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The power of taking a deep breath

Maura Mazurowski//August 17, 2020

The power of taking a deep breath

Maura Mazurowski//August 17, 2020

(Deposit Photos)
(Deposit Photos)

Lawyer wellness has been a hot topic over the past few years.

In May, the American Bar Association launched its first “Lawyer Well-Being Week.” The goal of the online, week-long event was to raise awareness and encourage the legal profession “to improve well-being for lawyers and support their teams,” according to the website.

Many organizations, including the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, joined forces to design wellness activities for lawyers and firms to take part in, including an “alcohol-free happy hour” and lessons in gratitude.

One expert tapped to design well-being events was Amy Pruett of Charlottesville, Virginia. She is an intellectual property and entertainment lawyer, a certified yoga instructor and the co-founder of Abunditude, a wellness platform that focuses on mindfulness and well-being with an emphasis on “lawyer and veteran yoga.”

Pruett founded Abunditude with her husband, a combat-wounded U.S. Navy veteran, after noticing a “real need in both the legal industry and among service members” for tools to find calm, clarity and mind-body integration.

While designing activities for Lawyer Well-Being Week, Pruett focused on designing activities to help lawyers “really be in the present moment.”

“When I’m handed a task, or drafting a memo … I make sure I’m in that moment as opposed to thinking about time I’m missing with my kids, or a million other things I could be doing,” Pruett said.

When she feels herself slipping out of the present moment, Pruett utilizes “breath practices” to help center herself and find joy in even the most menial tasks.

Amy Pruett
Amy Pruett

“In the legal world, I have also used exercise, yoga or meditation almost every day mainly because I can’t sit still and also because the practices help with physical, mental and emotional health,” Pruett said. “When I find myself getting caught up in an intense conversation or breathing shallowly in my chest, I remind myself to breathe through the nose and fill up my belly — that immediately helps calm the nervous system.”

Pruett shared four breathing exercises that lawyers or anyone in a high-stress situation can use to stay calm and bring themselves back to the present moment.

Nose/belly breath

To complete this exercise, simply breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

“Breathing through the nose immediately starts to slow down the breath,” Pruett said. “It accesses the parasympathetic nervous system and automatically slows you down, helping the brain and the body slow down and come back to the moment.”

Hand over the belly 

Similar to nose/belly breath, this exercise helps people breathe deeper, which can help practitioners focus more deeply and find calm in stressful situations.

“Throughout the days we’re often getting things thrown at us. … And when we react to things quickly, we start to breathe in our chest because we want to respond accurately. We want to get everything done perfectly,” Pruett said. “Putting the hand over the belly really helps calm you down and gets the breath a little deeper.

‘Throw out the trash’

This is another exercise that can be done anytime, anywhere. To complete it, simply ball up your hands into fists, as though you’re balling up a piece of paper with all your stressors on it. Once you have your hands — and “paper” — balled up nice and tight, simply shake out your hands and “throw” that trash away.

“Then take another deep breath to let that stress go,” Pruett said.

Shoulder breath

According to Pruett, this exercise is more about “bringing in energy” than letting things go. To begin, try setting an intention for the day, settling into the present moment and determining what you want to accomplish that day.

“Whatever it is, [you want] to bring in the energy of that purpose for that moment. That’s reaching your arms up to the air and bringing that in towards the shoulder and towards the chest. … It starts to become a quick movement while still staying in your breath,” Pruett said.

Well-being is different for everyone

Pruett reminds lawyers that wellness tools work differently for everyone. For example, Pruett likes to start the day by writing out a list of everything she would like to accomplish. Just because this ritual works for her doesn’t mean it works for everyone.

Pruett emphasized the importance of not feeling like a “failure” if you don’t accomplish everything on your list that day.

“[The] reality of our jobs is that there’s going to be a lot of things thrown at us. … Don’t get attached to the list. If there’s something that you don’t get to, make sure you make it a priority for another day,” Pruett said. “I think that’s been helpful in this chaotic time where you’re not sure what’s going to come at you that day. Lists can help you have a sense of purpose and focus.”

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