Breathing for Life: From the Diaphragm

No preamble.  Let’s just jump into it.

Get on the floor or on your bed.  Lie on your back with your knees bent.
Take a couple of deep breaths.
Notice that you are breathing from your stomach area.
Make several high pitched fire engine siren imitations, each time going higher and louder.
Notice that you are breathing and pushing from the stomach area.
Notice that your shoulders are not going up.
Notice that your chest may not be going up.
If your chest did go up, good.  Keep it there.
Keep it there as if you were in the Army and your drill sergeant barked at you (from his diaphragm) “STICK OUT YOUR CHEST!  SUCK IN THAT GUT.”
Now cough.
Notice it came from the stomach area, or diaphragm.
Yell “NO.  BAD.” as if your dog is about to void on your new white carpet.
Notice it came from your diaphragm.
Yell “FIRE.”
Yell (quietly-in case someone hears you) “help.”
Whisper “Awwwww . . .” while thinking about a new born baby.
Where did you feel it?

Notice that in order to project both loudly and quietly, it came from your diaphragm.

These are all great exercises to awaken you on how to breath properly.  Now for the hard part.  Stand up and try it.  You may succeed a few times but as the day goes on, you will most likely lapse into shallow upper chest breathing again.  That’s okay.  Perfect practice makes perfect.  Get back on the floor and keep in mind your drill sergeant’s instruction: Stick out the chest (to make room for air) and suck in the gut (to push the air out).  What goes in must also come out, so, in order to breath again, your diaphragm or stomach must expand.   Breathing while on your back is how the machine of your body is designed to operate.  Maintaining that mechanism while standing takes a little bit of work.  The stomach expands to let air into the lungs so the stomach must pull in to push the air out.

The summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil are not until 2016 but this summer, if there are swimming competitions on TV, watch them.  Professional athletes are not only trained to breath from the diaphragm but by nature and physical demand, they do so naturally.  Watch the swimmers when they get out of the pool.  Look at their stomachs.  Most will be breathing from there.  Sure, a few shoulders may rise and a few chests may collapse but keep an eye on the stomach.  That is where all the work is being done.

Professional singers are not always good to watch because many do not breath properly.  Isn’t it ironic.  Some of them think they know what they are doing but don’t, while others are more concerned with how they look and won’t expand their stomachs.  Another hindrance is that their clothing may hide the true action of the diaphragm.  That is why shirtless athletes are easy to learn from.

Many teachers who teach singing from the diaphragm fail because they either don’t truly know what they are doing or are too afraid to look at or touch their students out of fear of a sexual harassment charge.  You will often see singers touching their own stomachs to assert or verify they are breathing properly but that isn’t necessary for, if you are breathing properly, you feel it in your voice, head and whole being.

When you blow up a balloon, it doesn’t fill up just on one side but, the entire balloon fills up.  Your whole upper body must do the same.  Someone looking at you from behind should be able to see your whole upper body expand from the back, sides and front.  When you take a breath, imagine your whole body is a balloon and you are filling it.  Your ribs are designed to expand, let them.

Breathing should be effortless.  To take a breath, we need only to relax the diaphragm and the air should fall into our lungs effortlessly.  To exhale, or yell help or fire or bad or hey, that takes pushing or pulling in.  If we find taking the breath requires effort, that is because we are trying to breath in and push out at the same time.  You can’t inhale and exhale at the same time.  If a singer runs out of breath on simple phrases, chances are they are trying to take in more air before they used up or pushed out what is already inside them.  You can’t fill what is already full.  You need to empty first, completley.  Get back on the bed for more practice.

Mark Wahlberg does a great job demonstrating proper breathing in the movie “Rock Star” where he spends most of his on stage scenes shirtless and you can see him breath properly.   Even though many pop stars and rappers run around the stage shirtless, I advise not watching them for, many of them are breathing from their chest and shoulders.  Anyone who runs out of breath, cracks or wavers is doing it wrong.  Don’t try to learn from them.  Well, learn what not to do.

Breathing properly is good for oxygenating the blood.  Oxygenated blood gives you energy, promotes healing, helps with clearer thinking and is beneficial for overall health.  You can’t heal or lose weight or think clearly if you are not breathing properly.  If you ever develop breathing issues from smoking or some disorder such as COPD, you’ll be glad that you took the time to learn how to breath fully.

So everybody, for your homework, go to bed.

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