Breathing Techniques Singing, Speaking - Optimal Breathing Window, Shallow Breathing

Breathing is our simplest and most basic biological activity and it is also coordinated into and orchestrated by many other biological functions. At the conscious level, it allows one to sing, speak, shout, whistle, etc. The key to all these activities is breathing. At the unconscious level, breathing is the delivery system for oxygen and for toxin removal, of vital importance to all organs and bodily functions.

    Can you imagine laughing, crying, sobbing or sighing without breathing? It is impossible. These changes in breathing patterns are knowingly or unknowingly controlled depending on past stress, trauma, and good or bad habituation.

    The simple example of being frightened can spontaneously lead to changes in one’s breathing. Repeated often enough those changes become semi-permanent. The signs of breathing constriction are observed in the form of a gasp, the difficulty of catching of one’s breath, in a shrill or loud vocal response, and in shallow or high-chest breathing. With children, it is noted that certain anxieties can habitually alter the breathing patterns in a way that may not be good for the health and may limit emotional and/or physical growth. But not all breathing problems are related to psychological or emotional causes.

    Many asthmatics revealed that their condition improved when they learned to sing, or play an easily played wind instrument like the harmonica, recorder or Native American flute. Metal wind instruments such as the trumpet, tuba, including the symphonic-style flute, are generally harder to learn for most and so we do not recommend them for developing breathing that will last into one’s later years. Native American flutes and recorders are the easiest ones to play and the ones that cause the least tightness and restriction in the chest.


Optimal Breathing Window


    There are easily measurable ways to empower the voice. We recommend using what we call the Optimal Breathing Window. To demonstrate this stop, as if fighting for every bit of breath that you can, while feeling the strain, breathe in as deeply as you possibly can. Even let your eyes get wide open, your shoulders raised, and your neck muscles bulged out. Now exhale, letting the breath go.
    Call that uppermost in-breath a 10. Now take a deep breath but stop when it gets full, but not strained... Exhale and then breathe naturally. Call that comfortable, uppermost in-breath an 8. Now breathe into your “8” and just let the breath escape in a relaxing exhale. So if you were to breathe out more, you would have to force it. Call that point a 3, or Expiratory Reserve Volume. Then breathe naturally.
    Now breathe in to an 8, and let the breath go to a 3, then immediately exhale, forcing the breath out with your belly muscles like blowing out the candles on a birthday cake to as close as you can to no breath left at all. Feel the strain and tension in your body as you go from 3 to 0. Now breathe naturally.
    Try that again. In to 8, then relaxed out to 3, then forced out to 0. Breathe naturally. Call that uncomfortable, lower-most out-breath a 0.

Shallow Breathing

    To clarify, most people do not breathe very deeply, so. They mostly breathe in up to a 4 or 5. Then they use or spend their exhalation while speaking or singing and end up somewhere less than a 3, to the point where tension while using the voice begins.

    This causes a great deal of restriction in the same area as does the abdominal startle response, when one is so out of breath, they pull in or gasp for air, causing friction and further tension. The cycle keeps repeating and worsening with every sentence. So in the exercises on the Optimal Breathing Fundamentals Video, we practice breathing between the window of 3 and 8 or 3.5 and 7 as a softer form. We breathe to 7 or 8 and never strain on the inhalation, then we make sure when speaking that we do not go below 3.5 on the exhalation. In this way we begin to develop a habit of staying mostly between 3 and 7 and use speaking as a form of relaxation.

    A resting breath, or Resting Tidal Volume Window, would be a 3-to-4 or 3-to-5 inhale depth with an occasional deeper but still resting breath catching in-breaths from up to 6,7 or 8.


Speaking and Breathing Progress


    Poor speaking hinders good breathing and poor breathing hinders good speaking. To make sure one has enough breath behind the sound to effect strong and clear voicing, without sounding strained or going below the 3.5 easy exhale level of the “OB Window,” practice various combinations of vowel sounds and consonants, songs and sentences, with systematic well-spaced reminders to breathe. Keep a relaxed belly always.

    Controlling the breath takes practice—a lot of it! With the appropriate pressure and ease, the voice floats out of the mouth. With better breath control, the voice can be well supported to maximize emotion, nuance and versatility. Breath control is facilitated with a wider, more flexible ribcage. The strapping techniques on the 176 Video address that expansion. The fact is, one doesn’t need to breathe much while singing if breath is applied in the three stages in synchronization. The essence of vocal training lies here. Just by simply putting these together, one can easily control the voice and hold notes longer and better.

    There are numerous breathing exercises designed especially for singers. First and foremost is to be relaxed while practicing breathing or any other singing exercise. Any routine needs to be kick-started with loosening-up exercises. Posture plays a vital role. Standing upright with relaxed shoulders and an un-arched back is considered to be the right posture. Hands should be left unclenched and the legs relaxed. It is suggested to begin with a few relaxing breaths. These we will show you how to do on the 176 Video. The entire body must be relaxed including the jaw.

    Remember that good breathing especially for performers cannot be developed overnight. It can only be developed by practicing daily and by developing a strong support or foundation for optimal tonal quality by using the diaphragm, rib cage, shaping the lips and tongue, relaxing the jaw, and having all of this on top of a firm foundation in the legs and pelvis. The foundation or what we call “the basement” is key. Recommended program



Content copyright 2009-2010 by Michael Grant White and Breathing.com. All rights reserved.