Preparing for the bar exam requires more than an understanding of legal principles like murder vs. manslaughter or UCC vs. common law. Preparing for and taking the bar exam is an exercise in focus, endurance, and mental toughness. To some extent, those characteristics are developed via a rigorous law school curriculum. After all, completing law school requires the same kind of qualities as taking the bar exam. But, it was yoga that helped me prepare for the mental challenge of taking the bar exam more than any other study aid. Here’s how:
It’s no secret that studying for the bar exam is an intense process. When I prepared for the February bar exam in Virginia nearly ten years ago, I studied for ten hours per day, six days per week, for twelve straight weeks. I studied through Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Day only taking a break on Christmas day and three days in January for a trip to Florida to visit a friend. After a while, I couldn’t keep any of the subjects straight in my head. I wasn’t thoroughly reading the call of the question. And, I couldn’t fully listen to any of the lectures.
I took my second bar exam a few weeks ago, and this time, when I found myself not as dialed-in as I knew I should be, I took a few minutes, rolled out my yoga mat, and completed a couple vinyasas. The break and the physical activity was just what I needed to clear my head and refocus on the task at hand—crushing the New York bar exam.
Studies have shown that yoga, specifically tree pose, dancer’s pose, side plank, and warrior III, can indeed increase focus. So, when you’re feeling like you aren’t retaining a word of your bar exam prep, take a quick yoga break stretching your arms up like leaves in a tree and see if you don’t come back sharper than ever!
There’s a common saying that when you look good, you feel good. I think the same can be said about strength. When you feel strong, you act strong.
Taking the bar exam is a huge feat. It is the culmination of your legal training, at least three years’ worth. Which is why the bar can feel incredibly intimidating. I will admit that it took me three days to actually begin studying for the bar, because I was afraid. All kinds of frustrating worries paralyzed me. What if I thought I was prepared and then drew a blank on exam day? What if the exam tests me on something I didn’t even cover? What if I don’t pass?
One way to overcome a feeling of weakness is to instead focus on increasing strength. Yoga poses like chair pose, boat pose, plank, and warrior I, II, and III are exceptional poses for building strength. When you feel strong physically, you will feel even stronger mentally. And, that will translate into more effective, less fearful study sessions.
It probably goes without saying, but studying for the bar is stressful. Okay, it absolutely goes without saying. A little stress can be a great thing. It’s the stress that keeps us engaged, that makes us get up first thing in the morning and start analyzing whether “Defendant” was really negligent or not or breached his contract or waived an affirmative defense by not pleading it in his answer. But, too much stress can be a negative. One of the most critical aspects of the study process is learning to manage stress so it doesn’t become too much.
Enter yoga. Yoga has been shown to be an incredible method of relieving stress thanks in large part to the breathing techniques used in the practice. When we get stressed, we often forget to breathe regularly. That can lead to physical and mental tension that makes studying less effective. A good, solid, deep breath can instantly have a calming effect. Don’t believe me? Go ahead, take a long breath and slowly release the air. Did your shoulders relax? Your jaw loosen? Imagine how relaxed you would feel after thirty minutes of that.
Not only will yoga help you cope with studying for the bar, but the same breathing exercises employed in yoga can help you when you’re going through the exam. There will be questions on the exam that simply seem foreign to you. Despite all of your diligent studying, you may not recognize a legal term or rule being tested. That’s normal. But it can feel absolutely crushing on exam day. Taking a deep breath when answering those questions can help you let go of the anxiety and move on to the next question.
A Little Yoga Can Go A Long Way
Compared to the first bar exam I took when I didn’t practice yoga, I can unequivocally say that taking just thirty minutes out of my day for a quick yoga session this time around, helped me feel so much more confident and relaxed going into the exam. Yoga poses can increase focus, build strength, and help you manage stress, all of which are essential tools to passing the bar exam. Whether you’ve never practiced yoga before or you’re a seasoned yogi, there’s room for yoga to have a positive impact on your bar exam preparation.