What Law Firm Leaders Can Learn from Better Call Saul

I was watching Better Call Saul with my husband as Howard Hamlin, the law firm partner with perfectly quaffed blonde hair and a toothpaste commercial grin, appeared on screen. After meeting with the title character, Saul Goodman, Howard gets into an expensive vehicle and drives away to reveal a vanity plate that reads “NAMAST3”. We already knew that Howard had been struggling with his past and had turned to yoga and new-found spirituality to tame his inner demons. Unfortunately, as the audience eventually learns, Howard’s inner peace is much like the spelling on his vanity plate: not quite right. 

My husband smirked, turned to me and said, “Does that irritate you?” He was mocking me, but I was nerding out far too hard to acknowledge it. Instead of rolling my eyes at him, I replied “No, this is a great example about how easy it is to gaslight ourselves with spirituality.” Indeed it was, but it turned out to be a tragic one too. In Better Call Saul, Howard had turned to yoga and mindfulness to soothe his tortured soul after the downfall and death of his mentor and Saul’s brother, Charles McGill. 

Despite this new-found ethos, however, there is little evidence of reflection on Howard’s part about his preoccupation with appearing perfect or the practices of his own law firm. Tragically, Howard’s obsession with his reputation left him vulnerable to Saul’s tricks, and it ultimately lead to his own death and the implosion of his firm.

I talk about the power of mindfulness all the time, so it may seem strange that I would draw attention to Howard Hamlin. If anything, he shows us that mindfulness has limits, right? And, to be sure, the characters on Better Call Saul are generally examples of what not to do as attorneys. So why talk about them? 

I talk about them because, of course, there are limits to mindfulness practices. As Howard demonstrates, one of the dangers of mindfulness practice is that it can help you feel better temporarily or on a surface level without achieving the clarity needed for real peace. If you don’t have other supports to ground you, you may end up deluding yourself instead of growing and understanding yourself better.

The show doesn’t tell us what practices and teachers Howard relied on to develop his mindfulness practice, though his license plate suggests he went for yogic practices. The show offers clues, however, that Howard is otherwise intent on appearing serene when his life in many ways seems to be falling apart. Though he experienced the death of his law partner, strife in his firm, and an impending divorce, Howard seems intent on showing everyone how happy and at ease he is. There’s also no mention of Howard trying additional strategies, like therapy for example, to support himself.

I don’t say these things to suggest that Howard was a bad guy. He really wanted to be a good guy. He wanted to be a mentor to young lawyers. He wanted to be a good leader and build a law firm that lasted. The problem is that Howard was not an aware guy because he was afraid to see himself as he really was. In this way, Howard Hamlin was entirely human, but his obsession with looking at peace tragically got in the way of him ever finding it. 

Research is clear that mindfulness practices, including yoga, can help you reduce stress and feel more at peace. They do that, though, by helping you face yourself as you are and life as it is. Part of that means accepting your own imperfections and learning how to share them with others. As Howard Hamlin shows us, your so-called inner peace can get torn apart very easily when you can’t allow yourself to do this. 

The legal profession certainly needs more law firm leaders who are willing to be examples about leading a good life, including the practices that help them do it. So, if you are a serious yogi, go ahead and talk about it and keep that yoga mat in your office. But, don’t just talk about it and throw a vanity plate on your car. You also need to act on the values that have served you well. You need to be real in a way that Howard Hamlin never let himself be about the struggles you’ve had rather than merely trying to convey an illusion of spiritual purity. Not only do you deserve all the support you can get when you deal with hardships in life, your law firm may need you to get it. 

Indeed, research suggests that emotional intelligence and relationship-building are essential leadership traits. Even the best lawyers would struggle to do either of these things without being honest with themselves and others about who they really are. Law firm leaders who embrace mindfulness to help stabilize themselves can certainly use the practices to become better leaders for their firms.

But they shouldn’t do so with the objective of always looking calm and serene, especially not when real crises in life or law practice are happening. Instead, the practices are there to help you accept and face what is there–in yourself or in life–and greet it with compassion. When you can do this, there will be no need to tell people how at peace you are because you’ll show it with your life, law practice, and leadership every day.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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What Is Restorative Yoga and Why Should Lawyers Try It?

