“Om..” A Lawyer Trades Armani for Asics

By Marci Alboher, L Magazine, November 2002

In the mid-1990s, Jonathan Fields’ career was progressing like that of any promising young lawyer. A 1992 grad of Benjamin N.Cardozo School of Law, Fields’s law review membership helped him land a job at the Securities Exchange Commission. And less than three years later, he joined the corporate department of Debevoise & Plimpton in New York. But he lasted only a year more in the corporate world before his resume took a turn for the, well, unorthodox. Specifically, he traded in his $125,000 salary for a $12-an-hour job as a personal trainer. “Within a couple of weeks,” he says, “I went from $3,000 Armani suits to $40 Asic tights.”

Still, Fields, 36, has a plan. He’s long dreamed of starting a business related to lifestyle and health that he could expand into a chain. Now, six years after retiring from the law, he’s realized that dream by opening Sonic Yoga, a Manhattan yoga studio he hopes will be the first of many.

His strategy? To interest lawyers and other corporate types in the healing aspects of yoga and meditation. Says Fields: “The goal is to encourage people to lighten up, approach yoga with a sense of exploration and humor, and have that flow to their professional lives.”

Aware that his client base is more familiar with convertible debentures than with chakras, Fields explains that his blend of Eastern and Western yoga styles works with a modern lifestyle. “Some studios have mandatory chanting and study for 15 minutes before and after yoga, which is something I personally enjoy but which terrifies some people,” he says. “My style removes barriers to participation, because if you’re dealing with a 60-year-old lawyer, removing his shoes is enough of a barrier.”

Fields launched Sonic Yoga a year ago at a time “when New Yorkers were searching for space in the day to just be at peace and smile.” But the depressed economy- and repercussions of 9/11 – meant challenges for the fledgling business. As Fields was building up his membership base clients were losing their jobs. So, he took a chance and offered steep discounts, allowing people to take unlimited yoga sessions for a fixed monthly price of $100. His gamble paid off. Membership swelled from around 75 in the first week to over twice that amount in the first month.

That deal is still available, but Fields plans to cap the number of these memberships at 200. As Sonic Yoga celebrates its one-year anniversary, more than 2,500 individuals have practiced yoga there. And in his first six months, Fields doubled his studio size and opened a life enhancement center, offering stress-reduction seminars and”life-balancing” sessions. He also says he is talking to New York firms about taking his programs on site.

As for his legal career, Fields says he has no regrets about the years he invested in law school and corporate law practice. “I use the skills I developed as a lawyer every day, from negotiating commercial leases to understanding our IP rights and vendor agreements,” he says.

Familiarity with the lawyer personality also helps. “The way people respond to the challenges of 75 minutes of yoga practice is often the way they respond to stress within their professional practice,” Fields says. “There exists a near-seamless connection between balance on the mat and balance in the office.”

The young teacher himself came to yoga via first-hand experience with the health problems that lawyer-style stress can induce. At Debevoise, smack in the middle of a deal and exhausted from lack of sleep, he had to have emergency surgery to repair a perforated intestine: “To put it graphically, my intestines started falling out of my body.”

While Fields is cautious about making any medical claims about yoga, he is evangelical about how the ways in which the practice has helped him to manage his own stress and surgical healing. He also describes his advantage in pursuing the corporate market. “If someone says, ‘I’ve spent the last 24 hours at the printer, I’ve just Edgarized the documents, and I need to do something to clear my mind and move my body,” Fields says, “I know what they’re talking about because I’ve stood in their shoes.”

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