Attorney Tony O’Malley didn’t quite know what to think his wife, Sandie, gave him a gift certificate for massage therapy, meditation and yoga classes a couple of years ago. He put it away after the holidays and nearly forgot about it – he was way too busy practicing law to actually think about his own mental and physical health, after all.
But Sandie wouldn’t let him waste it, and the two started attending yoga classes together. They’ve been regulars at the Fond du Lac Center for Spirituality and Healing ever since.
Likewise, Madison attorney Kathleen Reiley does yoga. She also bikes and walks her dog to get the endorphin mix that helps her stay centered.
O’Malley told me about his enjoyment of yoga in the expo hall, while Reiley gave a presentation on “Finding Balance When the Only Constant is Change,” at the recent Solo and Small Firms Conference in the Wisconsin Dells. At the conference, wellness struck me as a theme of sorts, and inspired me to write this article. It’s even part of the show’s tagline: “Practice Law. Manage Business. Enjoy Life.”
By the way, getting out among your peers, especially in a new and different setting, is another excellent way to beat the blues.
A message I took from O’Malley and Reiley was, if you’re letting money stop you from being healthy and staying well, that’s a lame excuse.
Reiley gave a presentation on “Finding Balance When the Only Constant is Change,” at the recent Solo and Small Firms Conference in the Wisconsin Dells, where wellness struck me as a theme of sorts, and inspired me to write this article. It’s even part of the show’s tagline: “Practice Law. Manage Business. Enjoy Life.”
If you shop around for a reasonably priced yoga class, it will likely set you back about $10 per session, especially if you buy the classes as part of a package. Or, you can buy a yoga DVD and do it at home – although you’re much more likely to actually do the yoga if you commit to a class, where you start seeing familiar faces, etc. As for walking and biking, they’re free, except for routine, nominal bike maintenance costs.
Now, yoga isn’t for everyone. There’s “hot” or Bikram Yoga, which brings a nice calorie burn in addition to flexibility. But some people can’t take the heat, or they don’t like the fact that every class is the same, for 90 minutes usually, which is a lot of time to be away from the office or your family.
There are other types of yoga to consider, such as Hatha or Vinyasa Yoga. I tried one of the latter types of yoga classes a few years ago. At its conclusion, we did the Shavasana pose, where you essentially just lay on your mat for several minutes, listen to soft, Zen-like music and attempt to relax before re-entering the hectic world. A friend took the class with me, and afterward told me she absolutely hated that part. Yup, she’s a lawyer.
If you fall into these camps, try something else. Below are a number of ideas I took from Reiley’s presentation on wellness at the conference, and a few of my own. Experiment with them, and find what works for you.
- Breathe. A while ago, Reiley noticed that whenever she felt stressed, she was holding her breath and taking short breaths from her upper body. She’s made a conscious effort now to take at least three deep breaths per hour. She also does a series of breathing exercises. For example, hold the right nostril shut, then breathe out the left nostril, and then in the left nostril. She then closes the left nostril and breathes out the right nostril, and then in through the right nostril. This exercise is reputed to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. She doesn’t know how it works to make her feel calmer and more focused, but it does.
- Re-examine your diet. Everyone knows that fast food, shunning fruits and vegetables, or eating too much or too little, won’t make you productive or happy.Reiley took the examination of what she uses to fuel her mind and body one step further, with a visit to a nutritionist and later a naturopathic doctor. Both confirmed that caffeine was hindering more than helping her. Sugar, white flour, certain vegetables, dairy and gluten were also affecting her negatively.Swearing them off was excruciating at first, but the pay-off was almost immediate. Literally, within three days, not only did she feel better, but also, friends, family and colleagues were commenting upon the change in Reiley’s demeanor and appearance.With regard to cost, Reiley paid about $250 a visit, and says it was money well spent, considering how much better she feels. Although hers didn’t, some nutritionists accept insurance. Ask your physician for a referral. You do get regular check-ups, right?If a nutritionist isn’t in your budget or geographic area, you can still experiment with dietary changes without professional guidance.
But don’t do it alone. The key to success with any of these wellness tips is accountability and support from another. Reiley says, “Don’t isolate — don’t do ‘it’ alone. Find a group to connect with on things that matter, who can support you, give you information, honest and kind feedback and help when you need it.”
- Try meditation. Reiley recommends a short read, “8 Minute Meditation,” by attorney Victor Davich, who discovered the power of meditation while enrolled in law school. In Reiley’s experience, she had to build up to eight minutes, starting with just three. She schedules it into her day as her first “to-do” after rolling out of bed.Reiley has additionally incorporated Kripalu Yoga 5-minute stretching, breathing and meditation breaks into her workdays. These are available online, for free.When you mention meditation to some people, they’re skeptical. They’d look stupid sitting on the floor in the lotus position, and by the way they can’t do the lotus, etc.Then don’t meditate, but find another way to get to your happy place, every day. Close the door, sit in a rocker, look at an art book, listen to Enya or Elvis — whatever it takes. In the case of my previously mentioned lawyer friend who hated Shavasana, she relaxes on her solo runs.
- Get outside. To get a little fresh air and Vitamin D from the sun. I additionally own, and can recommend, an ultraviolet sunlamp. It was only about $50 and it really does cheer me up. Living in Tennessee, it gets me through January; living in Wisconsin, you’ll need it November through March. Sorry.
- Journal. I can personally attest to the benefits of journaling. You’d be surprised how much emotion you can release (spew?) in just five minutes. A variation of this is to write down three things you’re grateful for, every day.
- Read a book. Have you ever tried to sleep, only to have what Reiley calls “the committee meeting in your head?”She uses breathing techniques she learned in yoga to quell that committee, while my pediatrician neighbor recommends reading. Something that will relax you, of course – not opposing counsel’s latest poison missive. Reading engages and tires the brain without stimulating it, as television often does. It works for me.
- Laugh. Tickle your children. Throw in the old Monty Python, Woody Allen or Saturday Night Live (original cast is best) DVDs. Or, call a friend from college to reminisce (not law school, you’ll talk law). Reiley says laughter is the best medicine because it gets air into your body.
- Schedule your hobbies. Make time to do the activities you enjoy most. For me, it’s knitting. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that knitting can reduce memory loss, while the Harvard Medical School Mind/Body Institute reported that knitting lowers the heart rate and blood pressure.
Perhaps you’re at the point where you’re re-evaluating your decision to practice law. Been there, done that, and for me a career change saved my life.
Finally, if you’re way past any of this being helpful, a gentle reminder. In Wisconsin, we have one of the nation’s top-rated and most service-intensive lawyers’ assistance programs. It’s free, confidential and does not report to the OLR. If you need WisLAP’s help, get it, 24/7, at 800-543-2625.
Just do whatever it takes to stay with us and stay well.
And remember that with whatever measures you take, the hardest part will be deciding what to do and committing to it. My favorite quote along these lines comes from John “The Penguin” Bingham, a couch-potato-turned-running-guru. Bingham wrote, “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
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