Lots of people tell me that they can’t meditate because they can’t sit still. I usually tell them that they don’t have to sit still to meditate. Strangely, people also tell me with a similar frequency that they can’t do yoga because they can’t do the poses. Sometimes they say that they can’t balance. Sometimes they say that they aren’t flexible. Sometimes they express a concern that they look silly. In other words, these people tell me the inverse of what the people who can’t sit still during meditation say: that they can’t move the right way during yoga.

When I hear these concerns, one of the first things I say is to acknowledge that I used to struggle with yoga too, but that letting go of the idea that there was a “right way” to move was what helped me learn to love it. One of the practices that helped me do this was restorative yoga. When I finally tried yoga for real, I already had an active meditation practice but it helped me realize I had to develop some ways of caring for my body in addition to my mind.

Though I’d been athletic growing up, I had not worked out consistently in years, so I started with yoga as a way to ease back into movement even though my earlier attempts with it had not been successful. Because I needed time to build up cardio endurance, I had to start with slow and gentle classes first. That’s when I found restorative yoga. Lucky for me, it was enough like meditation that I could enjoy it but different enough that it could serve as a segue into more yoga exploration.

Restorative yoga is a restful kind of yoga. Poses are part of the process, but the poses are supported rather than held. You don’t build strength and balance with the poses. You practice rest instead and you practice letting yourself be supported. In most cases, the poses are done lying on the floor, reclined on props, including blankets, blocks, or bolsters, or resting against the wall or a chair for support. This is because yogis hold the poses in restorative class for at least 5 and often as much as 15 or 20 minutes at a time.

So, why is this good for lawyers? It’s good for a lot of reasons. Restorative yoga practices rest and being supported. Most of us lawyers are in the habit of being active all of the time and doing many things on our own. For this reason, practicing another way of being is a way to offer balance to our lives. In addition, the poses themselves are beneficial to the body. Poses that help open the chest or arch the back may counteract the effects of sitting at a desk all day and inversions may balance hormones and offer relief from the effects of gravity and wearing uncomfortable shoes.

Finally, if you are one of those people who have struggled with meditation because you can’t sit still, restorative yoga may offer a new way to think about mindfulness. The instruction in most restorative classes is just to be in the experience of the pose, to feel oneself resting, and not to drift off in thought.

This is similar to the practice of sitting meditation, but it has some additional physical and restful components that may help you relax into and tolerate the experience more. Even if you enjoy meditation like I do, you may find that restorative yoga is a nice way to mix things up or can offer a chance to find mindfulness when life makes meditation seem a bit too intense.

If you are interested in learning more about restorative practice, you can find it at many yoga studios. Some fitness apps and online platforms, such as Peloton offer it too. In addition, you can easily start a home practice by finding a set of restorative props online.

You can also check out some of the work of Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., P.T. Her book, Relax and Renew offers pictures and explanations of poses and full sequences to help you do the practices on your own at home.

Just as you don’t have to sit still to meditate, you don’t have to move to do yoga. Restorative yoga offers lawyers the chance to practice rest so that they can find peace in stillness and pay closer attention to how their bodies feel. It is a beautiful practice that offers people in stressful jobs many benefits. Giving you the chance to experience how expansive yoga can be is just one of them.

Do you want to try restorative yoga? You can try our Legs Up the Wall Guided Meditation even if you don’t have any props. All you need are your legs and a wall.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Riopy Crafts Music for Meditation and the Spirit

I have already written that I prefer to meditate in silence, so it had not really occurred to me to ever seek out music to support my meditation practice. Indeed, before hearing Riopy, I would have assumed that music would impede meditation, since it could churn up emotions or thoughts and make it harder for the mind to focus. But when I heard Riopy for the first time and learned about his story, I instantly understood how music and meditation could work very well together.

