Well, yes … and no.
You’d think breathing comes naturally, wouldn’t you? Considering it’s vital to simply being alive, it’s really a no-brainer. I mean, how many of us give much thought to how we breathe – we just do it, right? In-out-in-out ad infinitum.
But it’s not always that simple. Breathing for voice production – good voice production – actually does require some thought.
A voice coach recently suggested to me that abdominal, AKA diaphragmatic or belly breathing, may not offer the best posture for voice work.
“Oh? I’ve been taught not to breathe into the chest.” I said, perplexed.
He nodded, then asked: “But where are your lungs located?”
Okaaay … fair point.
While the voice coach was not advocating shallow chest breathing, his silence gave me time to think more about it …
Most yoga teachers, singing and voice coaches I’ve worked with teach diaphragmatic breathing as the best breathing for voice production. But when I started Pilates, I learned about lateral breathing – inhaling into the sides and the back, rather than the belly.
What this coach was saying is that there are other ways to breathe deeply, without compromising posture, which could cause unnecessary tension in the body and make breathing less effective and the voice less powerful. Huh! You learn – and relearn – something new every day!
Some different types of breathing and their uses:
Chest – With this type of breathing, the chest expands and contracts with each breath while the belly area does not. Chest breathing is usually short and quick, so you tend not to take much air in this way. But it might be enough to grab some air after, say, swimming underwater. Not so good when you need to fuel your voice for speaking or singing.
Abdominal/belly/diaphragmatic – Common in yoga, singing and meditation or relaxation techniques, this breathing is thought to use your lungs’ fullest capacity. And if you’re doing it properly, it’s not just your belly that expands, but your sides and back as well.
Lateral – This type of deep breathing is commonly used in Pilates, and allows you to engage the core abdominal muscles while taking in air so you can get more out of an exercise. Think of your lungs inflating into each side of your torso as well as into your back, kinda like an accordion. But your belly doesn’t inflate.
Personally, I don’t think there’s a one-breath-fits-all approach. The type of breath you take depends on why you’re taking it. Just to get air in? To relax? To speak? To sing? To endure pain? To hold that yoga pose or push through a workout? It really is up to you!
So while breathing can be a no-brainer, when we do give it some thought, we gain more control over our energy levels, our nerves, our voice – and our selves.
Got all that? Good. Now you can breathe easy.