Bringing the Breath to Work

David Rosen, Oregon attorney, yoga teacher, and co-owner of SoulRoar Breathwork, talks breathwork, mindfulness, law, and the middle ground between them all.

Q. Breathwork – What is it?

Breathwork is a form of active breathing – distinctly different from meditation – where you are forcefully moving the breath through the body. In short, you lie on the ground, take deep belly breaths through the mouth for approximately 25 minutes, followed by a rest period and guided meditation. In doing that, you change the body chemistry, and when you change the body chemistry, the mind reacts differently.

Q. What do people experience with breathwork?

While everyone experiences breathwork differently, I think it helps give people great clarity and insight, the ability to see things from a different perspective. Breathwork also gives us an opportunity to get past the stories we tell ourselves. Most of us are our harshest critics. Most of us have stories we tell ourselves, whether it is that we aren’t good enough, or if we get “this thing,” everything will be better. I think breathwork gives us the opportunity to see the stories, to see ourselves, and to see what we want to change and how to do it.

Q. Why do you think lawyers should be doing breathwork?

The most appealing aspects of breathwork are its accessibility and efficacy. Unlike some modalities where you build up to an experience with practice over time, breathwork frequently has a prov immediate, felt experience the very first time someone tries it. This is a practice that is accessible to everyone, and the results occur in the first session.

Lawyers will appreciate the efficiency of the practice – the ratio of low-time commitment to high-yield insight from the practice. Of course, this should be done only with a trained breathwork facilitator.

I think lawyers will also appreciate that the work provides an opportunity to address life’s challenges while also addressing current problems of the day at work. In addition, breathwork can serve as the spark for a larger practice in mindfulness.

Q. What is the relationship between breathwork and a mindfulness practice?

For me, my mindfulness practice is grounded in yoga, meditation, and breathwork. In metaphoric terms, think of building a house of “becoming more present.” Yoga and meditation are the day-to-day work. The framing, the siding, the finishing – it is all yoga and meditation. The breath is the
foundation. Breathwork is the blueprints. When we are unsure of how we want the house to look or how to solve a problem, we need to go back to the blueprints. For me, breathwork is the answer.

Q. How have these practices informed your practice of law?

Yoga, meditation, and breathwork provide me with a better perspective of what is important, keeping my ego in check and learning how to not take on others’ negative energy. It is learning to respond rather than react. By being present in the practice of law, I can serve my clients better, work with opposing counsel better, and manage the needs of my law practice.

Q. We often hear today about the practice of law being stressful, anxiety-producing, etc. What has been your experience?

That’s accurate. However, I also think we develop patterns of anxiety. I believe the body gets conditioned to create anxiety because we get positive relief when the worries aren’t realized. We create anticipatory stress and anxiety concerning how something is going to go, what’s going to happen, and all the worst-case scenarios. When the situation actually occurs, we are often relieved to learn that the anxiety, stress, or worry we had didn’t come to fruition. We experience elation on the basis that the thing we were worried about didn’t come true.

In that process, we create both the problem and the solution. The irony is that ALL of it is in our mind, a complete fabrication that is distinctly separate from reality. It is always our choice whether to engage. We can choose to focus on the present, or we can hop on the roller-coaster in our mind. Mindfulness allows us the opportunity to see the choice, and then if we are mindful, with practice, we can choose not to follow the stories in our head.

Q. Are mindfulness practices in conflict with adversarial work in law?

Quite the contrary. I think we are doing our best for our clients and our profession when we respond rather than react. When I am mindful, I can hold my ground, evaluate the argument from the other side, decide how best to proceed, and, if the other side is approaching me from a reactive state, choose not to get swept up into their manner of handling things.

Q. What do you find particularly challenging about practicing law?

Not taking the job home with me. In Oregon we have a fantastic bar, and, thankfully, it is rare to deal with an opposing attorney who is hostile. But we all know hostility when we experience it. I think I’ve always been able to handle difficult attorneys from a case perspective, but I would take it home with me – especially, if I became reactive in response. Being mindful has had an incredible impact for me in this area.

Q. What tips do you have for lawyers who are considering starting a mindfulness practice?

  1. Try a breathwork class.
  2. Start a meditation practice:
    • Keep it simple and short to start: Give yourself time constraints that you can be successful
      with. It can be breathing for thirty seconds (or even three breaths) twice a day. Set a timer. If the timer goes off and you want to sit longer, sit longer.
    • Find a quiet space: Mornings are chaotic. It’s important to find a space where you won’t be
    • Create anchors: If you still the body, the mind will follow. Find a comfortable seat. Focus on stilling the body (committing to being still), then find the breath. The mind quiets on its own. If the mind turns on, just keep coming back to the anchors of the body and the breath. We don’t quiet the mind with more thinking; we quiet the mind by anchoring in the body and the breath.
    • Don’t be discouraged when the mind doesn’t shut off. The mind doesn’t shut off and stay off.
    • Don’t wait until you feel “ready.” You can begin anytime.

Q. Parting thoughts?

The great irony is that we often go searching for some “thing” to give us a feeling of a greater purpose.
But the truth is that “thing” is in the middle of our chest, and the path to it waits quietly in the whisper of the breath. It’s always there, waiting for us to return.


Our thanks to David Rosen for this article. David is a lawyer, yoga instructor, and breathwork instructor in Bend, Oregon.