When practising breathing techniques, using a child as a role model is perfect. They have the correct posture – head up shoulders relaxed and level and perfect alignment of hips, knees and ankles, everything required to breathe efficiently – just perfectly natural. Adults don’t have such a perfect posture – laziness, tight clothing and weariness, all resulting in us breathing less efficiently which impacts our speaking and singing. However, it doesn’t have to be like this! Loosen that waistband, relax and follow these great steps to correct breathing. I noticed the difference, will you?
Posture is important. Practice good posture by lifting up on your toes then back down. Your shoulders should be relaxed. Lift your hands straight up over your head. Keep your chin parallel with the floor and allow your head to balance naturally over your shoulders. Let your arms fall to your sides. Shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should all be aligned perfectly. The best way to practice good posture is to stand in front of a mirror as you are teaching your muscles to memorise the right position and muscles have memory. You will be able to see if you are balancing correctly or if you have a lack of balance.
#Chest and ribs need to be stable and still
This is important. Once they are still gradually extend your arms out to your sides until they are parallel with the flow. You should be making a ‘T’ shape with your body. Keep practicing until you feel your body is aligned
Take your hands and clasp them together behind your head and without moving your chest and ribs, gently inhale. At this point you should allow your lower abdomen to expand and drop away to receive the breath. Exhale small breaths, keeping your ribs and chest still and expanded. You will notice the main areas being worked are the lower abdominal areas and the waist.
#Focus on crucial areas
You need to focus on the crucial areas of your breathing as these will enable you to be in control of how you breathe. Keep the sides (below ribs, at waist level) in a constantly expanding state. Not fixed or tight, or collapsed...always expanding outward. By first checking your posture with arms lifted up, then placing your fingers in your sides, you will feel the initial expansion when you inhale. Now, keep those areas expanding during the exhalation. As you work to develop this constantly expanding status in the sides, you will begin to experience a freedom in the throat.
#Comfort is important
Lie down on the floor, on your back. Get comfortable. Clasp your hands and let them rest on your abdomen around your belly. To ease any tension in your back, bend your knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Now, fully relaxing, with a still chest, feel the activity in your abdomen as you inhale and exhale. The more you keep the sides and back expanding, the more the frontal, abdominal muscles will be able to do their work. By now you should be very aware of a healthy expansion of the abdominal area all the way from the sternum (the base of the breastbone) to the pelvic bone. You should also notice increasing activity in the sides and lower and middle back. This is something you are allowing, not making. It’s natural.
#Make sure your hands are in the right place when exercising
Place your hands behind your head, keeping your elbows on the floor. Keeping your chest still, begin rhythmically taking in short breaths to the count of 1, 2, 3, 4 and blowing out short breaths to the count of 1, 2, 3, 4. Then expand that to 8 counts in and 8 counts our. Finally, when ready, advance to 16 in and out and even 32 counts in and out.
#Use appropriate equipment to help
Take a seat on the front edge of a firm chair and lean forward, resting your elbows on your knees. Even though you're tilted forward from the waist, you should be able to draw a straight line through the ears, shoulders, and hips. Now, inhale by sipping through an imaginary straw, in one slow, noisy breath through your mouth. Allow your waist (front, sides, and back) to fully expand. Instead, you should feel your abdominal, back, and side muscles getting involved. Exhale with a gentle hiss (ssssss), letting those abdominal muscles do most of the work while keeping other areas still.
#Perfect your alignment
While sitting imagine a posture string is lifting you to a standing position with only a slight tilt forward. Practice staying aligned while moving back and forth between sitting and standing. Putting one foot slightly forward will make this easier, but you will be feeling your core muscles (abs/back) and quadriceps (legs) doing the work. As you alternate between these exercises your posture and breathing will continue to become more efficient for singing, speaking and . . . life. Vocal exercises can dramatically improve your singing performance ensuring you deliver on the day. Remember: Muscles have memory and practice makes permanent, no matter what you’re practising.