meaning out of unimaginable tragedies across time – both individually and collectively.

As a species, we are born completely vulnerable and dependent on others for our safety and well-being. This dependence develops into interdependence as we give and receive care across the span of our lives. We need our loved ones, strangers, and even people we don’t like to survive and thrive, and they need us. Take a moment to reflect on your last meal, the clothes you’re wearing, or the technology that allows you to read this and imagine the countless other lives who make these things possible. Likewise, the positive impact of your life ripples out and benefits others that you will never know.

Whether or not we recognize it, we have all drawn on this compassion for ourselves and others to navigate the past turbulent months. And it is compassion, this awareness of suffering and willingness to relieve it, which will continue to resource us moving forward.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the poet Moya Cannon wrote:

Light is what days are made of –

it pulls the daffodils up out of dark earth,

prompts the eagle and the stub-tailed wren to nest

and draws the humpback whale north with its song.

Stones, warm on the morning sea-shore, know it.

Such tempests of grief our sun has scanned

yet light, the sun’s light and compassion’s light,

deep in every soul, eternally draws us on.

Recent discoveries in neurobiology and other sciences have begun to map out how “compassion’s light, deep in every soul” literally “draws us on” as it unfolds in our bodies. It is both an innate capacity which manifests as a specific physiological process and a skill that can be nurtured and strengthened through experience and deliberate practice and training. In addition, research shows that profound physical, mental, and social benefits result from offering and receiving compassion.

Compassion, however, is not the only way humans respond to suffering. We also react with anger, hatred, shame, blame, fear, overwhelm, anxiety, denial, violence – the list goes on. We burn out or become injured when we don’t have enough external support or we don’t know how to hold suffering when it comes too much, too fast like wildfire or lingers long like slow moving rain. These are natural responses which increase suffering within and around us, but which can in turn be met and alleviated with compassion.

So the invitation is to train our compassion muscles, so to speak, in order to become capable of holding the hard that life hands us. We can cultivate internal and external conditions that nurture compassion. We can develop our awareness and sense of care, our courage to act. We can get clear on what we love, what really matters to us, and what kind of world we want to live in, to be part of. We can ask for help and offer it when asked. We can have each other’s backs and discover our common humanity. We can pay attention to the moments that compassion flows freely and those in which it freezes rock solid or goes dry as a desert. We can learn to carry the weight of our lives in ways that make us stronger and more connected rather than hurt and broken apart.

As Mary Oliver observed:

“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it –

books, bricks, grief –

it’s all in the way

you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,

put it down.”

So I went practicing.

Have you noticed?

“Heavy” from Thirst

Want to learn more about Compassion Cultivation Training? Check out this interview our founder, Claire E. Parsons, did with Laura here.

Calm Down Lawyers: Meditation Will Make You More Effective, Not Soft

Attorney wellness is a top concern for many attorneys, bar associations, and firms. Meditation practices are being recommended to attorneys as a simple, cheap, effective and research-based way to ease and manage stress. Yet, one of the concerns I commonly hear lawyers, especially litigators, express is that they are worried that meditation will cause them to “lose their edge.” As a litigator, I know clients praise attorneys for being “aggressive” and that even we lawyers often talk about litigation as if we are discussing war. Thus, there is some truth to the idea that to be an effective litigator you can’t have too thin of a skin.

Still, when you really break it down, the idea that meditation will make a litigator’s skin any thinner is kind of silly. You may wonder why someone trying to persuade you to meditate would use such a judgmental word to mock the concerns of fellow attorneys. Well, that that’s not actually what I mean. I don’t mean lawyers are silly for being concerned about the importance of mental or emotional toughness in litigation. Rather, I’m saying that the thought: a meditation practice will make me less tough, assertive, or action-oriented as a lawyer—is funny. When you examine this thought in very practical terms it actually might make you laugh. Please allow me to demonstrate.

First, the concern that meditation will cause lawyers to be less aggressive is somewhat arrogant or at least based on arrogant assumption. Seriously guys, if anyone was going to think of this argument it would be lawyers, right? It posits that, obviously, if any of us high-achieving lawyers set out to meditate we’d attain enlightenment in no time, with minimal effort, no resistance, no struggle, and our lives would be forever changed. We’d immediately uproot all difficult emotions the first time we focused on the breath and it would supplant any tendency toward anger, reactivity, ambition, or competition. In a word, this worry about “being soft” sort of assumes that you will be good at meditation and attain instant chill.

