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Lawyers turn to meditation, yoga to balance work, life

More lawyers are practising mindfulness techniques such as meditation and yoga as a way of busting stress from their hectic lives, says Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars.

“People want a better work-life balance and less stress in their lives overall, and businesses are good at understanding that people need to invest in themselves,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Kopping-Pavars, principal at NKP Law, says the many misconceptions about meditating set people up for failure before they even try it — notably that their minds will automatically shut off when they sit down to meditate, but it doesn’t work that way.

“People say, ‘I could never do that,’ but that’s exactly the point,” she says. “We can never just switch our brains off. The idea is simply to notice thoughts as they come up.”

Meditation is about creating space between thoughts, not turning thoughts off, explains Kopping-Pavars.

“Think of it like walking through a tunnel against hundreds of people. You might start to get agitated and reactive as you try to move forward. If you had more space, you would have a better perspective and, even in a chaotic situation, you would be able to respond differently.”

Most lawyers are stressed to the max and it can trigger the body to release cortisol, a hormone that flips the brain into fight-or-flight response mode — not the ideal situation for critical thinking, Kopping-Pavars says.

“Having a mindfulness practice or just understanding when your amygdala has been hijacked can save someone from lashing out,” she says.

A lawyer is trained to be a devil's advocate, imagining worst-case scenarios, and they can’t just “switch that off” when it’s no longer serving them, notes Kopping-Pavars.

“Ours is a stressful profession where it’s easy to lash out and react, but clients might be the victims of our bad reactions.”

Many law schools in North America are offering students courses in mindfulness, something Kopping-Pavars says she hopes to see adopted by Canadian law schools.

“Law schools are starting to recognize it’s important that we train lawyers in a different way. We’ve been trained to be warriors and worriers, but now law students need to be trained as peacemakers,” she says.

Ultimately, Kopping-Pavars says she hopes to see mindfulness playing out in Canadian courtrooms where the dynamic is often contentious and pessimistic.

“Compassionate courtrooms are my ultimate goal,” she says. “Judges are with  lawyers every day and if we could create more compassionate courtrooms, and address each other properly and more mindfully there would be a trickle-down effect.

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