Structural Integration - Deep Tissue Bodywork, Posture and Movement Education

"When the body gets working appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneosly, the body heals itself."
Ida Rolf, Ph.D.

Why Are You Holding Your Breath?

October 9, 2013 : Blog

This is a blog post from a colleague of mine Buffy Owens. She practices the Feldenkrais Method in upstate New York. If you’re ever in the area check her out, she’s great at what she does.

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Have you ever wondered why you hold your breath when doing something new?

We often take our breath for granted, usually breathing in and out  12-16 times every minute without being aware of it.  Most of us only notice our breath when something happens to prevent us from breathing normally or when we intentionally bring our attention to our breath as part of a mindfulness practice.

And yet we are always somewhere in the cycle of breathing.

There is a funny things that happens when I am teaching an Awareness Through Movement class, I find myself holding my breath. In the very next moment I take a conscious breath, and then I cue the class to notice their breath. What typically follows is a big class sigh and a couple of chuckles as everyone becomes aware of the fact that they are holding their breath. Some people ask why. Others don’t. But most assume that they are holding their breath because of a ‘bad habit.’

Now to be honest, I am not interested in judging good or bad. But I am interested in helping others to understand what it is that they do (awareness) and then helping them to find many more ways to do what it is they do with greater efficiency, power, and ease (creating options.)

Feldenkrais TweetOur breath is one of the life-sustaining motions in our vast repertoire of movements. -Bonnie Ginitis

All that said, even I have wondered why all this breath holding? It certainly doesn’t seem as though decreased oxygen levels would be beneficial in learning. Does it?

Becoming aware of the breath and taking time to breath consciously can be a powerful strategy for helping you to reduce symptoms of stress and for bringing you back to the here and now…and I do LOVE the here and now.

But let’s see what it is like to move beyond conscious awareness.

A Little Developmental ‘Did You Know?’

Did you know that you made your first breathing movements at just the wee age of 8 weeks after fertilization? Now granted these movements were sporadic, but they played a crucial role in both the development of your lungs and the various muscles associated with breathing.

Here’s the kicker…

Really there are two interesting tidbits to go along with this.

  1. Your breathing movement  started about 2.5 weeks after other forms of subtle movement began (The Endowment for Human Development).
  2. This is the part that really gets me excited, your breathing movements and other movements were independent of one another and non-coincidental.  Basically if you moved, you stopped your breathing movements. That’s right! You would either move or you would breathe (technically you would make breathing movements as you got your Oxygen via the umbilical cord.)

This either/or organization went on, more-or-less, until about 23 weeks at which time some nifty central pattern generators that are located in your brainstem began to act in harmony so that you could do more complex activities, like breathing movements and arm movements.  (Piontelli, 2010)

At this point you might be asking yourself, “what does all this fetal development have to do with me?”

In short, maybe something, maybe nothing. But isn’t it fascinating that a pattern that occurred so early on in your experience can show up again later in life?

The Brilliance of the “See-Saw” Breathing
Feldenkrais Lessons

In Moshe Feldenkrais’ book Awareness Through Movement, this lesson is entitled: Differentiation of Parts & Functions in Breathing.


You see this lesson differentiates the movements of the breath from breathing and from other movements. I know, I know, the thought of this just might make your eyes cross. But, the experience of this provides an incredible foundation for being able to maintain your breath when you are deeply focused or when you are learning something new.


In addition, this lesson can help you to deepen your breath by breathing with more of yourself and help you to feel more buoyant and more erect (a.k.a. better posture) without conscious effort. Plus this lesson is phenomenal for relieving an achy back or a stiff neck. Oh…and let’s not forget that it can do wonders for that nagging feeling of almighty stress.

So if you haven’t done so already, I invite you to make a little space and time to do the audio lesson above.

What To do Next

You can always play with what you learned  throughout your day. Maybe a bit of seesaw breathing while waiting in line at the grocery store or while paused at a red light. Then again, it is always beneficial to revisit the whole lesson from time-to-time, so please feel free to download the audio or bookmark this page and come back whenever you like.

I also love hearing about people’s experience with the lessons. What they discovered. How they felt (physically, emotionally or otherwise). So I would be tickled pink if you shared your experience in the comments below.

Try Other Variation

There are many, many variations of this lesson. Here are a few of them that you can access online:

  • Free Version at with Lynette Reid in Halifax Nova Scotia – {click here}
  • Free Version at OpenATM with Falk Feddersen in San Diego, Ca  (05/17/2010 Paradoxical Breathing in Many Positions) – {click here}
  • Paid Version with Moshe Feldenkrais on the ATM Basic Series (Adapt Your Breathing Needs) – {click here}
  • Paid Version done Sitting in a Chair on the Relaxercize series – {click here}

Pay It Forward

If you liked this lesson and would like to find out how to help bring it to those in need, then >>click here to pay it forward


The Endowment for Human Development (EHD). Interactive Prenatal Development Timeline.

Piontelli, Alessandra (2010). Development of Normal Fetal Movements: The First 25 Weeks of Gestation. Milan, Italy: Springer-Verlag Italia Publishers.