Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sing Yourself Into Breathing

On a previous post, "Sheet Music" , I was extolling the value of singing lessons. Harriet posted a comment about thinking about singing lessons to help her relieve some of her anxiety symptoms; specifically her breathing difficulties. (Check out her description of the "Breathing Thingy"). I understand exactly what she means by breathing problems because I have very similar symptoms myself.

For anyone who has not experiences these "breathing problems", or anyone who has them, but does not know what is happening to them...Here is a description of what my breathing problems feel like. At first I start feeling like I cannot get a breath. It is as though someone is hugging me so hard I cannot breathe. Sometimes it feels like someone is sitting on my chest, making it impossible to fill my lungs with air. My breathing becomes intensely shallow. I start being able to only fill the top of my lungs. The air will go no farther. The shallower I breath, the worse the tightness in my chest becomes. I start panicking sometimes, because this all feels so intensely physical, like I am going to suffocate. It can feel terrifying.

It feels terrifying, but I know it is just my mind creating the feeling. Even though I have insight that the breathing problems are not physical problems I cannot stop them no matter how hard I try. Traditional deep breathing exercises help some people.

The easiest way to learn these exercises is to lay on your back on the floor and place your hands on your belly, about two or three inches below your belly button. Laying on a harder surface than a bed is best to start with as it will help you lift your belly with air as opposed to sinking yourself into a soft surface.

Next, envision the air you breathe in going past your upper lung lobes, past your lower lung lobes and instead, entering your belly first. The task is to visualize filling your lungs from the bottom up, instead of from the top down.

With hand on your belly, so you can feel your belly rise as you breath in, slowly, through your nose, breathe in and make the breathe go to your belly first. If you are doing it right you will feel your belly rise as you take in air. When your lungs are full hold the breathe for a couple seconds, and then reverse the process by emptying the top of the lungs, then the bottom, then the belly. I call these "belly breaths".

For many people, as few as 10 of these exercises can dramatically reduce anxiety symptoms, like the breathing problems. Once you do these exercises a few times, you can learn to do them even while you are sitting or standing.

For some of us though these traditional breathing exercise seem to cause more breathing problems or more anxiety. I am like that. I think for me the focus on breathing, when I am in the middle of having breathing problems, just makes me more focused on the problem. I have discovered that for me, singing, and especially singing lessons, can greatly relieve my breathing difficulties.

My singing lessons are so helpful for helping me breathe. with traditional breathing exercises, like the one above, my focus is on breathing correctly with singing lessons, I am more focused on the sounds my voice is making than the exact method of breathing. Taking my focus away from breathing, but towards a task that requires deep, belly breathing, helps my breathing difficulties dissipate.

To sing a person needs to "belly breathe". If you are to have power behind your notes, or need to sing a long phrase without a breathe, you need a lot of air. Shallow breathing does not make for good singing.. You need to use deep breathing to create the richness and fullness of the sounds.

I think because the focus is on the sound so much my body/mind forgets about the connection the required breathing techniques have to anxiety and difficulty breathing. My anxiety levels, and my breathing problems ALWAYS get better in my lessons (especially my tendency to subconsciously hold my breath). I also notice that my back and shoulders, which always seem tight and sore, become looser and more relaxed, partly due to my teacher really helping me pull my shoulders down when I sing, and helping me learn to relax my neck/throat muscles which in turn creates a richer, and more powerful sound.

I would recommend singing lessons to anyone with anxiety. I have even been trying to talk my instructor into leading some singing classes specifically for breathing difficulties, and to help people lower anxiety levels using singing as a relaxation exercise.

1 comment:

Harriet said...

Great post - so insightful and it so addresses my issues. I'd be kind of embarrassed to sing in front of a voice teacher though. I know that is silly and illogical, after all the teacher is there to teach. It's my insecurities again.