Lesson in Breathing

Singing Lessons In Breathing

MDH breathing coordination lesson

Breathing. We all do it every second of every day (around 20 000 times a day actually), it’s, of course, our birthright, but for singers this automatic function of living is quite something else. The amount of times I have heard from singers that they want to learn how to breathe is always amusing to me; I can’t help but smile and think (even though I completely understand where they’re coming from), “but you already know”!

‘Learning to breathe’ in my experience as a singer and teacher has always been a bit of an anomaly. Some teachers place a lot of importance on it— – I have recollections of lying with heavy books on my stomach as a kid, being taught about ‘support’, and when I was a bit older was told to ‘use my breath’ for singing by methods such as holding my breath and vocalizing a slow ‘s’ sound for as long as I could. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, I was told to not really pay attention to it much at all, and to ‘just notice it’.

All of these things left me rather confused about the best way to breathe for singing and often times, (just a bit) tense! I ended up finding my own way of utilizing breath control through years of studying yoga and trying to apply that to what I knew about singing. It has been something that has worked for me, but I have never really felt like I was offering my students something tangible that they could take away from lessons to apply functionally to their own practice. Personally, I think empowering singers to understand their instrument—, how their voice and voice-habits contribute to their singing—, is really important. That awareness only strengthens us in being able to take care of our instruments for many years.

bc_lynnmartin3My lesson with Lynn Martin, and interview with Robin De Haas about the MDH Breathing Coordination method, really seemed, as Robin put it, like the ‘missing link’ in learning to understand breathing coordination in singing. To, in essence, use minimum energy for maximum output by learning how to enable our rib cage to be fully flexible with no restriction— – without strain, stress, or forcing too much air—, we can sing with great ease with a great sound. Perfect!
Breathing Coordination was developed by Carl Stough in the mid 20th century. His original goal was to “amplify and harmonize the movement of the diaphragm to restore respiratory function in its entirety”. He believed that “The quality of respiration influences the quality of life and the possibilities of personal performance. Whether one is in good health or not, oneʼs manner of breathing is a key to better life.”

How Can Singers Breathe Better?

It is actually a lesson in awareness, adjustment, and vocalization. For my lesson, Lynn had me lay up on a massage table, my legs propped at the knees while she ‘adjusted’ me. At first I felt like I was back in Bali on the massage table, the way she wriggled my shoulders out, pushed on my legs and checked the alignment of my head and back, but then we started in on the work and I was in new territory.

In our brief lesson, Lynn had me counting from one to ten on repeat during my exhalation. Once I felt like I was nearly out of air, I was encouraged to keep going, to almost a non-whisper, to squeeze that last bit of air out and when I was ready (and without forcing a longer breath out to ‘try too hard’), I would then take another breath in and start the cycle again. While I was doing this, Lynn continued to adjust me so that my breath flowed in an easy manner. It was a pretty cool feeling; I could sense my diaphragm doing its thing, like a well-oiled machine, and my ribs were expanding in an easy non-restrictive manner.

After just a few cycles of this exercise my speaking voice felt clearer, more resonant, and ‘easier’ than when we’d started. I felt ‘ready’. It was interesting to notice that I could passively be having these adjustments ‘done’ to me (like on the Bali massage table), which felt nice, but then I could actively take part in those adjustments and really get a sense of my own body and breath. I liked it!

I can see the application of Breathing Coordination being helpful in so many situations in life, – but specifically to help singers understand and actively work on their breath. [/tweet_box]I, it could be something really important. It is exactly this that I spoke to Robin De Haas about: , – how does Breathing Coordination help singers of all levels?

In Robin’s experience, he thinks there are three areas to develop as a singer: Breathing-, Laryngeal/Pharyngeal-, and Neuro-emotional- coordination. He felt that Breathing Coordination was the element that was missing in his own development as a vocalist, and sees all three areas as being equally important. I have to agree as, in my own experience as a developing singer, Breathing Coordination breath management was also missing, or vague, or stressful. And while I sort of figured it out for myself along the way with yoga, Breathing Coordination offers something much more valuable— – the assessment of each individual: your habits, strengths, weaknesses, and physical being are all addressed, – areas that you can concentrate on and be aware of in your development as a vocalist. This can help with things that a lot of us experience, like stage fright and stress, to more serious things like vocal nodules, bleeding capillaries, laryngeal tension and breathing issues. Beyond singing it has been known to help sufferers of anxiety and depression, with panic and asthma attacks, to help executives and teachers better communicate (think, a relaxed, well- controlled, resonant voice is a more successful one), athletes to perform at optimum levels (even, and especially, in high altitude areas), and Carl Stough had great success working with patients with emphysema. Interestingly, Breathing Coordination is not a medical practice, but there is a growing interest from the medical industry based on its results. It seems to me that Breathing Coordination is something that could be of benefit to anyone and everyone, and even something that we could be taught as children.

The last few weeks I have definitely taken more of an active awareness in my breath, especially my exhalation, which is the part of the breath cycle that requires the most effort. I can feel that habitually my front ribs move more readily than my back ribs on an inhalation, and I have been paying attention to that, and working on it. When I do, the sensation is incredibly freeing, and I end up feeling really relaxed and better prepared to start my practice for the day (be that singing practice or an instrument)— focused, clear, calm, and ready to work with ease! Breathing Coordination has been a really interesting experience, and is something that I definitely recommend you try.

For more information about the MDH method of Breathing Coordination, please visit www.breathingcoordination.ch. Both Lynn and Robin do one-on-one lessons as well as workshops in Breathing Coordination and practitioner training. They are both dedicated and passionate about Breathing Coordination and have seen pretty amazing results among a wide range of people.


Upcoming Event:

Introducing Breathing Coordination Technique with Robin De Haas

Sunday, October 7 @ 10:0017:30 BST


Free – £80.00

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Nerisssa is a vocalist, songwriter and music teacher based in Brooklyn, NY Her background is in jazz and improvisation, but she loves exploring and learning about many aspects and genres of music, as well as inspiring others to express themselves through singing & songwriting.