Chair's Column: Self-care: It Does the Mind, Body and Spirit Good

By Hal Katz, Husch Blackwell LLP, Austin, TX

To be a good lawyer, and to have a happy life, we must be healthy. Being healthy is a combination of physical, mental, emotional – and for some, spiritual - health. There’s no question, maintaining good health has been challenging during the pandemic. While there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel, many of us will continue to struggle to find the time, and outlet, for self-care.

As a part of my priority this year of promoting the importance of well-being, we have launched a well-being page on the Section’s site, which includes access to live and recorded yoga, meditation, and other resources. In addition, in January we will be presenting three wellness sessions featuring Gioconda Parker, creator of the Body Resilient program.

Gia has been teaching yoga for almost 20 years, has a Master’s Degree in Spiritual Psychology, and has completed the three-year training program in Somatic Experiencing. She teaches Vinyasa Yoga, Yin Yoga and Partnered Thai Massage, meditation and pranayama, the foundations of Ayurveda, and is well-studied in the Yoga Sutras.

Gia has designed the 20-minute sessions to support our physical, mental and emotional health. Each session will offer a different area of health and wellness (Breath & Meditation; Stretching & Moving at your Desk; and Breath & Movement Practice), with simple experiences we can repeat at our desk or at home for overall health and well-being.  A short Q&A will follow each session.

To give you a better idea of what to expect, Gia has contributed the below information on the sessions. The sessions are free. All you have to do is register here. Hope to see you there, and hope you have a healthy holiday season. See you in 2021!

An Overview of the reasoning behind and the content of the Body Resilient program, By Gioconda Parker

Resilience is our capacity to recover quickly from difficulty—it’s our ability to bounce back from whatever challenges life throws our way. Body Resilient programs promote physical, mental and emotional well-being through education moved into action.

We are, as humans, an intricate network of awareness and intelligence—and every part of the network begins or ends in our bodies. There is no aspect of our experience that doesn’t relate to our body—it is both our home and our experience center.

And yet, through Descartes’ error,* “I think, therefore I am,” we as a culture have a divided view of ourselves, with a hierarchy valuing mental processes/thinking over other forms of intelligence and awareness. This is further complicated when stress derails our higher functioning brain, and we are left with lower-level responses to our circumstances.

Ironically, in those moments, it’s our connection to our body, not our thoughts, that helps guide us back to a calm and present state and reconnects us with our capacity to reason, be curious and think outside the box.

The Breath and Movement Module of our program (Self Care) encourages healthy movement throughout the day—a practice that supports both health and a shift in perspective. When we feel both better and more familiar with our bodies, we are more likely to notice when we are feeling stressed, and to take action in the moment to shift.

Simply on the level of physical movement, “People who move a lot more in their day-to-day activities have better cardiac function and have lower risk of disease.” This from Dr. Ambarish Pandey, a cardiology fellow at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center who conducts research on exercise and heart health.

Prolonged time spent sitting, independent of how much other physical activity is done during the day, has been shown to negatively impact things such as blood fats, cholesterol, blood sugar, resting blood pressure and the appetite hormone leptin.

So, one exercise break a day is not enough. “It’s important for people to realize any activity is better than no activity,” says Pandey. “If they can’t get 30 minutes, try to get as much as they can and as often as they can. The benefits of small bouts of activity add up.”

According to Dr. Scott Bautch, chairman of the American Chiropractic Association’s Council on Occupational Health, “Humans are meant to move; the body is supposed to give the brain a great ride every day. We have high motion parameters, so when we don’t move it throws a lot of things off.”

And much of our incidental movement has been shaved down or eliminated entirely by the pandemic. The steps and movements that used to be part of our daily activities have been replaced by deliveries, working from home, school from home. Add to that hours in online meetings sitting in front of a screen, and we are fighting an uphill battle.

The upcoming sessions offer breathing and mindfulness practices that can be done seated, stretches and movements that can be done in or near a chair or desk, and one session of breath and movement that can be used to transition into the “work space” or out of it. That third session addresses another challenge we face when we don’t physically commute to and from work, which is how to create a distinction between work and the rest of our lives.

The Self-Regulation Module of our program (Resilient) focuses on how our brains and nervous systems respond to stress, and how we can reverse the stress pattern through more awareness and by employing simple tools. The final session also offers ways to bring those tools into interactions with others.

The single most valuable thing we can bring to any challenging conversation is a regulated nervous system. When we learn not to follow the escalation in an interaction, but instead stay grounded and present, we not only have all of our own resources readily available to consult and use. We also become a resource to other parties involved, because nervous systems will calibrate to the most grounded system in the space.

Inc. Magazine’s article “Nine Traits of the Most Grounded People in Your Life,” by Christina Desmarais, lists as the number one trait being unshakeable. “In the midst of a crisis, you need people who can calmly get the right things done without panicking, exhibiting stress or otherwise losing their cool. A truly grounded person helps others by demonstrating that whatever happens is not the end of the world.”

This is a great description of someone who is regulating their nervous system, staying present, and communicating through action and presence, rather than words, that everything is going to be okay.

The Self-Regulation sessions offer an overview of how your brain, body and nervous system communicate, and offer guidance on how to remain the most grounded person in the room. Learn to recognize the signs of stress or triggers before reaching overwhelm, and gain tools to stay settled while holding space for others.

*reference to the book Descartes’ Error by Antonio Damasio

As a reminder, this is the Section’s 25th Anniversary, and I’m sharing pictures from memorable moments over the years, like the one in this Column

As a reminder, this is the Section’s 25th Anniversary, and I’m sharing pictures from memorable moments over the years, like the one in this Column

Hal Katz, Catherine Greaves, Hilary Young, and Raymond Lindholm, and Andy Demetriou, which was taken following a wellbeing session during one of our live in-person conferences. Keep an eye-out for more to follow!