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After the Bar

Personal & Financial

How to Develop a Self-Care Practice That Makes You Want to Show Up

Avery Kalapa and Abby Foster


  • Lawyers should incorporate mindfulness and self-care practices, such as yoga and meditation, into their lives to prevent burnout and promote overall well-being.
How to Develop a Self-Care Practice That Makes You Want to Show Up

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Congratulations! You’ve graduated law school, passed the bar, and started your exciting career as an attorney! Right?

Maybe? Maybe you’re exhausted and have been even before your legal career, and now you’re staring down the barrel of decades of stress and working too hard. How will you manage and have energy left for friends, family, and the causes you care about if you’re burnt out already?

Pop culture says: Buy things! A mindfulness app! Essential oils! Carve out time for a daily hour-long yoga class! Get a massage/manicure/pedicure! Indulge in self-care! It says we can consume our way to mindfulness and out of burnout, with a focus on how we look versus how we feel. But it doesn’t work that way. Investing in skills and guidance to facilitate embodiment, rest, yoga, or meditation is great, but you must still prioritize practice.

Ultimately, “mindfulness,” a Westernized way of saying “yoga” that’s meant not to seem too woo-woo, is a state of integration within your whole self: body, mind, and spirit. As attorneys, we’ve gone to school and built careers based on what our minds can do, but often we lose connection to our bodies, intuition, inner wisdom . . . joy.

Don’t Sacrifice Your Well-Being for Your Career

At first, the excitement of career path progress feels worth such sacrifices. However, the true cost of exploiting yourself takes a huge toll. Many lawyers feel there’s no avoiding this stress, isolation, and exhaustion—either there’s room for self-care or getting the job done, but not both.

This false binary is, unfortunately, a widespread belief. There is time for both. If you prioritize consistent, committed time for yoga, care, rest, and embodiment, you will feel better beyond your work life, and you’ll show up for responsibilities with more clarity, energy, and ease. Of course, productivity is not the reason for self-care—your happiness and health are worth much more than your professional performance. It’s a reliable positive side effect, however.

Let’s be honest: the work we do wears on us. The problems lawyers help solve are heavy. We help clients who have been injured, are struggling with heartbreaking conflict, and are navigating incarceration, addiction, domestic violence, unjust social structures, and power imbalances. Many can’t leave their work at the office and carry it home to their personal lives, shut down emotionally, and struggle to be present, sleep well, and enjoy life. It’s called vicarious trauma. Whichever nervous system response happens for you, it keeps you stuck and exhausted—unless you find a way to process it. But how?

Make a Commitment to Take Time for Yourself

Committing to (or recommitting) a small but consistent practice: yoga, mindfulness, meditation, etc., can truly help! A great compliment to other forms of support, like therapy, yoga connects you to your body and spirit, reprograms your nervous system, and helps you relax. You don’t need a posh studio to buy weird candles or long sweaty workouts. But it is important to tune into your somatic experience, the part of you that is not your thoughts, every day, even for a few minutes.

Though abundant yoga classes, guides, and books are available, many people have difficulty getting started. We’re busy, tired, so . . . tomorrow, we say.

Eight Tips to Help You Show Up for a Healing Practice That Works for You

  1. Don’t let the practice you think you should be doing get in the way of the practice you are doing. Your practice counts, even if it’s small or doesn’t include “all the things.” Don’t compare your practice to others; taking care of yourself is not a competition. Your journey is valid.
  2. Clarify your intentions. What’s your why? Practice for inner connection, not to prove anything or affect how others perceive you. What if it’s about shifting your perception? When you arrive, cultivate a different mindset than for a workout or checking something off a to-do list. Cultivate slowing down, curiosity, reverence, and devotion—rather than extracting or manipulating to get something.
  3. Create a Boundary: Unplug. Your practice is a special, sacred time away from the entanglement of the external world. I know you know this, but here’s some encouragement: your value is not connected to how capitalism defines your productivity. You deserve time away to get clear, heal, recenter, and recharge. Close the door, get pets and kids handled, silence your phone, and avoid answering texts, emails, or checking social media. Allowing even brief moments to unplug and be unavailable so you can tend to the inner universe is a healing act. For people who hold marginalized identities, it is a radical act.
  4. Commit to a small, doable, but consistent time. A short, consistent practice is much more effective than an occasional huge one. Ideally, practice around the same time each day. The best time is when it works for you. Find what’s doable, and schedule it!
  5. Designate a consistent space in your home or wherever you are that can be your spot for practice. Keep it set up. If you have to search for a place, move furniture, sweep the floor, or clear away clutter, getting on your mat or cushion will be much more challenging.

    “But I don’t feel like it.” Our minds seek to avoid our practice because we default to the familiar. Notice how easily your mind can derail your practice because the environment isn’t perfect. Your mind can always find more to clean, repair, or upgrade. Don’t postpone your inner journey because the outer environment isn’t just right. The external world cannot bring you lasting peace!
  6. Build a positive association: Especially at first, ensure the majority of what you’re doing provides enjoyment (even if it’s not easy). Yoga practice shouldn’t feel like punishment! Aim to have your practice consist of 80 percent of what you enjoy and 20 percent of things you know are good but find challenging or resist. Over time you can adjust this ratio.
  7. Don’t skip SavasanaRest is very important!  Savasana, the relaxation at the end of an asana class, is a sacred, powerful practice. It’s the gateway to the innermost core of your being. Not easy because it requires trust and surrender. Trusting the earth to hold you, trusting the breath to carry you, trusting yourself and your life to be okay without you for a few minutes. This is where you metabolize the benefits and cultivate nervous system regulation and resilience.
  8. Try different classes, styles, and teachers! Being in a class provides important education but also accountability. What do you need to feel safe enough to try something new? A teacher with a similar social location may help—try a class taught by queer, trans, fat, BIPOC teachers. Look for phrases like “Iyengar Yoga,” “alignment based,” or “trauma-informed.” Restorative classes are often more restful. Study with South Asian teachers who bring important cultural context. Explore with those who have studied anatomy, philosophy, and yoga history, not just flow. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Explore, and find whom you enjoy. There’s great support if you have the courage to show up. Many great options are online if you don’t have the time for in-person yoga. Seek out instructors who speak to you from all over the world.

Figure Out What Works for You

Whether this is new or you’re getting back in the groove, embodiment practice is key to being present with your whole self—which also nurtures your clients, your loves, and the change you want to make. Your health and happiness matters.

Your practice will evolve with your needs, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes you need more active movement or meditation or more rest. It’s supposed to change; you’re not a failure for having different needs than you did years ago. It’s about being in touch with the now!

Let’s work to change society so we aren’t all burned out! In the meantime, we can’t do that work if we’re running on fumes, so make time today to enjoy having a practice.