Those of us who have actually tried to meditate know that this isn’t likely to be true (unless perhaps you are Eckhart Tolle). For the vast majority of us, this process is much more gradual. The changes are more subtle. The practice of meditation can help you make substantial and significant changes in your life, but it doesn’t change your personality or life goals instantaneously. In short, the idea that a meditation practice could derail your litigation practice on its own is tinged with a bit of magical thinking.

If you don’t believe me on this one, consider how you’d react if a friend told you that they were considering getting back into regular exercise but they were concerned that doing so would result in superhuman strength, speed, and agility that might disrupt their life. Such a concern may not be illogical so much as it is impractical. After all, it would indeed be inconvenient if your friend inadvertently ripped off the driver’s side door while trying to get in their vehicle due to the superhuman strength they developed after only one weight training session. Yet, it would also be unlikely to happen. The same is true for meditation. You, yes even my beloved Type A lawyer friends, are very unlikely to become instantly enlightened after a few minutes of meditation. So just calm down and give it a try.

Moreover, the practice of meditation has been shown to help you focus and to pay attention to your direct experience rather than constantly being lost in a sea of thoughts. Therefore, if you start meditating for, let’s say, 5 minutes per day, you are more likely to notice if changes start to happen in your life or law practice. Thus, it follows that if meditation is making you too happy or peaceful or filled with loving-kindness to be a good lawyer, you will probably see it. In that case, you can just stop meditating, adjust your practice, or do things like look at Twitter or TV news to raise your levels of aggression when needed for strategic purposes. In other words, you can cross that bridge when you come to it, but a regular meditation practice is likely to help light the path on the way to that proverbial bridge.

Another thing I always think when I hear a lawyer worry out loud about the impact that meditation could have on their litigation skills is: “Whoa, how much are you planning to meditate?” Sure, if you are thinking of starting out for 8 hours a day, maybe the meditation practice might stand a chance of drastically and suddenly changing your personality. Most notably, it could make you hate your life. Fortunately, for most of us mere mortals, a practice of a few minutes a day is all we can stand at the start. Do you really think a practice of 5 minutes a day is going to mean you can’t still be aggressive? You don’t think that. Nobody really thinks that.

Finally, I think litigators who worry that meditation may “change” their hard-nosed style forget that, with or without meditation, they are unlikely to be tough and competitive in all areas of their life. I mean, are the lawyers worried that meditation will infect their soul with kindness and compassion saying that they are always tough, hard, difficult, and willing to fight? Are they saying that they don’t appreciate a softer touch, humor, kindness, or joy in any other parts of their day? My experience tells me that this isn’t what they mean.

In addition to being a good, aggressive, calculating, tough lawyer, I am also a mom, a friend, a wife, a sister, a dog owner. On some occasions, these roles overlap. A few years ago, I called my husband from the courthouse steps while waiting on a jury to return a verdict to sing my toddler her night-in night songs. Yes, my co-counsel laughed at me while I did so, but I was more worried about my toddler’s wrath when I returned home than I was about heckling from other lawyers. I hope you get where I’m going here: we lawyers can be both aggressive and compassionate. We can be incredibly forgiving and kind to our children and family and tough when we need to be for our clients. Sometimes we can, and I think we should, be both for our clients.

Compassion and care don’t detract from our ability to be strong when necessary. To the contrary, it is a normal and healthy way to live life. Balancing these emotions and different roles, of course, can be challenging and that is exactly why meditation practice can help lawyers to be not just “aggressive” but aggressive in a way that is effective for our clients.

So, if like me, you are a “mean” litigator and you are considering meditation to help you manage stress, increase personal happiness, and stop overthinking all of the time, you can start by not worrying that meditation will make you too soft. Meditation has drastically improved my litigation practice and I think it could do the same for you.

Why You Should Add Self-Compassion to Your List of New Years Resolutions

This blog post was originally published for MothersEsquire in 2020. A year later it still resonates so I edited it slightly to update and have republished here.

I know you are ready to go. It’s a new year, and after a year like 2020, you are ready to make 2021 your year. Your resolutions are made. Your motivation is high. You’re going to achieve those goals come hell or high water.

Except, you’re a lawyer, right? You know that high water inevitably will come. The energy and momentum of January quickly fades into the gray doldrums of February. I don’t know if it’s Valentine’s day or what but that month just has a way of turning those resolutions made only weeks before into regrets. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer here; I’m honestly not. I think it’s awesome that we humans want to improve and grow each year and I do not want to get in your way. I’m only suggesting, in the humblest of humble opinions, that perhaps it might be good to have a backup plan.

