Day 19 Alexander Technique & Singing Tip: Day 4 of 4 on Breath!
Today is day four of our four day series on breath, but is by no means the end of the conversation! Consider it just a wrap up for this part of our introduction.
Today: read on for some ideas about that holy grail for singers: proper breath support!
At ATsinging we like to think of the idea of breath support more as breath energy, which is something that if you’ve read through the last three posts, can start to see how like singing, breathing can be (and should be when functioning optimally) a whole body activity.
When we allow breath to enter our body without resistance, staying balanced and easy, we can feel breath expansion all the way to our feet and all the way out our hands and to the top of our heads. If we take too big a breath, our body may start to stiffen from too much expansion, and then try to shove all the air out immediately. Take a big breath, and then try to let it all out on an even and slow “hss” or “fff”. What do you notice? Is it easy?
Try starting by breathing out. Here’s our favorite Alexander moment: pause at the end of your exhale…no need to squeeze air out, just where you feel like you’ve comfortable exhaled (there’s always air left over, otherwise our lungs would collapse. No need to cause excess tension by trying to squeeze it out!). Allow your body a moment to pause, so that you can feel that moment when your body signals to breathe. Let it! And when you feel the urge to breathe, allow the breath to come in (silently!), and move where it wants to move (as we’ve learned from earlier posts, allowing the ribs in 360 degrees to move, the hip-joints and legs to stay easy, the head and neck to stay easy, the breath to be silent with no resistance in your throat).
How does that feel for an inhale? Is it different from how you normally inhale? Try a few more. Can you notice where you like to hold? Your ribs? Your neck? Your throat? Can you allow the breath in when it wants to come rather than forcing it?
Now for the breath energy towards singing part: after an inhale when you’ve allowed your whole body to be gently available to the breath: pause again! (Do you sense a theme?)
Notice if you’re body wants to do anything at this point. Do you immediately want to grab something? Your throat? Your ribs? Do you want to shorten in your neck?
See if during the pause you can suspend the sensation of the inhale gently expanding your whole body, energized with every part of your body doing the right amount of work, so that no part of your body is doing too much (that’s what we call tension) while another part of your body is on vacation (what we call collapse).
Now think about exhaling…and pause. Just think, don’t do it. Did anything start to collapse or contract inwards even at the thought of exhaling? See if you can inhibit that. Find the easy expansion again. (You may have to go through a few cycles of breathing…don’t try to do all these instructions on one breath!)
From the easy free inhale, and a pause with suspension, ask yourself to exhale on an easy, slow, regulated “hssss” or an “fffff” whatever is more comfortable, and see if you can maintain this feeling of suspension of the inhale. What we’re after is a resisting the tendency to suddenly collapse this feeling of gentle expansion immediately on the exhale, which also leads (to every ying there’s a yang) to a sudden tension somewhere else in the body. Every part of your body is doing just the right amount of work, so that your breath energy is a full body activity.
Your diaphragm and ribs and abdomen need to be available to move (otherwise no air would come out at all), but in order to regulate the air stream, we need to consciously control the flow. If we collapse at the onset, a big whoosh of air comes out. If we tense at the onset, then we lose the ability to keep our air stream supple and available to our intention.
You may notice on the slow, regulated exhale, while maintaining a yummy sense of inhale expansion and not collapsing, that you start to sense an engagement of your lower abdominal muscles. Allow this to happen, but don’t make it happen. Keep experimenting! Ease and freedom does not mean collapsing to the floor and letting all the air out. It means power through flow, which you can sustain on stage for hours, and is in fact energizing, instead of tiring!
Try bringing in some vowel sounds on this same stream of breath. And remember, before each step, even when you think of the next step, to pause and see what you notice. If you notice something wanting to participate that doesn’t need to, or something wanting to collapse that shouldn’t be allowed to, give it that wonderful space to be asked to be a supportive part of the whole, and only then continue. See what you notice!