The Importance of Breath


One aspect of health that is essential (but often underemphasized) is the importance of the breath.  Being able to breathe fully, correctly, and without difficulty is an important tool for stress management, effective exercise, pain management, and more.

Part of what inspires me as a health care provider is learning from my colleagues – especially those who specialize in different, complementary areas in the field of holistic health.  While I have practiced breath work as part of my own yoga practice for many years, it is not my area of expertise.  So I am honored and excited to have Angela Frederick, my friend of 25 years, as a guest author for a two-part series.  Who better to write about the importance of breath work than someone who teaches it professionally?

Angela describes herself as a “Dancer, Teacher, and All-Around Mover of the Body and Mind”.  She holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  Angela teaches somatic practices, gymnastics, and a variety of dance forms through the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts, Lawrence University, the Milwaukee Public School system, and several other groups.  Having played sports and being trained in many forms of dance (and other movements practices such as Pilates and yoga), she has specific knowledge of the body from a variety of vantage points.  Her goal is to help others experience how to fully and better live in their own bodies by connecting mind, body, and soul.

Just Breathe:  Part 1

by Angela Frederick

As humans, there are a few essential things that we need for survival:  sleep, food, water, and oxygen. Everyone knows that getting a good night’s rest is important, yet many people spend their days sleep-deprived. We usually remember to eat and drink, as these tend to be very social activities (although we may not always make the healthiest choices). But the thing most people forget to do is breathe.
Generally speaking, a person can go 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, and 3 minutes without oxygen (breathing). With this in mind, why is it that people spend so little time thinking about that which we need the most? I believe that many of us take for granted the functioning of our brain and nervous system (which controls breathing) because our bodies will naturally continue breathing for us.
Unfortunately, it does not always happen that way. We have all heard the common saying, "it took my breath away", but what you may not know is that this is more than just a saying.  It can and does actually happen!  When it occurs as the result of a positive experience, it usually happens only for a moment.  But when our breath is taken away because of stress, sadness, grief, or a feeling of despair, we often do not realize how long we deprive ourselves of that vital breath.
2014 was a very stressful year for me, and even though I help teach others to breathe, I would often catch myself holding my breath. Recently, I was talking with a dear friend about how stress can take a toll on our bodies. I believe this happens because we try to hold in our emotions, causing our natural and full breathing patterns to cease.
Why is this problematic? Remember, our bodies can go a mere 3 minutes without oxygen. Oxygen feeds our bodies. Without a regular flow of oxygen, our vital organs will not work efficiently. This, over time, takes a toll on our bodies and negatively impacts our health (as though we need more things to be stressed about). It quickly becomes a vicious cycle.
We all have spots in our bodies that are prone to manifestations of stress. For me, I tend to hold stress in my gut. When I have intuitions, or feel strongly about something, that is where it happens. I truly get “gut feelings.” Unfortunately, this is also where my illnesses tend to manifest themselves. For you, it may be your lungs, chest, joints, or a combination of areas. No place is good if we want our bodies to be operating at their best. No matter which physical body part stress affects the most, it has the greatest impact on how we breathe.
When I am teaching mind/body practices to my students, I have to constantly remind them to breathe. Most of them find this funny at first and ask "Don't I do this naturally?" But, after giving it a second thought, they realize they are holding their breath when they find something physically or emotionally challenging. The more I remind them, the more conscious they become about their breathing and ultimately understand why it is so important.
During challenging and high stress times, we need to make sure we take extra special care of ourselves. That means ensuring all the essentials are covered: sleep, food, water, and breathing fully. So, during this New Year, through all the ups and downs that are sure to come with it, I hope we all remember to breathe! (Sometimes a little reminder is all we need.)

In the second post of the series, Angela will discuss specific breath work techniques that she teaches her students.  Sign up for the Blue Water Holistic Health blog, and it will be delivered right to your inbox! 

You can find out more about Angela and her work with the Wild Space Dance Company here.