Over the years, I’ve taught a lot about how to breathe, which always seems odd to me, as it’s something we do all the time?!
Yet something happens when we start to think about how we do it? Why is it some people find it easier than others? Why does it change when I get on stage or sing? Does it need to change?
Sadly, these are questions are part of those, how long is a piece of string questions. As everyone has their own way of doing things. There are so many factors that lead to good, poor and bad breathing.
You do breathe well…
The best thing is when we sleep at night, unless you have a sleeping disorder, you are likely to be breathing well. You are relaxed when you sleep, but that hardly happens when you are awake and upright.
A lot of teachers talk about breathing into the diaphragm. As it’s a nominally involuntary muscle, I prefer to talk about filling up the lungs. That is what we are really doing. Then there are a series of muscles which really get involved in the breathing.
There are 2 main types of breathing which can occur – 1 is optimal and the other isn’t.
Clavicular – not what we want, except in certain situations
This is the most shallow breathing and is often very similar to when we panic or hyperventilate. This can be useful when we may want to get ourselves prepared to go on stage or raise our state of emotion. The kinetic memory is so strong, it knows by doing this, you are likely activating your emotional memories on fear. So the feeling of fear is real, even if the situation isn’t. This isn’t what we want to encourage when starting to sing or, often, to act.
Diaphragmatic/Intercostal Breathing – the best way to breathe
This is a combination of both of these sets of muscles to gain a more calming and efficient use of your lungs. They talk about this sort of inhalation in yogic approaches to breathing and many other relaxation or meditation practises. There are absolutely loads of videos to help you learn how to take the breath in well. Sadly, it doesn’t show you personally what your bad habits around this may be. That requires more 1 to 1 work. I’ve seen many professional singer/actors show me how they breath. They don’t realise how they are short-changing their possibilities by not taking a good healthy deep breath.
I’m not going to talk too much about exhaling, as that is where things can get really complicated. This can depend on what you are trying to do with your voice and the dreaded phrase – ‘support’ the voice.
The exhalation is a huge blog post on its own and, once, again, I would say take some singing lessons or voice/speech lessons. I say these areas rather than yoga or any other practises as the intentions with the breath for yoga or any other complimentary approaches don’t require the sustainability you may need for the voice on stage/singing or even in a class room trying to be heard over your students. This is where a technique needs to be learned, if you don’t do it naturally.
Signs the voice isn’t working well for you in louder situations:
- loss of voice after the loud event
- tiredness/pain/scratching/tickling feelings while performing or after
- horseness in the voice
Please note, there can be many reasons why the above problems are happening, but breathing well in a performing or any time you need to raise your voice or use it a lot during the day, breathing well and supporting your voice well can make a huge difference.
What to do when ill?
Now this 1 I’ve heard all sorts of suggestions, but here’s my favourite – rest! That really is the best medicine for a tired or ill voice. So what does that look like when you have to do shows – go to bed early, take breaks as much as possible, don’t talk unless absolutely necessary. Whatever you do DO NOT WHISPER – this tires the voice out even more, as most people do not do this with support or it’s still requires the same energy as being loud, so you really aren’t resting are you?
After that, the list is as long as the friends you have who have theories on how to cure the common cold/flu. Most are mainly placebos and don’t really do much except maybe put more sugar into your system which may give you the spike up, but there is always the spike down as well.
If you find you have a constant problem with your voice, then that may require medical help, as you may have damaged the vocal chords – please love those chords, as they are only 2 fine pieces of skin and once damaged, the repair time, if possible is very long!
Love your voice and be good to it and it will last you a lifetime!
Any questions, just drop me a line below: