Marisa Ahlzadeh spent a couple years working in the corporate world of New York City before deciding to attend law school. It was around that same time she began integrating yoga and meditation into her life. While she saw the benefits of the practice, she figured she would have to put that on hold when she started at Georgia State Law.
“I hadn’t ever heard of anything like that in a law school,” said Ahlzadeh.
To her surprise, it was offered as part of the curriculum, thanks to Catherine C. Henson Professor of Law Charity Scott, who started a mindfulness training program in 2015. The course continues to be improved on each fall and follows MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), an evidence-based program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
“Mindfulness has significant effects on improving focus and concentration, which is something our law students really appreciate when they are faced with heavy workloads and so many social media distractions,” said Scott. “In addition to reducing stress, mindfulness has been shown to promote other professional competencies related to lawyer effectiveness, like improving memory and critical cognitive skills.”
The training inspired Ahlzadeh to get involved with the Wellness in Law Society student organization, where she teaches a weekly yoga class for students and is bringing back “Wellness Wednesday”. It’s a program for students to meditate and discuss different pillars of wellness such as healthy eating and emotional and financial stability. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to convince other students to add mindfulness to their routine when their course load is already full.
“In reality you need it more than ever,” said Ahlzadeh. “It was a struggle at first trying to find the time and space and being held accountable for it, but when you have a community around you that acts as accountability partners, it helps.”
That’s why Scott says student health and well-being should to be an institutional priority. She is working to make that commitment to the students with her new course, The Reflective Lawyer. It’s being offered for the first time this semester. The class dives deep into how students view themselves on their path to becoming lawyers.
“You leave the class feeling more self-aware,” said Ahlzadeh. “After a year and a half of being head down in books and completely disconnecting with myself in law school, it’s been really nice to reintegrate and get to know myself again because you just completely lose that when you’re only studying.”
Scott says the goal of the course is to help students develop an integration among the multiple dimensions of a healthy life: intellectual, emotional, social, physical, occupational/financial, physical, and spiritual. The final assignment is for the students to present a framework for designing their life in way that fosters their success, happiness, and well-being and that aligns with their own personal and professional values and strengths.
“The course supports students’ ability to thrive in all of these important dimensions of their personal and professional lives,” said Scott, adding that mindfulness is a tool offered to support their mental health. “The course also has three texts books, so they’ve got to do some reading too, it is law school after all.”
Scott is hopeful the class will continue. In this first semester, registration filled up immediately and had a waitlist. The class is available to 2L and 3L students with Scott’s permission.
Written by Mara Thompson