You’ve been memorizing your outlines, your MBE accuracy is going up, and your practice essays are steadily improving. You’ve taken all of the advice of caring for your physical health by exercising and eating well, and you’re feeling pretty good about your preparation strategies. But there’s one powerful tool you may not have incorporated into your routine that you should consider adding: meditation.
Meditation is no longer something reserved for hippies or people seriously practicing eastern philosophies. More and more successful professionals and high achieving people are seeing the benefits of taking just a few minutes a day to meditate, including students studying for the bar exam.
Meditation has several benefits for bar examinees. Studies have shown that meditation strengthens the brain’s ability to learn, process, and memorize new information, as well as reducing stress.
All those hours spent memorizing, thinking critically through questions, and focusing intently exhaust your brain, and mediation can serve as a reset button by turning off the constant stream of thoughts and allowing your brain to focus only on what is important in the moment. The common misconception about meditation is that it’s about making your mind blank or shutting it off. On the contrary, meditation is about training your mind to focus on one thing and one thing only, and to block out distractions and errant thoughts and stimuli.This is why we often read about meditation revolving around a focus on breathing, or on a single word or thought. This mindfulness allows the brain, which has become overworked and fatigued, to rest and recover from the news ticker of mental chatter most of us have come to believe is simply part of modern life. But it doesn’t have to be that way- by training your mind to acknowledge that distractions will always exist, but that they do not require you to pay them any attention, you can become a more focused, calmer person, and these qualities are essential to success on the bar exam.
Recognizing the need for attorneys to be highly skilled at focusing and handling stress effectively, law schools like the University of Miami and The University of California, Berkeley, have started offering students mindfulness classes as part of their Juris Doctor curriculum and their bar exam preparation.
So, if your school isn’t offering a meditation program, how do you get started? You can try some of the simple exercises below, or you can rely on the fact that, yes, even when it coms to meditation, there’s an app for that!
Pacifica, Headspace, Calm, Buddhify, and Omvana are some of the highest rated apps which provide you with guided meditation, soothing nature sounds, and calming music to help you focus on mindfulness, breath awareness, walking meditations, nature focused meditations, and many other options. All of these apps let you start slow, with meditations as brief as 7 minutes, with lengthier options available as you build on your practice. Check out these and other apps to see if one feels right for you.
If you’d rather keep technology out of it, you can try this introductory technique which is accessible to even those with no prior experience at all.
- Find a comfortable position sitting or lying down.
- Allow your breath to settle into a regular, even pattern.
- Bring your focus to your breathing. This may sounds difficult, so the key is to pick a physical sensation related to your breath- the feeling of the air passing in and out of your mouth or nose, the sound of each exhale, the rise and fall of your chest and belly and you breath deeply. You can also focus on counting the number of seconds as you inhale, and then the number of seconds that you exhale.
- Picking a specific, tangible focus allows you to channel your attention to one singular thing, something that is happening in the moment. Outside thoughts will still pop up- possibly quite a lot the first few times you try meditating, but this is not a failure. In life, distractions will pop up too- the key is not to try to fight these thoughts or distractions or to empty your mind of all thoughts, but to simply notice the thoughts as they pop up, and then let them go. Some people find success in visualizing these thoughts as bubbles which appear and then float away, and they continue to focus on just one thing.
So how will any of this help you with the bar exam specifically?
1. Acknowledging self-doubt and fear
Everyone preparing for the bar is plagued by at least some unwelcome thoughts that they might fail, that they are not working hard enough, that if they fail they will never secure a job or be successful, and other spiraling negative thoughts. However, learning mindfulness through meditation is an excellent way to lean to acknowledge that these fears exist, but that you do not need to engage in obsessing or worrying over them. In fact doing so takes time and energy away from your studying, so learning how to disengage from that cycle saves you time, energy, and stress.
2. Practice Physical Relaxation
If you find that stress or negative thoughts are taking over, you’ll have more success relaxing your mind if you first relax your body. Some simple breathing exercises can help immensely.
Belly breathing is the easiest way to try this out. Sit comfortably with your back straight or lie on your back and put one hand on your stomach. Close your eyes and start to breathe, working on deepening your breath so you can feel your belly expand as you inhale and contract when you exhale. Once you feel that happening, start to make your inhales and exhales longer and slower. Breathe this way for a few minutes, until you start to feel yourself relax.
Also simple and very effective is quartered breathing. Sit comfortably with your back straight, or lie down on your back. Close your eyes. Inhale for four counts, and then exhale for four counts, matching the length of your inhale and exhale. Continue breathing this way for several minutes, or until you feel your mind and body relax.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation can also help reduce physical tension, and set you up for a successful meditation practice. Progressive muscle relaxation teaches you how to relax your muscles through a two-step process. First, you tense specific muscle groups in your body, for example, your neck and shoulders. Next, you release the tension and notice how your muscles feel. This will help you reduce your overall stress levels. When you’re studying for hours on end, you can get so tense throughout the day that you forget what being relaxed feels like. This exercise teaches you the difference and gives you a way to actively relax.
3. Visualizing Success
As I mentioned when discussing meditation apps, many people enjoy guided meditation, where you either listen to someone walk you through a meditation on a certain topic, or you do it yourself by imagining the details of a particular event and the outcome you hope will result. With the bar exam, you can build confidence by visualizing a successful exam experience. Start with the image of yourself waking up on the day of the exam, feeling well rested and relaxed. Walk yourself through your morning routine as you eat breakfast and get ready to leave the house, having plenty of time to accomplish everything, and not feeling rushed. Imagine arriving at the test center, registering, and finding your seat Then imagine the test is in front of you and you feel confident and calm and you easily produce the correct responses to each question, completing the exam with plenty of time to check over your work. If doubts start to creep in, remember that’s very normal, but you can acknowledge those feelings while bringing your focus back to the successful scenario you are visualizing. End the meditation but seeing yourself receiving your results and learning you have passed the exam.
Preparing for the bar exam is a long and strenuous task, but meditation is well worth the investment of your time because of the positive effect it can have on your preparation. Try to set aside just 10 minutes a day to meditate, whether you use an app, do some basic breathing, or a visualization exercise. See what works for you and keep practicing every day so that you can realize the benefits of the practice and allow them to contribute to your success on the exam.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check the other articles in this post:
- Passing the Bar Exam One Asana At a Time, Part One
- Passing the Bar Exam One Asana At a Time, Part Two: Poses to Enhance Your Ability to Concentrate
- Passing the Bar Exam One Asana At a Time, Part Three: Poses to Counteract Poor Posture When Studying
- Passing the Bar Exam One Asana At a Time, Part Four: Learning to Relax
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