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Slowing Down To Speed Up

By Kathleen Myalls, Assistant General Counsel, Interpublic Group

I’m a lawyer. Attorney. Counsel. Snake. Pick your descriptor. I went to law school, got a degree, and make a living negotiating, arguing, advising. We tend to be pragmatists, we lawyers. Very logical thinkers, analytical, practical. Get me from A to B efficiently. Keep moving. Don’t get left behind. And for much of my professional life, I was surrounded by like-minded thinkers, moving equally fast in this game we call life. I vaguely acknowledged – and believe many of my colleagues did as well - that “others” traveled in the world at a different pace. They were organic, crunchy-granola tree-huggers. They recycled. They hung out in coffee bars. They practiced (shudder) yoga. And these were not good things.
And then I came to work in an advertising agency.
Creative minds work differently from my mind. The world is not in a box. Or, rather, it might be, but the job here in the agency is to think outside it. The coffee shop was not only permitted – it was installed on my floor. It was cheap, and attendance was encouraged. I learned that creative minds travelled in a different direction, not at a different pace. And it was fascinating to be part of a workplace that catered to this different mind. I shared with my husband the agency’s philosophies about the workplace. He spent his entire career in a corporate environs so he too couldn’t understand agency culture. He was all about productivity, and couldn’t connect the dots on how coffee bars and happy hours and town halls and such could improve that. He rolled his eyes when I told him we would have a yoga class here. At the agency. In the office. And he practically laughed out loud when I told him I was going to take the class. “Just to see what it’s about,” I explained. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I was a full-time working mother of two very young children. I was sitting on a charity board, serving as president of the homeowner’s association, and married to a man who travelled a lot. Finding time to exercise was difficult at best, and this seemed like a good way to do SOMETHING, although I hardly thought of yoga as a workout. Or as productive. Or as something I would ever do more than once. Boy, was I wrong.
I was a novice, but the class was full of novices. Our extraordinarily patient teacher took me through the various poses, taught me the strength moves, and left me surprisingly sore by the end of class. But I was even more surprised to find that despite the exhausted body (which was a good thing – see above re: no time to work out), my mind was completely energized. What I thought were silly breathing exercises actually did take me to a place of peace where I could recharge the brain and reset my mood. Despite being barely able to get back to my office physically, I was surprisingly refocused and ready to tackle the thousand e-mail messages and other tasks on my afternoon calendar. In that one hour, she had turned this implacable Type-A lawyer into a YOGI. I was hooked.
And two and a half years later, I’m still at it, every week. We have a small group of committed yogis that attend every week, and a larger group of colleagues who join us occasionally. We all agree it’s not always easy to clear our schedules to be ready at noon, on our mats, in our yoga attire, ready to strike poses that two years ago (or even two weeks ago!) we couldn’t pronounce, let alone achieve. But we also all understand that the one hour commitment to our mats makes us better and more productive for the rest of our day…..or week. It was, for me, that perfect but previously unthinkable combination of slowing down to speed up. Finding peace to face mayhem, whether at home or at work (or on the commute between the two). It’s been good for my soul.
I’m sure many people believe that yoga is not for them. I understand. I was one of them. They’re probably wrong, as I was. But our little group presses on, slowly accumulating true believers and loving every minute of our time on our mat.