[ Mara Masters, 1L at Emory Law ]
I am a naturally skeptical yet curious person, and I am doubly skeptical when people tout anything as the key to an improved lifestyle or mental wellness. This is how I felt about meditation until I found myself in law school, overcome with stress and anxiety, and in desperate need of better tools to manage the pressures. At first, all I could manage was five minutes here and there on days when I was having an extra difficult time coping. Five minutes was often agonizing. My mind wanted to move at a thousand miles a minute and my attempts to force it into silence and stillness resulted in even more corporeal anxiety.
Fortunately for me and everyone who has to interact with me regularly, I attended a workshop and learned all of the ways I was meditating unproductively and with much daily practice, have since graduated to 20 whole minutes!
Meditating regularly has proved to be beneficial in pretty much every area of my life, and I get a lot of joy from the way my face sometimes tingles if I have been stress-holding my breath for a while and then take 20 minutes’ worth of deep breaths. Here are the impacts I have noticed on my study habits
I focus better
I am sure I’m not the only law student who finds the perpetual cycle of casebook reading a little droll and repetitive. By Spring semester, I had become conditioned to open my casebook to the reading, reading a few sentences, and then zoning out while I unconsciously flipped pages. Meditation is about awareness in and of the present moment and cultivating the ability to gently redirect focus back to the task and moment at hand. So while I still often struggle to sit down and finish the constant barrage of new cases, I have learned how to more effectively gently redirect my attention back to what I am reading, and to even find joy in the seeming mundaneness of the ritual.
I am less anxious and feel more prepared
I don’t really know how to explain the way that meditating regularly has cleared out space in my mind, but it’s like my conscious brain is busy connecting with my breath and my body, so my unconscious brain is freed up to do the sweeping and tidying. (I picture my conscious brain as a needs and constantly hungry child that follows my unconscious brain around all day asking for snacks).
Additionally, the practice of deep breathing and cultivating connection with your body (something law students are notoriously bad at) reduces the physical stress and anxiety that our lifestyle tends to cultivate. Muscles that have been stress-clenched for weeks have the opportunity to relax and receive a fresh injection of oxygen.
There is plenty of research in the field of psychology that demonstrates that meditation can have positive impacts on anxiety and depression. There is also research in neuroscience that regular meditation can create new neural pathways, which means that meditation actually changes the way our brains process information. Not only does this help to reinforce productive future brain processes, its also just really cool.
I felt calm and prepared going into my oral argument
Our oral arguments were the weekend after we found out that we would be moving to remote learning for the rest of the semester but before our school announced that we would be moving to a mandatory pass/fail grading system. It was a strange and stressful time, so I had very little energy to focus on preparing for my oral argument, but because I had been working so intentionally on deep breathing and being present in the moment, I was able to give my argument over Zoom without any anxiety whatsoever.
I sleep better
I am not the kind of law student who sacrifices sleep to get assignments done, because I love sleep. I value it very highly, second only to good coffee and good food. But, school can have a significant impact on sleep regardless of whether it is by conscious choice or not. In addition to implementing a semi-strict no-screens before bedtime routine, I have also started a light meditation ritual when I get in bed. It helps me let go of any of the stresses of the day and the intentional breathing slows my heart rate to be more fit for sleep. Often I fall asleep before I even finish meditating, but even when I don’t, I definitely law awake staring at the ceiling and stressing about all of the work I haven’t done much less frequently.
Have you tried meditating? Are you skeptical the skeptical sort? Reach out and share your experiences with me on Instagram or Twitter @the1lLife.