“Breathe with your diaphragm.” Well…duh! Everyone does. If you didn’t have a diaphragm, you wouldn’t be able to breathe. But what happens when we say to a student learning to sing, “Take a deep breath?” Their shoulders rise as they fill the top of their lungs with air. They get confused about how to breathe when it is the most natural thing to do and our bodies do it involuntarily — all day, correctly. Place your hand on your stomach when you are sitting at your desk, when you are laying down, or when you are conversing. Notice how you breathe. You’re doing it right! Your body knows how.
When it seems difficult to teach students as they breathe with shoulders rising, there are a couple of tips I give them.
1. Breathe into your waistline. When you breathe in, your stomach goes out. When you breathe out, your stomach goes in. (Best illustrated when lying on your back.)
2. Take a hardcover book and hold the binding firmly on your stomach. Take in a breath. The book should move forward as your body fills with air. As you exhale, the book should correspondingly move back with your stomach.
There are 3 schools of thought that singers from around the world use: belly breathing, side breathing, and back breathing. Sounds odd, I know, but let’s give it a try.
Belly breathing – When you breathe in, your stomach goes out. When you breathe out, your stomach goes in. We’ve got that one.
Side Breathing – Place your hands on your sides at your ribcage. Breathe in and focus your breathing to your hands, making your ribs expand. This may take a bit of practice. Your stomach will move, but not near as much as before.
Back Breathing – Place the back of your hands on your lower back with your pinky fingers at waist level. (I say back of your hands for the sake of your posture. If your palms are resting on your back, your shoulders droop forward.) Now, breathe to your hands, causing your back to expand. This may take even more practice than side breathing.
I embrace all three schools of thought. When I need to sing a long phrase, I tend to use them all. Try this to see if you have them down. Take in a belly breath and hold it. While you are holding it, place your hands on your sides for a side breath and breathe in more. Keep in all that breath and add more by breathing to your back. You will be surprised by how much extra air you can hold. Soon, if you practice this, you will be able to accomplish the results in just one breath, expanding all around.
Happy breathing practice!