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The Witness

I've had extensive experience practicing law as well as practicing yoga and I couldn't imagine two worlds being further apart. When I was drafting a legal argument, yoga was the last thing on my mind. And when I was on my mat, I completely exhaled away the concerns of court dates and discovery requests. I think anyone would be hard-pressed to find what, if anything, being an attorney has in common with being a yogi.

The law demands a sharp intellect while yoga encourages us to turn off a busy mind. In the law, facts are paramount while yoga asks us to open our hearts. The law swirls around in your head, while yoga channels your attention into the body.

A legal practitioner must maintain a laser focus on achieving their goal while a yogi seeks to evolve and simply delights in seeing progress. It's a matter of competition vs. compassion and persuasion vs. revelation. The law prides itself in rigidly following legal precedents while yoga is a study of developing physical and emotional flexibility.

As with anything, however, if you dig deep enough you'll find what you're looking for. And although practicing law is a discipline of action while yoga is a practice of "being", the element they have in common is The Witness. A lay witness in law is someone who can testify to what they saw, heard, tasted, touched, smelled, said, and did.

The best lay witness is someone who keenly observes, someone who is impartial and unbiased, and gives an accurate account of their firsthand knowledge. Any attorney will tell you that a great fact witness can make or break their case. In yoga, we talk about The Witness as the silent observer within; the nonjudgmental and impartial presence in each of us. The Witness within is like a mirror, reflecting what you need to see and may seek to change.

Each type of witness is an integral part of its respective process. And while a lay witness can transform the entire course of your case, The Witness within can transform the entire course of your life.

While I was still relatively new to the practice of yoga, my teacher guided me into the Warrior II pose, and although Virabhadrasana II is a pretty standard pose in yoga I was still trying to iron out a lot of its mechanics. I sought to build a strong foundation with my legs.

I wanted to turn my back foot parallel to the short edge of my mat and ensure that the center of its arch was aligned with the heel of my front foot. I needed to feel the outside edge of my back foot firmly grounded with my arch lifted. I bent into my front knee, trying not to extend it over my ankle, but to track it over my second toe. I wanted to bend down far enough so I could get my front thigh parallel to the floor.

With my arms outstretched in a T, I tried to keep my shoulders down and away from my ears while still keeping them aligned over my hips. I had to point my tailbone downward, which was supposed to ground me into the earth. My heart was supposed to be light. My gaze (was it called "drishti" or something like that?) was supposed to be relaxed as I looked out over my middle finger.

And my breath (yes, I was supposed to keep breathing) was to be smooth and easeful. There I was, physically wobbling and mentally surveilling. I was just waiting for the "magic" of the pose to take effect so I could feel grounded, balanced, and determined in all aspects of my life.

My teacher interrupted my concentration. "Now, imagine that you're hovering above your body right now, looking down at yourself in this pose," she said. "WHAT???" I wanted to scream! The last thing I needed was something else to think about!

"Be a witness", she continued, "and tell me what you see." I was totally caught off guard. Typically my mind would race into judgment mode to criticize my positioning and mock my efforts but instead, I heard an entirely different voice. I answered her question with an even tone but with a feeling of great surprise.

"I would say that Lisa is doing the best that she can. Her intention is pure, and she's earnestly trying to get this right." It was The Witness who answered; the impartial, unbiased, nonjudgmental observer I had no idea existed within me. It was compassionate, it was honest, it was impartial, it was accurate, and it was so very much appreciated.

Since that first experience, I continued to witness my actions, catching my debilitating and defeating mind patterns with honesty and neutrality. When I looked at my behavior through the eyes of an impartial witness, I realized I was doing the best I could, but there was certainly room for improvement. I began to change my behavior, not out of frustration, but out of an understanding that I wanted to do better. I moved forward by forgiving myself.

"When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future" ~ Bernard Meltzer

As with any powerful experience, its effects set off a chain reaction over time. If I can observe my behavior without judgment, if I can understand that I was doing the best I could with what I had experienced, if I can let past mistakes go, forgive myself, change, move on, and try again, then couldn't I extend that same grace to others?

After all, as I observe their behavior, aren't they doing the best they can in light of their own circumstances and beliefs? And although I may have judged that their best wasn't good enough for me, can I at least acknowledge that my best may not have met others' expectations either? And wouldn't they appreciate a little compassion in those instances? Wouldn't they long for the same understanding from me that "They're doing the best they can"? I began to feel emotionally lighter and enjoyed the spiritual movement I was able to free up!

"Forgiveness is choosing to love. It is the first skill of self-giving love" ~ Mahatma Gandhi

We talk so much about the importance of self-love and self-care like easing stress, learning to relax, and ensuring that we nourish ourselves. Try easing the stress of judgment, relaxing into the comfort of understanding, and nourishing yourself with the sustenance of forgiveness. Even more than the physical benefits of a self-care routine, you will live more freely and more healthfully. When you extend grace to others, you improve yourself and invite them to do the same.

"The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world" ~ Marianne Williamson

Start being a witness to your actions. Watch your destructive habits, question your unyielding mind patterns, and challenge your judgmental beliefs. Don't justify and don't condemn. Just observe. Step out of your ego and simply watch as if you're hovering above yourself. The information you'll receive is invaluable. We always have the option and the capacity to change.

Whether it is practicing law or practicing yoga, the witness plays a pivotal role. It provides that unbiased wisdom we all need. In law, a witness can lead you to success. In yoga, The Witness can lead you to freedom. Either way, it can change the course of everything.


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