I had never heard of French pianist and composer, Riopy, until last year. As a chronically uncool person, I am always the last person to hear about any new kind of music. So, I rely on friends or the media I consume to tip me off about new things I might enjoy. Since I have already discussed my love of Peloton multiple times on the blog, it won’t surprise you that it’s what led me to Riopy too. Last year, I took Peloton’s Riopy slow flow class one night when I wanted some nice evening yoga. I was just looking to move a little after sitting at a desk all day, but I ended up being moved in a totally unexpected way.

As the class went on, the instructor, Aditi Shah, explained that Riopy had a past history with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Though music had offered him solace over the years, he found a peace in meditation that helped him heal and keep creating. This helped him realize that he didn’t need mind-altering substances or unhappiness to fuel his craft. When he tried meditation, he found his muse in stillness and peace and began creating music for meditation.  His music, which is primarily piano instrumentals, sounds like it. Indeed, several of Riopy’s pieces are called “meditations” including his most well-known (and my favorite) piece, “Meditation No. 22”, which is made to support a 22-minute meditation session. 

Now, you may think that piano music crafted by a man with a history of depression and fondness of meditation might be morose, heavy, or even dark. But it’s not. Though Riopy’s works do not shy away from the heavy or dark, they are light, delicate, and intimate. Overall, the tone of the pieces is playful and sounds like a flow state and the beauty that derives from it. Some, like “Caught in Infinity” from Breathe, can capture joy and sorrow in the same piece and not just in certain movements but, at times, in the same moment. While the pieces don’t tell stories the same way popular songs might, they seem to tell stories about past states of mind. Listening to them, each note seems to represent a moment in meditation and you can almost envision the very meditation from which the melody was born.

I have little musical talent and even less training and knowledge, but Riopy’s music reminded me in the strangest way of my own life. I don’t hear music when I meditate, but I can see how somebody trained in music might. When I sit, all the words in my mind get a chance to spread out. Like kids in a bouncy house, they jump around and play and come up with all kinds of combinations and notions that I would never be able to appreciate if I were doing something else. This is why I loved Riopy right away: because his music reminded me of how meditation helps me write. His music sounds like my mind taking a breath, letting itself dance, and sweeping words and ideas into their proper places in the process, without the well-meaning but unhelpful meddling of my ego. 

Since I like the space that silence gives my meditation, I usually don’t listen to Riopy when I meditate, but I frequently listen to his music when I work or write or do yoga. The calming tone of the music aids relaxation and the absence of words means it doesn’t distract or clash with other mental processing. His music is available on most major outlets, like Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon. He has a new album out currently, Bliss, as well as a collection of many others. You can also find an extended, hour-long, version of his “Meditation 22” on the Calm app.

You may not meditate at all or need music to support your meditation practice. You also may not be drawn to Riopy’s music for the peculiar reason that I have come to love it. But, if you want some beautiful music to bring calm and peace into your life or help you appreciate the value of fleeting, delicate moments, check Riopy’s music out.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Yoga Has Been There the Whole Time

When Brilliant Legal Mind’s founder Claire Parsons told me September’s theme was yoga my immediate response was “I don’t really have a yoga practice anymore. I don’t really have anything to write about.” But then I read Claire’s post Confessions of a Reluctant Yogi and Aman Costigan’s post Yoga is More Than Just Stretching. Both posts made think about how much I use yoga daily and the role my yoga practice had in setting a foundation for my meditation practice.

I first discovered a regular yoga practice the summer after I finished law school. My husband and I moved from Chicago to Northern Kentucky, I was studying for the bar, we were rehabbing a 150 year old house, and starting our own law practice. I was trying to exercise occasionally mostly just to keep myself sane. One day I tried a yoga class at the gym and let’s just say I was hooked. I had tried yoga sporadically over the years but looking back I’d just never found the right teacher. The teacher I found that summer was perfect for me.

She was an athlete and busy professional so the classes were mostly vinyasa and ashtanga style yoga which are considered more athletic forms of yoga. But they are also flow styles of yoga that connect the breath to movement so my teacher focused heavily on moving through each pose with your breath. Because the yoga teacher was a busy professional and mom she also focused on the mental aspect of the practice. We’d set an intention for each practice, focus on that intention throughout the class, and then end with a meditation. Looking back, these yoga classes were part of the beginning of my regular meditation practice. I got stronger, more flexible, I had less aches and pains, and I started to notice my busy mind felt a little calmer too.