I’m not talking about lowering standards or even managing expectations. I want you to dream big and to go big in 2021. But, while high standards can lead us to great things, they can also send us pretty low if we don’t get the results we want. So, the question is this: how do you get the best of both worlds? Can you set high goals without setting yourself up for failure?

In my experience, you can as long as you use self-compassion. “Wait, what?” you might be thinking. “Are you seriously telling me I just need to be nice to myself?” Yes. Yes, I am. You—yes you!—need to be nice to yourself. I know you’re rolling your eyes at me right now and I’m fine with that. But hear me out. Did you know that self-compassion has been studied? There is this awesome researcher named Kristin Neff. She’s super smart and has studied self-compassion for over a decade. You know what she’s found? She’s found that people who treat themselves with compassion are more likely to exhibit resilience in the face of challenges and, thus, more likely to achieve goals. One of the reasons this is true is that people who act with self-compassion tend to view a failure or a setback as a learning experience, rather than an indication of their personal worth. In short, self-compassion is a buffer that can help high-achieving people from taking goals (and themselves) too seriously.

It’s compelling stuff, but it leads to another question: how does one learn to respond with self-compassion? This is a fair question. After all, it is one of the easiest things in the world to get down on yourself when you don’t achieve a goal that’s important to you. Clearly, you would have achieved the goal if you were good enough, or worked hard enough, or were more committed, or wanted it more, etc., right??? Well, no, it’s not that clear. For us lawyer moms, life is rarely clear. We are trying to manage our lives, our families, our practices, and—on top of that—achieve new goals and grow. That’s not easy. It’s really hard.

So let’s make this simple. Here’s an easy test to help you determine if you are reacting with self-compassion. I call it the “best friend” test. All you do is think of your best friend. Imagine that your best friend comes to you with the exact same problem in which you find yourself. Now, think of how you would respond to your best friend. Let’s say your best friend wants to exercise at least 3 times a week but has struggled because she’s been dealing with family issues and a busy time at work. How would you respond to her? I bet you’ll find it is easy to be compassionate with her. Now, all you have to do is recognize that it’s you who deserves that love too. If you really struggle with this, just call your best friend and listen to what they have to say. When you have this kind of support, you’ll be better equipped to handle whatever life wants to throw at you, even the gray doldrums of February.

In 2021, I hope you have some amazing goals for yourself and I hope you crush them. As you go about conquering the world, though, be nice to yourself. If you need any more help doing that, here are some resources that you might find useful:

  • For a quick overview of Neff’s research, check out this interview of her on the Ten Percent Happier podcast.
  • For research, tools, and free compassion guided meditations, check out Neff’s website.
  • For more in-depth discussion of Neff’s research on self-compassion, check out her book.

Launch: As It Turns Out, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.

I’ve honestly never been too into diamonds. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry. As a February baby, my birthstone is an amethyst. I didn’t pine for a big new diamond when I got married, and instead wanted my grandmother’s tiny chip which is conspicuously beefed up by a silver illusion top. So why does a diamond feature in this blog about mindfulness for lawyers?

I had been thinking about starting a blog like this for a while but couldn’t quite figure out what to call it. Eventually, I remembered one of the first articles I ever wrote about mindfulness for DRI called “Three Mindfulness Tools to Help You Care for Your Brilliant Legal Mind.” And there it was; the title “Brilliant Legal Mind” was perfect.

When I wrote that, I was using the word “brilliant” to mean what we always mean when we say that phrase: super smart, genius, talented, strategic, shrewd, analytical, incisive, and all those other things lawyers are supposed to be. But “brilliant” has some other meanings too.

First, it refers to the intensity of light. Second, it refers to the cut and clarity of a diamond. As you can probably gather, light and clarity are things that call back to mindfulness. Diamonds are a pretty good symbol for lawyers too, since they had to survive stress and pressure to develop the toughness and shine we so adore. Mindfulness was the thing that helped me withstand the pressure of law practice and be refined, rather than cracked, by it. Over the years, it has helped me to lighten and clear up my own mind so I could be a better lawyer for my clients (not to mention a better person).

So I am pleased to launch the Brilliant Legal Mind blog. In this blog, I will offer practical tips for meditation practice, guided meditations, articles, stories, and ideas to help you incorporate mindfulness practices into your life and law practice. I hope it can help you bring light to your practice and clarity to you mind to help you be the brilliant lawyer you are. Stay tuned for more content and you can be sure never to miss it by following the blog here on WordPress or following me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram.