Saybrook University doctoral student applies breath training, imagery, and stretching to life-threatening blood clots

Arielle Dance

Arielle Dance

Introduction:  Arielle Denise Dance, with an MA in Women’s Health, is a PhD student in Mind-Body Medicine at Saybrook University. Diagnosed with endometriosis at 15 years old, Arielle has spent the majority of her academic career being an advocate in the women’s health community focusing on topics of chronic pain, disability, and minority groups.

The Story:  She couldn’t breathe. “ Just breathe … Deep breaths should help.” She could not manage even a shallow breath without sharp pains ripping through her body. That is how Arielle Dance, second year PhD student in the MBM program, felt when she was hit with a Pulmonary Embolism for the second time in her twenties. In August 2014, after a cross country trip back to New Jersey following the Fall Residential Conference, Arielle began feeling short of breath, and experiencing severe chest and back pain. Convinced that these were signs of an asthma attack, Arielle was not prepared for all that she would endure.

According to medical providers, the combination of traveling, high altitude from flying, and previous clotting conditions put Arielle at a high risk for life-threatening blood clots. After being hospitalized, being put on anticoagulant medications indefinitely, and being homebound on an oxygen machine, Arielle knew that she needed to find methods of coping with such a life-shattering illness.

Because she had lost her ability to breathe freely, Arielle wanted nothing more than to retrain her body to take long deep breaths… not only as forms of centering but also to strengthen her lungs after the trauma. Through mindful breathing meditations, guided imageries, and gentle stretching while seated, Arielle spent a month appreciating the gift of breath. Being able to stay calm through meditation was extremely imperative in the hospital and impressed the ICU nurses especially during moments of tachycardia. As has been shown in countless studies, the use of meditation, guided imagery, and breathing exercises can improve health and shorten hospital stays.

Arielle continues to have a grateful heart, knowing that surviving a severe pulmonary embolism is a blessing. Whenever she reflects on this blessing, she takes a long deep breath as a token of appreciation for another moment of life. Although Arielle is still unable to return to full physical activity, and therefore cannot heal through dance as she is accustomed, Arielle has found light movement and gentle stretching to be very helpful. Likewise, Arielle notes that there is something very enlightening about just sitting still, taking soft breaths, then rolling her shoulders back, throwing her head back, and reaching her arms up to heaven. Again, saying “Thank you for giving me the chance to still be here.”

To breathe is a gift… one that is over simplified and taken advantage of but the core of our being. So be grateful and just breathe. March is Blood Clot Awareness Month. After surviving two of Pulmonary Emboli, Arielle is using this month to celebrate life and appreciate the blessing of breath!

For more information on Blood Clot Awareness visit The National Blood Clot Alliance website at www.stoptheclot.org.