How to find your center in a world of distraction with Robbie Bent of Inward Breathwork
I recently sat down with Robbie Bent, CEO of Inward Breathwork and we talked about pretty much everything under the sun. Our conversation covered addiction, ice baths, psychedelics, and overall, how to live a longer life.
Robbie is open about his struggles with addiction, and has been for a long time. At one point, his addiction got so bad he ended up losing his first company and going bankrupt. Soon after, he had to move into his parent’s basement.
What saved him in the end was moving to Israel and doing a Vipassana meditation retreat that included ten days of meditation for ten hours a day—all conducted in complete silence.
“For the first time in my life, I felt the benefits of meditation everybody had been talking about.”
Robbie became obsessed, eventually flying to Peru to participate in four Ayahuasca ceremonies, which are drug-induced experiences wherein he was able to learn a lot about himself.
Today he’s now been sober for five years, and he shared more detail about his journey as part of our conversation.
It all started with a cold bath
When I asked Robbie how he copes with sobriety, he shared that in his experience, it’s important to find healthy communities and habits that can replace drinking. If you want to stay clean, you need to find something to do that isn’t hanging out at a bar.
So...he built an ice bath.
He’d been taking an ice bath every week and loved the brisk feeling the extreme cold provided. He studied everything Wim Hoff (the Iceman) published and fell in love with the experience.
“Every night we’d invite two or three people, have a campfire, and guide each other through the cold. We surrendered to the pain together.”
Eventually, that ice bath expanded to include a sauna. Robbie even added a tearoom to relax in afterward.
This location was getting so popular he added a booking system and had 30 customers per day booking reservations.
The impact of COVID-19
Robbie loved this new business endeavor with the ice bath, sauna, and tea room so much he decided to quit his job and lean into it full-time. Every day people would message him about how grateful they were for this cool place to hang out. Even better: the people who experienced it were seeing incredible breakthroughs.
Then COVID-19 hit.
“We couldn’t operate,” he said, “So we started offering Inward Breathwork sessions via Zoom to help people deal with stress. It snowballed to 150 people wanting these recordings. People even started donating money for them.”
The beginnings of Inward Breathwork
Robbie created a high-quality structured program focused on boosting mood, reducing stress, and improving sleep. He and his team built a website, filmed hundreds of videos, and today, they now have more than 1,000 paying customers.
“We want it to be an accessible platform to help those struggling with meditation to get their first taste of mindfulness.”
When I asked Robbie why he thinks it’s been so popular, he said that most people today are overstimulated: They wake-up and have coffee, check their emails, see their social media blowing up and their Slack going crazy. They’re breathing poorly and they’re overwhelmed.
All of this artificial stimulation is unnatural and makes meditation very challenging.
“So people turn to us,” he said. “It’s like a spin class for the mind.”
Finding a tribe
When Robbie was getting started Inward Breathwork, he wanted to find a niche of people who loved his product and grow that niche. Initially, he thought they were selling ice baths for athletes, so they invited every fitness expert and cross-trainer in the area to try their course.
Instead, they ended up seeing a lot of 40-year-old, hyper-intense exercisers saying that this was the first time in their lives that they’ve felt present and that their minds have stopped racing. As a result, Robbie and his team switched gears and started marketing it to stressed-out, everyday people.
I knew Robbie came from a tech background, so I was curious about how he transitioned to DTC.
He recommended the book Traction by Gino Wickman. It taught him twenty channels for DTC companies to pursue. “All you have to do is choose the channels you think are most likely to work and double down on them,” he said.
“You have to find the right channel for your company that converts into sales.”
For some companies, this might be podcasts or blogs with loyal followings. It could be phoning CEOs, therapists, or athletes to offer them a free demo of your product. Robbie emphasized it all comes down to experimentation and learning from your mistakes (then trying again.)
Another thing that worked for Robbie was learning from the best.
He joined a program called On Deck where early-stage company founders can meet. There, he was able to connect with engineers, investors, and growth markers. He even found people to review his landing pages, give him a social audit, check his web copy—all without spending a dime.
Testing the model
I was curious, so I tried doing Inward Breathwork on my morning walk...and nearly fainted. I never realized I was such a chest-breather. But I also loved it—the music, the voices. This content was put together by some amazing people.
Robbie explained that the body has two major networks: The first is your parasympathetic, which is responsible for rest and relaxation. This is where you want to be for most of your day. The nerves for this system are in the bottom of your lungs and engaged by deep belly breathing.
The second is your sympathetic nervous system. Better known as your fight or flight network, it engages when you’re stressed out or in danger, and is associated with chest breathing.
“If you’re chest breathing all day, you’re in a bad place, so do your best to focus on deep belly breathing and elicit that parasympathetic response.”
Robbie shared that stress can actually be good for your body. It can make your body stronger.
As evidence, he shared studies done on winter swimmers. Those strong enough to brave the icy waters have a 30% higher white blood cell count, which are the cells that protect against disease. Don’t worry if you don’t have an ice bath or icy lake available; a cold shower will be enough to elicit a similar response.
“It’s only in the past 100 years or so that we’ve been able to maintain a uniform temperature. We used to be living in caves wearing bear pelts...so we can handle a little cold.”
Heat is another stressor. Robbie also shared studies done on sauna users in Finland. Those who went three times a week had a 50% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 60% reduction in Alzheimer's over a twenty-year period.
Psychedelics represent some of the most powerful experiences a human can participate in. One study showed that participants ranked it alongside their wedding days or their childrens’ births.
I asked Robbie how they work. He shared that they essentially shut down your default mode network, which is where your entire sense of identity is created. When you take something like Ayahuasca, it shuts down this part of the brain and allows you to process trauma.
Every rejection you’ve ever felt...no matter how long ago or insignificant...leaves a scar. That scar sticks with you and influences your attitudes going forward. Taking these psychedelics allows you to wipe those tracks clear, Robbie shared.
“You feel perfectly connected to the present. Zero concern or ego. It’s such a beautiful feeling.”
Overall, while Robbie does have high praise for these experiences, he reminded me that it isn’t a panacea.
Six weeks after any mind-changing experience, whether it’s an Ayahuasca ceremony or a 10-day meditation retreat, it’s easy for your mind to fall into old habits...so you have to use that time carefully.
If you want to learn more about Inward Breathwork, visit them online and check out their on-demand classes. Stay tuned for our next episode of the DTC Growth Show.
About the podcast
On the DTC Growth Podcast, we talk with founders and leaders of the most exciting DTC brands. We discuss their visions, how they launched, and how they are growing their brands.