Monday, September 6, 2010

New-to-Me Information on Breathing -- Active and Passive Inhalers and Exhalers

Everybody here knows that I am far from being an expert and that I like to share my explorations and discoveries with readers of this blog.  I don't really understand breathing for singers in general, but from having striven to find my own answers for my own body, I've observed many things about my own breathing and made certain choices, while singing, that work for me.  I'm not sure that I've "arrived" at a breathing solution yet.  I think the development of breathing itself is part of the progression of using better and better breathing technique as one goes along.  I believe that singer-breathing is an ongoing living component of singing that will change with time and growth, just like the other aspects of voice.  I don't think the breathing is some kind of set technique that you put in place and just leave there.  It is flowing, flexible, open to growth and freedom and increasing strength and efficiency.  I have also slowly come to believe that due to the variables in individual physiology, there may be more than one answer for singers about breathing.

Well, in the course of my ever and on-going quest to understand and grow, I was doing a little research  (for a possible future blog post) on how high heels and their effect on posture might impact a singer's breathing technique. As so often happens when one is out there googling away, I found many interesting sites to get sidetracked on.

One site I discovered led me to some new information about breathing that may be of interest to singers.  It was on the web site of recorder-maker, Adriana Breukink.  She had an article that described different kinds of recorder players and how they breathed, "Inhalers and Exhalers."   The "inhaler" recorder players were active and energetic in drawing the breath in, and passive in exhaling the breath.  The air flowed freely through the recorder.  The "exhaler" recorder players allowed the breath to fall in passively -- or kind of renew itself automatically, I guess -- and energetically blew through recorders with active and engaged exhalation.  She says that these two breathing types may necessitate different recorder designs.

There is a link from that page to a German page on "Terlusollogie ®"  The page was in German, so I had to use google translator to get me an English version to read. This page is about the observations that there are different breathing "types" constitutionally, and it seems to claim that these types are imprinted at birth.

There is a little test on the page to determine whether one is an "Inhaler" or "Exhaler."

I did not take the test -- later for fun, maybe -- because just from my observations over the years, while running and while trying to sing, and while just observing my breath and doing yoga breathing exercises, I think I am an active inhaler.  This is why I have noisy breathing sometimes, I think.

The Terlusollogie web site mentions this being something imprinted at birth, but up to this point I had explained my breathing pattern to being overweight.  I had conjectured that it took more energy to take a breath in because it was being weighed down by a layer of fat, but that the same layer of fat had caused me to exhale passively because all I had to do was relax and the weight would apply the pressure for the air to leave the body.  Right or wrong, I have focused a lot of my breath management work on learning to use muscles in exhaling in order to better control the outflow.

I have observed this pattern as a runner too.  In my early days of being a runner -- and those were days when I was a "normal" weight -- I had trouble breathing. I would gasp for air and have a lot of fear that I wasn't going to get more air in soon enough.  I would immediately collapse after having taken a breath, and the air would whoosh out quickly as I just allowed the forces to expel it, and then I would inhale vigorously to get more oxygen in there quickly.  I have spent many years trying to work on rhythmic controlled breathing while running.  This may be related in some way to my breathing style, or it may have some contribution to the formation of my breathing style.  Hard to tell which comes first, the chicken or the egg.

There is probably something valid about going "against" type to learn more about one's body and breathing, but in the end, my hunch is that the more natural one to one's self is going to be the winner for free and beautiful singing.

I find this information very interesting.  I think the application it has for singing is that it opens the mind for the singer to consider that there is a constitutional variable in the strategies one will adopt for breath management while singing.  This can have consequences in many ways.  If one is working with a teacher who believes strongly in breathing a certain way, that teacher's method may work with people who are wired to use breath that way, but confusing for people with a different breathing type.  I think there is the potential for a singer, unaware of these possibilities, to spend many years trying to force her breathing into one prototype, and cause a lot of frustration and tension because she may be working against her natural structure.

Amongst many other things I started wondering about -- taking this inhaler/exhaler-types theory in mind -- I began to wonder if different voice types might be like the different recorder designs she mentioned and if the breathing type matched the instrument in some cases.  For example, do dramatic voices require a more active exhale?  Or, should knowing that you are naturally a passive exhaler necessitate your doing specific exercises to strengthen and coordinate the muscles for more active exhalation?  Or vice versa?

In the end, this information fits with a holistic view I am forming of my life, including my singing voice.  As I've mentioned here, I have become very interested in barefoot running.  The philosophy of letting my bare feet tell my what my running form should be has been crossing over into my singing.  Just as I "listen" to what the nerve endings in my feet, and any pain or discomfort I have while running barefoot, is telling me about how to set my feet down and lift them as I run, so too there are things my body is telling me about how to sing that I want to listen to more carefully.

For many years my singing training has been from the "outside-in."  Trying to apply what teachers describe to my body.  But from barefoot running -- not discounting the valuable input from knowledgeable people with experience and insight -- I am learning to listen to what my body is saying.  The natural way I am inclined to breathe is one thing I might want to listen to as I further hone and master the abilities of my instrument.

1 comment:

  1. am not sure i understand how you haven't learned what singing breath is after such a long time studying. have you just ignored the teaching? breath is a major technical issue, and it's simply the physical structure of breath. if you can't do it, fine. but this post seems to indicate you make things much more difficult than they are.