Mindfulness: How It Can Help You Study Law
The word “mindfulness” has become ever more common in today’s society. Often this use is accompanied by pictures of serene landscapes, flowing water or impressive yoga poses.
Here to explain mindfulness and how it can help you study law are Emma Jones, Senior Lecturer in Law and member of the Open Justice team at The Open University and Chris Lomas who teaches mindfulness courses developed from Taoist and Buddhist practices for the MediPsych Institute.
It may seem a world away from studying law, but in fact mindfulness techniques can provide a valuable way in which to enhance your studies.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness has lots of different definitions, but for the purpose of this article we are talking about the ability to consciously experience the present moment. In other words, not to be worrying about the past or the future but simply to be focused on the present and your existing physical, mental and emotional states.
There are many methods to help develop a state of mindfulness, including meditation and other contemplative practices. One example of this is “body scanning”, where you focus on each part of your body in turn, from your toes right up to your head, being aware of each separate bit of your anatomy developing a more complete picture of the true state of the body. These types of activities are sometimes known as “contemplative practices” and there is a really useful summary of there (in the form of a “tree of contemplative practices”) here.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
There are a number of benefits, not all of which have been fully researched yet. However, there is strong evidence that regularly practising mindfulness activities can help to improve concentration and reduce stress. There have been some interesting studies done with lawyers, particularly in the United States, which suggest that that engaging in mindfulness practices can also improve performance at work. Being focused on the present and having a strong awareness of your reactions and feelings within situations can help you to understand and regulate your responses in a healthy and appropriate manner.
For law students, the benefits could include being able to focus more clearly on your work when reading, writing and revising. It may also help to handle difficult deadlines and projects in a calm, productive manner, such as when juggling several assignments at once. There are specific situations, such appearing in a moot and sitting an examination, which also call for a significant awareness of your environment and your responses to it. Being able to avoid nerves getting the better of you and “thinking the worst” could really be helpful in these situations.
How do I incorporate mindfulness in my legal studies?
The key is to make time to fit mindfulness into your study routines. This doesn’t need to involve hours of chanting and mediation, it could just be a two minute pause at the start of each study session before you crack open the books or fire up the lap top. Decide how long you can spend and stick to it, otherwise you might find yourself becoming distracted or feeling bored or disheartened. You can even set a timer to keep you on track. Set small attainable targets, then you can always choose to do more if you want.
Start your mindfulness pause by checking the environment around you – are you warm enough, comfortable, free from distractions? Have you had enough to eat and drink? Are you tired or refreshed? These are really useful questions to ask yourself anyway, to check that you are looking after yourself so that you can study as effectively and healthily as possible. Take the time to feel how your body responds to the questions, bring your awareness fully to each.
If you already do an activity such as yoga or pilates, you may well find you can draw on aspects of this and incorporate them into your study routine. For example, you could spend two minutes practising some positions, or just focusing on your breathing, before you start studying. If you are a complete beginner, there are plenty of free online resources and phone apps you can take a look at, to see which suits you best. Looking up activities such as the “body scanning” exercise mentioned above will provide you with lots of examples to choose from. The type of exercise you chose matter less than your engagement with it. Having that sense of being in the present moment is what makes it a contemplative practice, whether it be simply sitting or engaging in a complex series of postures.
When you’re starting to get into a routine with your mindfulness activities, think about other times you can incorporate it into your study schedule. For example, if you know you tend to lose concentration after around 30 minutes of revision then that might be a good time to add in another pause to refocus yourself. Even if this is simply to recheck whether your body is comfortable or needs anything (aching shoulders? Sore eyes?). If you usually feel panicky before going into an examination then perhaps you can find somewhere quiet to sit and spend a few moments doing an activity to calm your thoughts and help you concentrate. Even simply focusing on your breathing and allowing it to relax and slow down can have a profound effect.
Studying law is exciting and rewarding, but it can also be stressful and demanding at times. Mindfulness can be a helpful tool to assist you in your studies and ensure you are looking after your wellbeing. Making mindfulness a part of your study routine may help your legal studies progress, while incorporating mindfulness into your daily life may help you to enjoy the journey more.