Need to unwind? Use yoga


The Yoga Sutra identifies the five forces of corruption as egoism, passion, hatred, the will to live and ignorance — the root of them all. The method for survival in the 1L classroom involves dodging our natural tendency to fall prey to these forces. If we survived our first semester, does the Yoga Sutra call this a success?

We have all gotten through the treacherous 1L first semester, many of us by climbing this steep learning curve. By the end of first week, we realize we are no longer the jewel of the classroom. The egoism that fueled our rush to the top in college has long been dashed by professors too clever for us. We soon discover that who we are does not matter when giving the right answer. Whether we were abused as children, whether our family was on welfare, whether we suffer a hairy hand — all these things must be set aside. The 1L classroom leaves little room for our experiences and passions, which informed our opinions before. We develop a sincere hatred for one or more professors, which blossoms with each classroom mishap. We believe we know more about justice than the professor, but we keep our inner intellectual life quiet because the professor will not listen. When we start cramming for exams, we can no longer hold onto our hatred nor our will to live. The professor writes and grades our exams. We want an A. Therefore, we toll death on our former selves and give into the system. We take our exam “thinking like a lawyer,” or at least, like our professor.

Second-semester 1Ls are savvy about what they say in class and how much they read. Law school is now a rite of passage. Playing dodge ball with the forces of corruption has turned us into cynics.

Have we really overcome ignorance? According to the Yoga Sutra, overcoming ignorance means achieving spiritual liberation by letting go of dependence on transient notions of reality. Egoism, passion, hatred and the will to live impede this process, but dodging these forces does not mean we have even begun on the path to freedom. We can begin by identifying that we depend on transient notions of reality — most notably, law school’s system of punishments and rewards. If we believe that A’s in law school are the ultimate aim in life, we are deluding ourselves. We will find out soon how unrealistic this goal is for some of us.

Letting go of the desire to do well in law school, however, is not as easy as believing we should. Disappointing grades naturally leave some of us jaded and infuriate others into working harder for better ones. Either way, we remain ignorant because we continue to evaluate ourselves within the transient grading system. The law student who steps outside of the system entirely is a rare specimen, because shedding ignorance is difficult by will alone.

“Fortunately, ignorance can be eliminated by a serious commitment to living the life of a disciplined yogi,” writes a translator of the Yoga Sutra. Do not laugh! This does not mean we must flee to an Indian mountaintop to seek enlightenment. Rather, practicing yoga for a couple of hours on a daily basis at home can help us gain the perspective that frees us from attachment to falsehoods.

In my first Yoga class, we were taught to sit still in meditation for ten minutes by focusing on our breath. When thoughts came to mind, we were instructed simply to label them as thoughts, take an “oh well” attitude, and bring our attention back. When we become aware, without judging, of the subtlest sensations in everything we do, our resulting freedom from false prejudices allows us to experience life more richly.

Stressed-out law school students can reap the benefits of yoga. The time-crunched learn to meditate while walking. Some claim that yoga enables them to read faster because their minds wander less. Taking a few yogic breaths has calmed my nerves and given me clarity of thought before speaking in class. But more lasting equanimity, clarity, and contentment can only come from disciplined daily yoga practice.

Law school does not have to be a means to an end. If we discipline ourselves to attain a yogic perspective in all our law school endeavors, we can not only free ourselves from the system but also enjoy every minute of it.

HLS is offering a yoga class next Thursday, February 13, 2 – 3:30 pm, in Pound 335.

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