An Interview with Attorney and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher Paige Seals

Like many of my friends, I met Paige when I started working in the Legislature in 2006. I don't remember how Paige and I realized we had so much in common, but we did, and we started talking about books we were reading, yoga, and hilariously, I think, Weight Watchers, which I'm pretty sure we were both doing in 2006.

In addition to being kind and empathetic, Paige has an energy around her that makes me feel safe, calm, and supported. Two years ago, I was in a real bad spot (see: every blog post I've ever written) and Paige invited me to her Thursday night yoga class. I couldn't afford it, so she waved the fee and let me take her class for free until I was back on my feet. Now, with two years of Iyengar Yoga under my belt, I see the correlation between Paige's energy and this style of yoga, both of which I am so, so grateful for. Meet today's bitch, backbend enthusiast, Paige Seals!

What is your job title and where do you work?

Attorney/Revisor of Statutes in the Office of Legal Services (OLS) for the Tennessee General Assembly (the state Legislature). As part of my Revisor duties, I also serve as Executive Secretary for the Tennessee Code Commission. 

Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher. I teach classes at the Iyengar Yoga Center of Nashville (also known as 12South Yoga).

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I learned of the Office of Legal Services (OLS) in a very loose sense when I was making cold calls as part of my job search at the end of law school. I was browsing through a directory of government agencies and saw a listing for the Legislature’s Legal Services Office, but had no idea what the lawyers in the office did. 

I really learned about the field when I took a temporary position in the office more than a year after that phone call. There's nothing like an on-the-job education, especially when you make a comment on the second day of your temp job about a perceived error in the drafting of a bill, without realizing you are talking to the drafter of that bill. Luckily, the attorney was really cool about it, and there was, in fact, a drafting error (whew!). That same attorney was instrumental in getting me hired on a permanent basis at the end of my temporary stint.

I first learned about Iyengar Yoga when I ended up in a class in a studio that taught in the Iyengar tradition. I had never been to a yoga class and had no clue what I was walking in to. My friend LaDonna asked me to go to a yoga class with her, and though I did not really want to, I agreed to join (thank you, LaDo, for being hard to say no to!). She had driven past 12South Yoga and just picked that place for us to go to. That was spring of 2004. From the first class I was hooked, and I have been attending classes there at least once a week every week since.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I didn’t know, until I did it, in both cases -- becoming a lawyer and a yoga instructor. Probably something a therapist and I could explore for a good long while.  

At the end of college, one of my professors (Bill Shulman, former Metro Public Defender and big brother to our friend Jim Shulman) encouraged me to apply to law school. In the small world of things, Jim was Chief of Staff for the House of Representatives when I started working at the Legislature five years after Bill wrote me a letter of recommendation for law school that helped put me on the path that eventually lead to the General Assembly. 

In regard to yoga, my teacher, the fabulous Aretha McKinney Blevins, encouraged me to sub a class for her, then encouraged me to prepare for assessment (which is a pretty daunting undertaking in the Iyengar assessment system). She saw something in me that I did not see in myself, and I am eternally grateful to her for that. I love teaching.

So back to not knowing -- I used to joke that I “lived life by default”. Someone wise said to me that it sounded like I was being negative about myself when I put it that way, and that I should view my life and choices in a more positive light -- that I took advantage of opportunities that presented themselves. That wise woman may have been you, The Blonde Mule, or the incomparable Rachel Mathenia -- I’m lucky I have so many wise women* in my life that I get them confused!

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

My first job out of law school was in a small, general practice firm. It did not take me long to realize that was not the place for me. I gave notice at the firm without having a job lined up or a plan (see a pattern here?). After a few months working for a friend who was running for office, a stint at retail during the holiday season (life lessons), and a false alarm for a law-related job that would have taken me back to Memphis (where I attended law school -- go Tigers!), I ended up saying “yes” to an opportunity I had said “no” to before -- a temporary position in OLS writing bill summaries during the 1997 legislative session (shout out to Christy Ballard here -- she knows why!). That lead to the chance to interview for a permanent position in the office, and 19 years later, I am still here.  

The yoga path I described above briefly, so I will say here that the beauty of yoga for me is that it is always a path. A very beautiful and sometimes challenging path. I’m not just talking about the challenges of the assessment process in the Iyengar system (you can potentially go through 14 assessments -- I’ve completed three!), or the challenges to improve my teaching, but the practice of yoga itself. For me, it’s about continual learning, growing, exploring.

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

I am surrounded by sage advice, from my great co-workers, my yoga-related readings (Light on YogaLight on LifeLight on the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali), my friends, my family, and my teachers, but here are a couple of things that have resonated with me. 