That teacher moved out of state and since then I’ve taken yoga classes on and off at various studios, but looking back I can see now that I developed a foundation that’s helped not only helped me physically but was an important step in building my meditation practice. A few years back, when I suffered from two herniated discs in my back I discovered restorative yoga. While I craved doing the more rigorous styles of yoga, the restorative helped me work through the pain. Restorative yoga can be deeply meditative which helped me mentally deal with the pain and discomfort.

Right now I’m training for a half-marathon and after reading Claire and Aman’s blog posts I noticed that my stretching routine is almost a yoga flow series. I also noticed that I use my stretching time at night and after a workout not only to just stretch my body to help my aches and pains, I use it as a meditation time as well. Like my meditation practice, without even realizing it, yoga has been with me all along.  

Want to explore restorative yoga further? Check out this guided meditation from founder @claireeparsons to pair with the legs up the wall pose. Even if you don’t have any props at home, you can try this by positioning your legs up a wall or over a chair. This meditation offers a variety of breath instruction tools so you can explore meditation and restorative yoga practice t at the same time.

Loren VanDyke Wolff is an attorney, mom, community leader, and long-time meditator and yogi who lives and practices law in Covington, Kentucky. She has contributed several pieces to the blog and has a passion for improving the legal profession. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Book Review: Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley

I have this bad habit of buying books so that I don’t forget about them. Then I flip through them once, decide I don’t have time to read them right now, and set them on my bookshelf only to forget about them. I did this with Every Body Yoga years ago. I had heard the author, Jessamyn Stanley, on an episode of Call Your Girlfriend and thought she sounded so personable, down-to-earth, and cool that I couldn’t resist.

But life and law practice intervened and I didn’t get around to reading it until I enrolled in yoga teacher training and heard multiple classmates and teachers mention it with affection. When I dusted off the book and finally read it, I wished I had done so sooner. Then, I shared it with a friend who told me she was interested in trying out yoga to balance out her fitness routine. As I wrote previously, my own yoga practice got off to a rocky start because I was saddled with judgments about my body’s appearance and perceived limitations. I found in Stanley’s book an experience that, though it was undoubtedly unique, reminded me a bit of my own.

Stanley came to prominence when she began posting pictures of herself learning and mastering yoga poses on Instagram. At the time, Stanley wasn’t anyone famous or even a yoga teacher. She was just a person seeking community and support as she did her practice, largely on her own. Indeed, Stanley recounts in the book how she learned the basics of yoga with studio classes, but practiced on her own in her apartment for a time due to a lack of funds. It wasn’t until she gained a following and built her own confidence that she became a yoga teacher. Now, she’s got nearly 500,000 followers on Instagram, her own online studio, and a second recently released book.

Though this story certainly showcases the power of courage and following one’s passions, it also demonstrates how yoga as a practice can help yogis of all kinds learn to love and care for themselves. In Every Body Yoga, Stanley relates how yoga helped her care for herself through the difficulties of her own life, including making decisions about education and work, challenges in her intimate relationships, and even losing loved ones. While yoga was a powerful force for her, Stanley explains that practical impediments to yoga practice still exist for many people. She offers examples throughout her story of the emotions elicited for her as she walked into a class with only thin white women and the expense of maintaining a yoga habit with studio classes. It is for this reason that Stanley felt compelled to start documenting her own practice for others.

To make yoga truly accessible to everybody, Stanley also offers a thorough but concise summary of yoga philosophy and the varieties of asana practice. This may help those new to yoga determine what classes might best suit their bodies. In addition, about one half of the book is devoted to explanations and demonstrative pictures of commonly used poses and props, and sequences paired for specific purposes. Thus, any new yogi could pick up Stanley’s book, a yoga mat, and some blocks, and start a home practice for the same price of attending two or three yoga classes in a studio.

