Why mess with our breathing?
The other day I was chatting to my Alexander associate, discussing how we interfere with our breathing. Here’s what we decided.
Misconceptions of how we interfere with breathing.
- The idea of breathing through our belly buttons is a common instruction for singers; Using the belly button image has led some singers to create a peculiar bulge around the belly button area in the sincere attempt of following the instruction.
- In yoga we learn to take a deep breath in and ‘savour it as if a beautiful scent of wildflowers’;
Taking a deep breath can lead to starting subtle (unrecognised) tensions in order to carry this out.
- Then again, a well-known and international singer encourages his choir to “clench your buttocks and sing from your belly button”. Over many practices, this can become the habitual response to starting to sing! Do you need it?
- To “use your diaphragms” …. Since we use our diaphragms in breathing always, like it or not we have no direct control over this sheet of muscle as it moves up and down.
- If you ‘try to breath better’ you will definitely interfere with the natural design. And all this happens below your level of awareness.
These and many more misconceptions get random results because….
Each singer uses them as they perceive the instruction. Which just goes to show that we all have our own thoughts about breathing in general. And in particular, how we can manage what we’ve been told about our breathing, whilst singing.
Of course, the intent (to get more breath to the song) is good. However, the method has an inbuilt flaw.
In singing the Alexander way, we call it ‘end-gaining’.
End-gaining is a bit like going from 1st to 5th gear in your manual car in one go! By 5th gear the car splutters and is sluggish. There is reason for changing gears gradually. Since each gear copes with different conditions, to have a smooth ride, you change one gear at a time.
Likewise, if we go from 1st to 5th in our breathing, we may end up with all manner of sluggishness, not least of all is a voice full of tension as it struggles to maintain its 5th gear.
Which is contrary to its natural design.
In the small child, their wholeness has not had interference (wrong gear change)..
There is no struggle to scream, shout, all while breathing with ease! Likewise, if you want to get more breath so that you can sing longer, higher, louder, then you must inform yourself of which gears to use and how to operate them.
That way, you have only the amount of tension the whole of you needs to make the best sound.
My associate concludes “I support my voice without doing any of that (clenching, belly breathing et al), and that the “support” comes from my whole body, including my toes and back.”
So what does it all mean? What’s so unique about this idea?
Firstly, this means that you breathe from you whole body. Did you know almost every muscle in your body is involved with your breathing?
Secondly, the more you know about your body/muscle function and how to use it/them appropriately, the easier your voice will work.
Finally, as I have heard quoted, the quality of your out breath will determine the quality of your in breath. It’s up to you to discover this well-kept secret.
Personally, when I teach, I am very focussed on how the combined body and breathing works all together. From the top of the head all the way down to the toes.
The Alexander Technique is all about using appropriate tension throughout our whole selves; and the breathing apparatus is just a part of that. It is about switching muscles on and off at will?
Once you have mastered this, you have a whole new insight to your singing. And more important, a whole new way of being you.
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