The journey from lawyer to yoga teacher to yoga-teaching lawyer
Editor’s note: This story is part of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s “Stories of Recovery” series. TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, ‘law students, and judges with substance abuse or mental health issues. Call TLAP at (800) 343-8527 and find more information at texasbar.com/TLAP.
When I was a kid, my grandpa would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. A “philosophizer,” I would say. I’ve always had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and answers. And even as a small kid, my mind constantly reeled and rarely shut up.
Meanwhile, the whole world kept telling me to become a lawyer.
“You’re so good at arguing,” they’d say. “A natural.” But it wasn’t that I was interested in being disagreeable, so much as I felt it was my responsibility to save the world.
It seems so egocentric now. But that’s how I felt. Like it was my burden to bear. But carrying around the weight of the world on your shoulders takes an awfully heavy toll.
By the time I entered law school, I was having debilitating panic attacks each day, and was wholly incapable of sleeping at night. The doctors prescribed Xanax, and said there was nothing more they could do for me. But as a seeker of knowledge and answers, I rejected that and began researching how to fix myself.
Instantly I found yoga and meditation as a possible cure. I was so miserable at that point that I would have tried anything. So I’d come home from class each day, light a stick of incense, and spend 20 minutes lying in bed, doing nothing but counting my breath. And I threw a few yoga classes a week at the gym into my workout routine.
Within three months, the panic attacks were gone, and in the 13 years since, they’ve never returned. However, plenty of other symptoms of stress and anxiety continued to manifest themselves, along with a variety of faulty coping mechanisms.
While prescription pills weren’t an option for me, I considered just about anything else fair game, including a nightly bottle of wine. After all, wine was sophisticated. And all the lawyers I knew at the time seemed to have no problem discussing that’s what they used to cope. Well, either that or scotch.
So I graduated law school, passed the bar, became an assistant district attorney, and a few years later, hung my shingle as a criminal defense attorney. A year after that, I also became a registered yoga teacher.
The practices of yoga and meditation had been immensely helpful in managing my anxiety. But still, I suffered.
No matter how hard I worked, or how devoted I was to a case, any time I went to trial as a defense attorney, I felt like I was going to come unglued at the seams. There was always that one more case in my research trail that I might find. That one more argument I might be able to develop. That one more thing, that only I could do, that could save my client from the penitentiary. I took my clients’ problems and adopted them as my own. So naturally I still wasn’t sleeping.
After three consecutive sleepless nights, I went on to try my first jury trial as a defense attorney. Sure, I felt lousy. But who doesn’t on zero sleep, after spending countless hours staring at a computer screen while doing research.
By the time we finished picking the jury, it was clear that something was really wrong. I was now limping, unable to bear weight on my left ankle. Come lunch break, I sat down and looked at my leg. My ankle was swollen to the size of a melon, and all the small blood vessels in both legs had broken from ankle to knee.
Sure, I was freaked out. But I did precisely as lawyers are taught. Keep marching forward. Your self be damned. So I said nothing to anyone, and finished out the trial. Right after the jury came back, I drove myself straight to the emergency room, where they prescribed pills and suggested I follow up with a dermatologist.
Turns out that when you’re stressed, your immune system can cease to function properly, leaving you susceptible to viruses and all sorts of other illnesses. I wound up bedridden for an entire month, unable to hardly feed myself, much less practice law or yoga.
The virus I contracted brought me to my knees. The doctors said chances were good that my body would clear it, but that there was a small chance it would stick around for life, causing all sorts of other, potentially serious, health problems.
I bargained with the universe that if it would restore me to health, I’d find another way to live. Thankfully, I got better. And swore to myself that one day I’d find a way to leave the practice of law altogether.
And I did. For 13 months. At first it was great. All the stress and fighting and law firm running and bureaucracy and injustices and everything were no longer my problem. I was free to be a full-time yoga-teaching hippie.
But there was just one problem. I still needed more money than teaching yoga was consistently providing. So I went back to my pre-college job of waitressing. Which was great at first as well. Minimal responsibility. Lax hours. And I got to be physically active and help people all day long.
After a couple of months, though, I found the weight of the world resting squarely back on my shoulders once again. Except instead of earning a nice living by fighting for defendants’ rights, I was being treated like crap, earning peanuts, and fighting for my own as a waitress.
Turns out it wasn’t the practice of law that was keeping me from being free. It wasn’t the deadlines, bills, court appearances, fussy county employees, or demanding clients that were making me miserable. That always was, always is, and always will be nobody but me.
The idea that one can create a utopian stress-free life based on external circumstance is total myth. No matter where you are, no matter what you do, we all gotta pay our way and keep our head on straight, which requires a fair amount of perspective and gratitude. Perspective in that you can only do what you can do. And you can’t take your clients’ problems to bed with you. Also, that what you do to earn a living doesn’t have to singularly define you.
I wanted to be a “philosophizer” as a kid, and guess what! I am. As a yoga teacher, eight to 12 times a week, I have groups of folks gather around to hear my take on health, spirituality, and life. I blog. Post to social media. And get to present my points of view to people just like you. Just because it isn’t the sole means of how I earn a living, doesn’t make it any less valid or valuable.
And gratitude. When the phone used to ring, I’d resent the interruption. When the fax would ding, I would resent another night spent working through dinner. When the mail would come, I’d resent whatever drama opposing counsel was currently unloading. But now I can see how each and every one of those very same things I used to resent are, in fact, one in the same with the blessings that enable me to provide for myself, while living a life that’s happy and free.
Since re-opening my law practice, I’ve been continually amazed at the abundance of gratitude I feel for the very same business that I had shut down and run away from, just a mere couple of years before. So just keep counting those blessings. A million times a day. Work for that attitude of gratitude as diligently as you work for your clients, and rest assured, you’ll be absolutely amazed at the outcome.