Breathing: why classes?
Updated: Jun 3, 2021
"We don't need to learn, we've been breathing since birth". Yet...
... today as adults, most people unconsciously breathe "wrong", "short", "high", "backwards".
Unless we were born with a breathing disorder, our breathing reflex at birth, is correct (the diaphragm functions properly). As time goes on and we get exposed to the events and stresses of life though, we unconsciously develop a progressive tension of the diaphragm. Our breathing becomes insidiously higher and shorter.
This imbalance leads to a whole chain of tensions elsewhere in the body, (the cardiovascular system among others, the brain, the various muscle systems etc.) as the organs are no longer properly supplied with oxygen. Lack of oxygen, too much acidity, nothing is in harmony anymore; we are in "survival" mode. The body is designed to adapt and survive, but It adapts by drawing on its own alkaline resources (muscles, joints, bones) to manage the problems elsewhere. As these resources exhaust in the long run, a cascade of imbalances and symptoms follow.
But let's stay on topic: A voice built on such breathing habits is extremely limited; the singer will unconsciously compensate by developing the reflex of "forcing", "pushing" the voice out, perpetuating the vicious circle. This is reversible though, by re-educating the breathing. It is indeed a real re-education since those bad reflexes are unconscious.
Whether they have taken vocal lessons before, or yoga classes, or are athletic people, I have yet to see a single new student breathe right on the first try.
Besides, it is one thing to breathe right in the context of a yoga or breathing class, but it is another to put this breathing into practice in everyday life and yet another in the context of the voice.
This is why it is crucial to first practice specific exercises, in awareness, in order to develop new mechanisms that will become our new "reflexes".
For most students though, such bad breathing habits are so deeply ingrained that it may take several weekly sessions of accompanied practice before they integrate proper diaphragm breathing, and can move on to vocal applications or integrate more in-depth breathing classes.
In the context of vocal training (spoken or sung), it is essential to first install the basis of correct breathing (so-called diaphragm breathing*). Not only is it the basis of voice control, but it also solves 80% of vocal problems right away.
Singers are often so eager to sing though, that they tend to neglect the basic mastery of the breath. Then they are surprised that their vocal problems never correct themselves or get worse as they have to force or putting too much air when moving to the high register.
This is why, in addition to the vocal lessons, I decided to create specific breathing classes
Consequences of bad breathing on the voice:
unnecessary contractions of the neck, throat, jaw, tongue and shoulder muscles
mental tension (singing requiring an effort)
problem of accuracy coming from this mental tension
lack of breath
physical and vocal fatigue
impossible to hold long notes
difficulty to develop the high register (because of the mental tension)
lack of bass resonance and difficulty in singing low notes (no resonance)
lack of flexibility of the vocal cords (the voice drops from one register to another)
pain after singing (neck, shoulder, throat, low back etc...)
* Diaphragm breathing: I don't like this term because it focuses your attention on the diaphragm and the less you think about it, the better it works. I call it "abdominal breathing" and teach you to relax the abdominal muscles and then tone them for singing.