As you settle in to a summer of studying for the bar exam, patting yourself on the back for setting up your bar prep course and making a foolproof schedule to ensure you will master every topic, there may be one crucial study tool you left off of your otherwise meticulous plans.
While a summer of downward facing dog and tree pose might seem to have no relation to dominating those MBE and essay questions, more and more studies are demonstrating that yoga plays an an important role in studying. Many people already know about the physical benefits of yoga and its ability to reduce stress, but it has also been shown to improve brain function, focus, and the ability to process information more quickly.
A 2012 study conducted by the University of Illinois Department of Kinesiology and Community Health found that a yoga practice as brief as 20 minutes enabled participants to “better focus their mental resources, process information quickly, more accurately, and also learn, hold and update pieces of information.” A 2015 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing conducted a randomized trial which found that practicing yoga for 30 minutes twice a week led to an improvement in cognitive function and memory performance. The lead researcher on the study attributed the results to the fact that focused breathing increases oxygenation and movement increasing blood flow. So yoga goes beyond the benefits of movement offered by most other forms of exercise, and offers the added beneficial effects of focused breath, which has a uniquely positive effect on the brain.
If we put this in the context of the bar exam, where focus, processing information quickly and accurately, and retention of material are paramount, yoga just might be an ideal addition to your study plans.
Beyond these direct benefits to studying, yoga can be extremely helpful for the stress and anxiety which surround bar exam preparation. Studying for the exam is intense and the stakes are high. Studies on yoga’s effects on stress and anxiety have been saying for many years that yoga is a great way to relax your body and mind. More recently, a 2009 edition of Harvard Health Mental Letter and a study presented at the Anxiety and Depression Association
of America Conference 2015 both reported that yoga tames the body’s stress response systems by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of cortisol, and regulating respiration.
Another positive effect on stress that yoga provides is a total shift in focus for the hour or so you are in your practice. Studying for the bar exam can be extremely isolating, which creates a perfect environment to get caught in a cycle of anxiety since you have only your own stressed out mind for company. The few people you do see during this summer are most likelygoing to be other stressed out students at your bar prep course. Most people practicing yoga will do so in a class environment which means getting out of your house, out of the library, away from the constant stream of bar exam chatter, and giving you a place where you can get out of your head, put the rule against perpetuities aside, and shift your focus to your breath and your body. After the complicated rules and exceptions you are spending the majority of your time on, this can be refreshingly simple.
When I was studying for the bar exam my days were very scheduled: BARBRI, yoga class, lunch, studying, dinner with my fiancé where I’d pretend to have the ability to converse like a normal person, more studying, sleep. Not the most exciting of days, but yoga made them infinitely better. I was taking 75 minutes every day for myself. It wasn’t time spent out at the bar drinking and subsequently being dehydrated or hungover for the next days’s work, and it wasn’t time spent watching Bravo and just turning off my brain altogether. It wasn’t even time spent going for a run where I’d keep tapping into my intensely competitive nature and try to get a better time than yesterday, which kept me in the same state of mind I was already in every time I studied. It was time where my mind was clear, my breathing was deep and intentional (a welcome change over the hyperventilation I experienced when trying to figure out secured transactions after refusing to take it in law school), and my body was getting stronger and more flexible with every movement. I would come home from yoga ready to dive into my studies, instead of mentally exhausted from a morning at BARBRI and forcing myself through the next several hours of work. I wasn’t excited to study, but I was as physically and mentally prepared as I could be.
And when July came, yes, I passed.
Stay tuned for our next post. OK, so I’ll try your yoga plan, but which type of yoga is right for me? And can I just do it at home?
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Can Playing with a Pet Help Relieve Bar Exam Stress
- What Are You Waiting For? It’s Time to Study for the Bar
- What You Can Do Now to Prepare for the Bar Exam
- Can Studying Early Help You Pass the Bar Exam?
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