When I talk with lawyers about having a daily practice of mindfulness, meditation or yoga, there’s often resistance to add yet another activity to their already hectic schedules. But these practices have known therapeutic benefits that I’ve seen firsthand as a lawyer and practicing yoga instructor. Studies show that meditation leads to growth in areas of the brain important for learning, memory, emotional regulation, perspective taking and compassion. Simply put, it’s worth the time.
Here are some ways you can incorporate these activities into your daily life:
Start small. Pick a short meditation you’ll be able to complete regularly. There are many types of meditation but, at its core, meditation is the act of concentrating your mind on one point of focus. Value the quality of the time and the number of days you practice rather than the amount of time you spend practicing on any one given day. A great starting point is a focused breathing meditation. Start by sitting or lying down. If you are sitting, be sure your feet are flat on the ground with your legs uncrossed. Your hands can be in a comfortable position with your arms unfolded. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in while slowly counting to three. The goal is to time your breath so that you have inhaled as much as possible as you reach the number three. Then exhale while counting to three. Again, the goal is to have exhaled as much as possible as you reach the number three. Repeat this for as many breaths as you’d like. If your mind wanders at any time, gently bring your focus back and start where you left off. Another option is a body scan meditation. You can hear a session I led with the Live & Law in LA podcast.
Attach your practice to something you already do and/or schedule it. The best way to be consistent is to build a short practice around your current activities. For example, doing the above breathing meditation for five breaths before getting out of the car when you arrive at the office and/or before getting out of the car when you arrive home. Another alternative is to turn something you do daily into a mindfulness exercise. Mindfulness is the act of observing one’s physical, mental and emotional states in the current moment without judgment. For example, if I mindfully brush my teeth, I slow down the activity and focus on the feel of the brush on my teeth or the taste of the toothpaste without deciding if I like or dislike it.
Track your progress and commit to being consistent. In order to get the most from your practice, it’s important to be consistent with some form of practice. Studies that focus on changes to the brain in connection with mindfulness, yoga and meditation, all show these benefits take place when the exercises are done consistently. Put time on your calendar or use an app to track your consistency. If client demands or other personal needs come up, that’s okay, but reschedule your practice time in the same day rather than cancelling altogether. If you miss a day or two, it’s okay, just pick it up the next day. This isn’t about being perfect every day—just completing your practice most days.
Grow your practice slowly over time. When you first start out with your new practice, put a reminder in your schedule every week or two to check-in and determine if it’s time to increase your practice time. For example, if you started with five focused breaths before getting out of the car when you arrived at the office, try ten breaths after a week’s time. After another week, try 15. When the number gets too high to count easily, try moving to a timed meditation by setting an alarm for three to five minutes. Then each week increase your time by 15 to 30 seconds until you reach your desired length.
Be forgiving and patient with yourself and your practice. Lawyers are often perfectionistic and whatever we do, we want to be the best. As a result, we can be incredibly critical of our performance. When I first started my daily meditation practice, it felt like I was failing because I found it difficult to get it in every day. My yoga teacher suggested I try changing the time of day I meditated, but, more importantly, that I go easy on myself. Give yourself the same permission to be a beginner and investigate different options. The end goal is to create a consistent practice that works best for you.
Jennifer Cormano is an associate in Nixon Peabody’s Los Angeles office. She represents both nonprofit and for-profit health care providers, including hospitals, physician groups, academic medical centers, surgery centers, accountable care organizations, and other organizations affiliated with the health care industry. Her practice focuses on hospital/physician alignment strategies, corporate governance and formation matters, joint ventures, mergers, acquisitions and other strategic transactions. The information outlined above does not constitute legal advice and is meant solely for educational purposes.