John Scott and I began an email discussion about proper breathing and how to properly teach proper breathing. We thought you would all benefit from a more public discussion. Please join us!
Diaphragmatic breathing is a natural function of the body. It works perfectly under perfect circumstances and can be trained to function perfectly under less-than-perfect circumstances.
We begin life with a perfectly functioning voice. The human body, barring congenital defect or system-altering accident, is a perfect vocal instrument from the moment of birth. As all parents know, an infant can coo, cry, babble and scream all night long without vocal fatigue, hoarseness or strain. Watch a sleeping infant to see the ribcage open and contract, the belly rise and fall as the baby naturally breathes diaphragmatically.
Infants and young children have perfect, erect posture that allows the voice to function naturally with no muscular tension. The absence of vocal strain testifies to a naturally functioning instrument. Are you with me so far?
None of the bad postural habits and tensions have taken up residence in a young child's body. Perfect alignment leaves the child's instrument relaxed and open and therefore, free to produce sound with ease.
So the first step in returning to proper diaphragmatic breathing is to align the spine. Then the instrument has at least a chance of returning to natural function. I use one specific exercise, the candle exercise, to train diaphragmatic breathing to become a habit.
Take a look in the mirror. What does your posture look like? Is your instrument in good alignment?
I'm always asked if breathing should be in and up or down and out. Meaning does the abdomen pull in and up or push down and out as you are making sound. My answer to that is, Yes. Because what you really want is the body to be responding to the need to move breath while creating sound.
Keep in mind for this discussion that your diaphragm, located inside the ribcage, is responsible for the inhale. Diaphragm drops to create space for fresh air. The abdominal muscles are responsible for the exhale, supporting the diaphragm in the process.
The body will respond to most anything you ask of it, within reason. When you need to blow out a candle, you take a simple inhale and blow air directly at the candle. Did you need to think about diaphragmatic breathing to get the candle to go out? Try it right now.
Candle exercises exploit the natural action of blowing out a candle by repeating it at a steady rhythm to make diaphragmatic breathing a habit to convince mind and body that diaphragmatic breathing can be simple and efficient. With consistent practice of the Candle Exercise, diaphragmatic breathing becomes a reliable habit.
Your thumb becomes the candle. Hold it mid-chest about 6 from your body. With head on top of shoulders, blow the candle out with 3 short blasts of air, releasing the jaw in between each blast. Watch in a mirror to ensure that the shoulders stay still and your body stays aligned. How does it work for you?
Give the candle exercise a try and join in this discussion.