My yoga teacher Aretha says this, which I think is from Walt Whitman (and I am paraphrasing): 

Look at what you are doing not with judgment, but with curiosity. It applies to yogasana practice certainly, but it applies to everything we do, right? Just being more mindful, taking an interest in our own life (because often we get more caught up in someone else’s life than we do our own), taking responsibility for ourselves, but also being more loving and accepting of ourselves. We live in a world that tends to favor quick solutions and instant results, and having someone else tell us how to fix whatever it is we (or they) perceive to be wrong with our lives, our bodies, etc. It takes patience and kindness to yourself to be in this thing for the long haul; to know that if you want to change, only you can make that change, and it usually involves some hard work that may take years. You may also realize along the way that you don’t need to be “fixed” -- we are all pretty freakin’ fantastic, just the way we are.

I also love this one, which is again paraphrasing from another of my teachers -- a man I never met, but who has had a profound effect on my life, Sri B.K.S. Iyenger:  Grace is falling upon us all of the time -- it’s up to us to recognize it.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

Many failures, many mistakes, many lessons learned. One thing that stands out for me though, is a failure to recognize things about myself; an inability to identify emotions. It was a silent, invisible emotional paralysis. I was physically moving forward, but emotionally stagnate, which led to problems in relationships and at work. I did not fully realize how stuck I was until I finally got unstuck a little bit. Age and experience certainly played a role in getting me unstuck, but I credit yoga, the practice and the community, for lifting the veil that was covering that part of me.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day? 

Practice yoga more. Read more.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your personal or professional life?

Having yoga students tell me they enjoyed my class or learned something from me. Best feeling ever.

On a more personal note, I'm proud of the lives my sister and I have created for ourselves, with the help of a wonderful mother. When I started working at the Legislature, I learned from listening to Education Committee meetings about "students at-risk of failing" and realized it was a label my sister and I, because we were from a low-income family, carried throughout school, unbeknownst to us (thank goodness, as we both went on to not fail! More than not fail, we hit it out of the ballpark and succeeded!). 

My mother, with only a high school diploma, raised children on her own starting when she was barely more than a child herself. When I was in high school, I had the privilege of seeing my mom and sister graduate from nursing school -- they started nursing school together after my sister graduated from high school. I don't know where my mom got her drive or how she put up with us crazy kids. Her actions were such a shining example for us. I'm torn about the "at-risk" label, but regardless of whether it's a good or bad way for a system to identify certain students, a label does not define who you are or what you can accomplish.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Gmail and Instagram, for no particular reason. I never thought I would be that person attached to her iPhone.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Yoga practice, glass of wine, time with friends or boyfriend or both, a book. I can do without the glass of wine, but I need at least one of the other things to happen. If they all happen, that’s a really great evening.

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

When it comes to OLS, staring at a computer all day. My job is a writing and editing job, and most of my interaction at work is with my computer and my colleagues, not with my clients (the elected representatives).  

The hardest part about teaching yoga? Mirroring your students when you teach and figuring out your left from your right when you aren’t mirroring! On a more serious note, there are many hard things, but when I start teaching, I forget what they are. It is hard after teaching a class if I feel like I didn't connect with a student or couldn't help a student in a way I wanted to, but it gives me incentive to keep working on my teaching skills.

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

Relative to my job at the Legislature, there is a misconception that I work in politics, which is not at all what I do. I work in a nonpartisan office; we write, we research, we staff committees, but we do not do politics. 

Relative to yoga, I think there are so many misconceptions. People think that a yogi has to look a certain way or have a certain body type. They think that yoga is only a physical practice. They think you have to be flexible to practice yoga. And there are some misconceptions about practicing and teaching yoga in the Iyengar tradition -- we’ll have to leave that for another post, another day.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

I have the hardest time with picking a favorite, so I’ll give you a few... The West WingFriday Night LightsBreaking BadParenthood (I wonder how the Bravermans are doing?). Anything crunchy for a snack: chips, crackers, carrots, crunch!

*I have been so lucky to have so many wise, wonderful women in my life and there’s no way I can list them all, but here are a few: Kim Baldwin; Christy Ballard; Aretha McKinney Blevins; Helena McKinney Blevins; Angie Bonnes; LaDonna Bowers; Jan Campbell; Vivien Fryd; Amy Geise; Melissa Harmon; Susan Lewis; Rachel Mathenia; Dana Migliaccio; Rachel Moss Mitchell; Estella Mosley; Juli Mosley; Emily Passini; Kristin Russell; Sarah Seals; Margaret Smith; Rachel McMahan Troxtel; Emily Urban; Kim Seals Vroom; the women of the GBC and BBR book clubs; the women of 12South Yoga; and the women of the Office of Legal Services for the Tennessee General Assembly, past and present.

All photos courtesy of Paige Seals

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  Public Policy Director, Melanie Bull!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches here.

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