Commissions | 19.03.2024

Animal Law Working Group Incorporates Wellness Into July Seminar

In January 2023, the UIA US National Committee held a “Wellness for Lawyers” seminar in New York City. From discussions on how to define lawyer health and well-being to peak performance strategies, lawyers were given a current look at the issues in the aftermath of COVID. Because of the positive response, the UIA formed a Wellness Committee to ensure that wellness is an ongoing priority for the UIA and its members.
In keeping with that goal, the UIA Animal Law Commission Working Group is including a wellness component in its first International Animal Law Seminar on 19-20 July in New York City. “The Business of Animal Law: The Global Impact of Animals and the Law” will be held at Seward & Kissel Law. The US National Committee is co-sponsoring the seminar in collaboration with the Agrifood Commission, Criminal Law Commission, and Health Law Commission.

John Forelli, a certified yoga and meditation guide, will offer attendees lessons in wellness, including yoga, meditation, and personal advice on dealing with the stress related to the legal profession, particularly legal advocacy. He will work with attendees on managing stress, staying well, and being relaxed and comfortable throughout the seminar.

In the following interview, John shares his thoughts on yoga and wellness with Yolanda Eisenstein, president of the Animal Law Commission Working Group.

YE: John, tell us a bit about you. I know you lived and studied in India, where you earned your certification in yoga and meditation.
JF: Yes! I studied yoga in India and meditation in Nepal. For me it was important to learn these things from the source, and India is where yoga was “invented” and came into being about 6,000 years ago. The country is one of the most vibrant and unique places on the planet—geographically, culturally, and spiritually—and that adds layers to the experience of learning yoga that would simply not be present anywhere else. At present I am teaching yoga and doing one-on-one assisted stretching in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I’ve been living off-grid for three years.

YE: Being a lawyer is an inherently stressful job. While some stress is healthy, it can quickly become unhealthy. How does stress impact us?
JF: Stress impacts the body in lots of different ways, some of them good, many of them bad. When we experience stress, the body goes through all sorts of physiological changes, including increases in heart rate and respiration rate, a decrease in metabolism, and hormonal changes, specifically an increase in adrenaline. These effects are useful—“good”—if you’re running away from a hungry lion or fleeing a burning building, but they become maladaptive—“bad”—if chronic and long lasting. In other words, the stimulation that we feel due to work, bills, the mortgage, etc. places us in a state of chronic stress where our heart rate and adrenaline are elevated, putting strain on our cardiovascular system and making us much more vulnerable to heart disease. And then as metabolism slows during the stress response we are less able to digest food effectively, making us more vulnerable to diabetes and weight gain. These in turn place more stress on the body and cardiovascular system, and round and round the stress wheel turns.

YE: It’s easy to see how meditation can relieve stress, but how does yoga relieve stress? And what are other benefits of yoga?
JF: Most people, if they think of yoga and meditation at all, think of them as two separate things. In reality, they are different versions of the same thing: accessing serenity and peace of mind. Yoga is merely a moving meditation and is especially useful for people who have difficulty sitting still for more than a few minutes, as I imagine more than a few lawyers experience. The mind-body connection is also a two-way street, so if we can ease tension in the body we will ease tension in the mind. This is where yoga is great: it relaxes the body and, therefore, the mind. Yoga can also be thought of as preventative maintenance insofar as it strengthens the cardiovascular system, which renders the body more capable of navigating the fight or flight response (aka stress). Finally, yoga puts our body in positions that many people would consider to be “uncomfortable,” but it also emphasizes the act of breathing through the discomfort, which is an incredibly useful skill for dealing with the inevitable stresses of life.

YE: Getting started with an exercise or fitness program is often challenging. Yoga and meditation can be a bit intimidating. How do you convince people to get started and make people feel comfortable?
JF: One breath at a time. There’s no secret to doing something, you just do it. And the more you do it, the more you see results, and the more motivated you are to keep going. The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath your feet. I can’t imagine yoga is more intimidating than law school or a courtroom.

YE: Your example is telling. We lawyers are trained to use our minds, but there must be a balance with the physical. How do we achieve that balance?
JF: Much depends on the individual. I work personally with clients, which is more specialized and holistic. A personal plan for a single individual might include, but isn’t limited to, yoga, meditation, hands-on stretching, massage, dietary guidance, cold exposure, exercise, and more. With a one-on-one arrangement I’m able to personally curate a “stress treatment and body optimization plan,” if you will, and implement it with focused attention to help the client optimize the functioning of their brain and body.

YE: Let’s talk about the conference. It is an international conference. How does your work transcend countries and cultures?
JF: Happiness, health, and peace of mind don’t have borders. Our great, tragic failure as a civilization has been deprioritizing the health and well-being of ALL beings: humans, animals, and the environment. The planet and all consciousness on it constitute one single, beautifully complex organism. There are no borders to consciousness.

YE: What is your plan for the conference? We will have lawyers coming and going at all times dressed in suits and street shoes rather than lined up on yoga mats.
JF: I plan to meet people as they are and use every moment to show how to mitigate stress and cultivate peace of mind. A relaxed state is possible whether we’re wearing suits or on yoga mats. Come as you are. We’ll be doing a couple of yoga classes throughout each day of the conference, and I will also give a talk on wellness in the 21st century. There will be something for everyone. I’m also excited to learn from the group, as this is the first time that I’ve ever worked intensively with lawyers. I imagine I’ll get to explore a whole new universe of stress management techniques!

YE: It’s easy to get motivated in situations such as the conference. How can people stay motivated after they go home?
JF: Start small and build from there. If you try a headstand straight away you are going to fall and get discouraged. When people get home they can implement a simple 5-minute breath check-in once or twice a day. Perhaps if you’re having a stressful day you choose to pause, take three deep breaths in and out, and consciously think of something that makes you smile. It’s as simple as that. Every time I teach yoga or talk about these techniques I’m always including simples little ways for people to incorporate them into their lifestyle back at home.

YE: Besides the stress of being a lawyer, compassion fatigue is an additional issue for those of us who work in animal advocacy. What advice can you share?
JF: Compassion fatigue is something I experience in my work as well. The good news is that the more we practice yoga and meditation, the more we’re able to release attachment to compassion fatigue. In other words, all emotions are merely physiological states, whether they be stress, happiness, or compassion fatigue. Meditation and yoga give us greater control over the physiological states in our body, much like exercise gives us more control over our musculature. And just like exercise allows us to run faster and longer, yoga and meditation will enable us to be more emotionally balanced for longer periods of time and through more demanding circumstances.

YE: You’re vegan. We plan to have plant-based meals at the conference for ethical, health, and sustainability reasons. How does diet work with yoga and meditation?
JF: Basically, every advanced yogi I know is a vegan. There is a concept in yoga called “ahimsa” that means non-violence. So, the yoga philosophy advocates for a vegan diet. Yoga couches veganism in more spiritual terms, and as often happens, the practical applications are also highly beneficial. For example, diets high in meats and saturated fats are proven to be deleterious to cardiovascular health, and as we’ve already discussed, an unhealthy cardiovascular system makes us more vulnerable to stress, fatigue, disease, you name it. So what yoga couches as a spiritual necessity also happens to benefit us physiologically.

YE: John, thank you for giving us a preview of what’s to come in July. We look forward to seeing you in New York.

By Yolanda Eisenstein
President of the Animal Law Working Group
Santa Fe, New Mexico U.S.

and John Forelli
Certified Yoga and Meditation Guide
Santa Fe, New Mexico U.S