In short, Every Body Yoga is a how-to guide intended and best suited for those new to yoga, but it offers inspiration, heart, and a great story of self-love that even experienced yogis might enjoy. If you are curious about yoga but aren’t sure it’s for you, I recommend that you pick up a copy of Everybody Yoga. But don’t let it sit on your shelf gathering dust. Give it a read, give Stanley a follow on Instagram, and get on the mat.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Confessions of a Reluctant Yogi

As a yoga teacher, I’m not supposed to say this, but I didn’t like yoga at first. In fact, the first class I ever tried felt so awkward and terrible that I didn’t try it again for several years. The impediments for me were manifold. I was not used to “being” in my body. I thought I had bested my perfectionism years ago, and still hadn’t learned that this latent tendency would stay with me for life. I am not small, naturally flexible, or graceful in any context. And I’m kind of a work horse. I do physical activities for a purpose – scoring points or walking to somewhere nice or cooking dinner – but generally not just because they feel good. So, when I first went to a yoga class, I was preoccupied with making the poses look right, worried about how my awkward feelings did not match the picturesque poses of the women in the class who (in my memory at least) looked like runway models, and not falling or pulling a muscle.

So what changed? My body sure didn’t. I’m 5’11” with a solid frame and have had 2 babies since my first yoga class. I’m no more thin or lithe or any of that nonsense than I was when I first tried yoga. My mind and heart, however, are quite different. You see, some time after that first failed and what I thought was humiliating yoga class, I started my meditation practice. At the time, I had no idea I was doing yoga. Some teachers would call my cross-legged seated posture a restorative pose. Others would point out that the yogic path has 8 limbs, one of which is meditation. I didn’t know any of this, however. Instead, I was drawn to meditate because my reading had told me that it might help me handle all the thoughts swirling around my brain. It certainly did that, but also helped me get more comfortable with my body by doing body scan meditations and loving-kindness practices that helped me learn that emotions weren’t thoughts at all, but instead feelings—sensations in the body.

After a few years of this, I had built up enough calm and self-compassion that I noticed my body needed something more. Though an athlete for most of my life, I had let exercise fall by the wayside in the early years of law practice and motherhood. Once I had reestablished some stability after the birth of my youngest daughter, I decided to start exercising again to try to get back in shape. Despite a past history of going all out, this time was different. Having had success building a meditation practice in incremental steps over time, I did the same thing. I started small, adding in walks around my neighborhood and a few exercise classes here and there.

This is where yoga comes in. I knew I wasn’t ready for intense cardio or strength yet, so I decided to give yoga another try. I found a local studio with reasonable teachers and welcoming and compassionate students. I got a trial membership and walked into a “yin” class that billed itself as slow and calming. I had no idea what this meant but, when I walked in, the teacher warned me that I would hold poses for 3-5 minutes. This news might alarm some, but as a meditator, I thought “Oh, I can do that.” Even though I needed tons of props to help me manage my inexperience, and lack of range of motion and strength, I loved the class. It became a regular for me and I gradually worked up to slow flow classes. By the time I worked my way up to power yoga, my exercise regimen was established as a habit.

Though yoga had helped me feel better by getting more into my body, I did the same silly thing I had previously done with my meditation practice: I fell away from it for a while. At it turns out, just like my experience without meditation had shown me, falling away from yoga helped me see how important it was. Once I got my exercise habit re-established, I wanted more intensity. I started going to Orange Theory and so stopped the yoga studio because I didn’t have as much time (or money) for the classes. I loved the classes and still stretched regularly but the tread running caused me to develop plantar fasciitis. I tried a lot of things to fix it, but the problem lingered until the pandemic forced me to switch things up.

In late 2019, I had purchased a Peloton for my husband to try to help him stick with cardio.  By March, 2020, that item was a lifeline for me. At first, I focused on the bike, then added some strength, and then finally explored the yoga content. Lo and behold, the plantar fasciitis started to resolve when I added yoga back into my repertoire. This helped me learn that my body needed intense strength and cardio workouts, but it also needed the flexibility and balance that yoga offered. As I practiced more, I found that sometimes yoga was not just good for a stretch but needed in times when I was too worked up to meditate. I realized that moving first or meditating during a restorative practice was sometimes a more compassionate way to take care of myself.

