Alan Kay, The Times: A meditative barrister is helping colleagues to breathe more easily.
It is another day at the coalface of the Criminal Bar: you’ve had a colossal argument with that scheming chambers clerk, your office shelves are sagging under the weight of unread case papers and you’re on your way to Wormwood Scrubs to spend an hour in the company of a deranged client.
If you recognise yourself here, or simply if you’ve cultivating a stomach ulcer on a diet of rushed meals and long hours, you could probably do with stress-management training.
Andrew Henley, a criminal barrister since 1992, knows all about the strains of the job, and having practised meditation for 20 years he thinks he has a good idea of how best to cope with them. He has joined spiritual forces with Ananta, an American meditation master who trained in the Himalayas, and together they hold stress-management seminars that are accredited by the Bar Council.
Henley met Ananta, formerly known as Daniel Richey [and as of 2007 known as Swami Ritavan Bharati], two years ago during a month-long trip to study meditation techniques at an ashram at Rishikesh in northern India. “When I returned,” he says, “there was a lot of interest from my colleagues at the Bar: why had I spent a month in the Himalayas? Why do I meditate? When I answered that meditation is the best stress-beater I know of, there was even more interest. I inquired with the Bar Council about a course, and it was delighted because it is particularly concerned about stress at the Bar.”
Since then Henley, of Furnival Chambers, has been running one-day seminars every three months, either with Ananta, who visits Britain regularly, or with another yoga practitioner. The venue is an actors’ rehearsal studio near Euston Station in London. Between 10 and 15 people, mostly barristers and solicitors, attend each session from 10am to 3pm. There is a break for a vegetarian lunch.
The appeal is enhanced by the Bar Council accreditation, which means that every hour spent on the yoga mat counts towards the 12 hours’ professional training that all barristers will soon have to undertake every year. For many, a bit of gentle exercise and spiritual replenishment beats sitting in a stuffy lecture hall.
Henley is delighted that the Bar Council is willing to back an undertaking that, he acknowledges, some lawyers still see as rather “wacky”. But he says that attitudes are changing. “I thought that people would take the mickey a bit but I have found the opposite. They are very genuine and seem to be very interested in it.”
Henley says that the meditation, breathing and relaxation exercises taught on the seminars are adapted from a tradition practised for thousands of years in the cave monasteries of the Himalayas. But do they work? Henley says that they certainly work for him. He starts each day with an hour’s meditation then uses the breathing exercises throughout the day to cope with stress whenever it arises.
Among the other barristers who find the meditation and breathing techniques helpful is Kim Hollis, QC, of 25 Bedford Row. She describes the seminars as a haven from the stresses of the Bar, providing an opportunity to relax the senses and restore the balance of the mind. She has been surprised to see some of the lawyers who turn up — people she would have thought would be highly sceptical. But, like her, many go back for more. “I have never heard a single person say that they regret having tried it,” she says.
Each person pays £80, which goes towards the hire of the studio, the catering and Ananta’s travel costs. Henley does not profit from the venture.