In other words, I realized that yoga was a practice that could balance and add depth to my exercise and meditation routines. Though I had never been the biggest devotee of yoga and am definitely not doing Instagram-worthy arm balances any time soon, this experience made me curious. I realized that there was another side of mindfulness to explore and, since the pandemic didn’t seem to be ending as soon as I’d hoped, I enrolled in the 500-hour yoga teacher training program with My Vinyasa Practice.  So, now this awkward, unbalanced, hyper-rational lawyer who thought she didn’t like yoga, is a yoga teacher.

So why do I share this story? I share it because it taught me that there are lots of paths to mindfulness. Some of us, like me, are so tangled in thought that we have no choice but to start in our minds. Others, though, may have better luck by starting with the body. In the end, though, these paths intersect and over time can come together like tributary streams forming a powerful river. That’s what happened for me and so I am grateful for all the mistakes and wrong judgments I made along the way that forced me to look at mindfulness again and again so that I could understand it better.

The truth is that I never disliked yoga at all. I disliked myself or at least didn’t like the image I had of myself. Once meditation helped me get a better and more compassionate view, I found that I could enjoy yoga too. Thus, even though I was a reluctant yogi, the practice did for me what it promised to do. The word “yoga” means to “yoke” or unite mind and body. I had started yoga distant from and judging my body for how it looked and what it couldn’t do. When I dropped the judgment, paid attention to how my body felt and gave it what it needed, my mind and body became united and I learned that I had been doing yoga all along.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

Brilliant Teacher Recommendation: Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts

The theme for this month was love and emotions, but February is also Black History Month. Our recommendation for this month is someone who brings both of those things together with mindfulness in such a beautiful way: Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts. Dr. Roberts, or Chelsea as she is known on her social media platforms, is a world-renowned yoga and meditation teacher, social media influencer, advocate for diversity, and an altogether brilliant person. She is a graduate of Spelman College and later obtained her Ph.D. in Educational Studies from Emory University. During that time, Chelsea also completed extensive yoga training and she now marries her passions for education, yoga, and promoting diversity on her platform Chelsea Loves Yoga.

I became familiar with Chelsea when she joined the roster of teachers for Peloton last year. Though a regular meditator, I am an irregular yogi. Even so, I found it hard not to make Chelsea’s classes a regular part of my fitness and wellness routine. She has a smile and a spirit that can light up a room (even when it comes to you through a screen). In addition, Chelsea brings her voice and her experience to every class and meditation she offers. When you take her classes, you get a chance to stretch your muscles and your mind as she offers lessons on black history and music while you flow. And, while Chelsea encourages kindness in all things, she also advocates for action and strength in her “Breathe In, Speak Up” yoga and meditation series.

Chelsea, however, does not only bring yoga and meditation to Peloton members, she offers it to thousands more on her platform Chelsea Loves Yoga. That platform offers free resources and yoga videos and Chelsea also regularly shares out videos about yoga and meditation to her thousands of followers on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Chelsea has also worked to bring yoga to communities who need it. She founded Red Clay Yoga, which offers yoga programs and training to youth and adults. Yoga classes and instruction are offered at Red Clay, as well as workshops on social justice action and diversity. Among the offerings at Red Clay was a Yoga, Literature and Art camp for teens at Spelman College.

In short, Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts is not just a teacher of mindfulness, but someone who loves it and lives it. She’s an inspirational social media follow and someone you should certainly check out if you are on the Peloton platform.

Chelsea’s presence on the internet, including Peloton, also makes her the perfect recommendation to lead into our theme for next month: a year of social distancing. March will be the one-year anniversary of the emergency declarations for the COVID-19 pandemic in many American jurisdictions, including my own state here in Kentucky, and the beginning of social distancing restrictions for many of us. Stay tuned for more instruction and content on that theme and please continue to stay safe, stay healthy, and take care of yourself and others.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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