The Incredible Benefits of Proper Breathing Technique
One of the very first statements you might hear when embarking on a vocal journey or learning about the voice is to “Sing from Your Diaphragm” .
This bugs me to no end because, firstly, you don’t sing from your diaphragm! The sound of “Singing” is produced from your larynx, and you breathe from your lungs. These are the two major parts of the body that control your voice.
Yes, your diaphragm is the muscle responsible for your breath. It’s quite incredible, let's flash back to grade school science….
To breathe in, the diaphragm lowers, creating a vacuum that brings air into the lungs. To breathe out, the muscle rises, pushing air out. It’s incredible because it is both a voluntary and involuntary muscle. You continue to breathe while asleep, however you can hold your breath underwater. It takes care of both.
In singing you need to be able to manipulate it, however it’s not the diaphragm that we directly control. The muscles I like to call your “support” affect from many different points of the body and contribute to controlling your breath.
So already we know that singing and the breath go hand in hand. I like to think of breath as the “gas pedal” for the voice. The breath controls your volume, power, stamina and vocal balance. Too much air pressure and your voice can crack or pop, but not enough air, and your voice can pop or crack! It’s the clutch control analogy here, all about that perfect balance of air, and muscular tension in the larynx that will create the desired tone, pitch and volume.
Because of this, good singing technique can drastically improve breath management and help with controlling your breath. Not only are you learning to use your support muscles to manipulate breath, but you are increasing lung capacity, which together can help to manage anxiety, panic attacks and help with those suffering from lung damage.
Because singing is an aerobic activity, it also helps to improve overall health. The simple act of belting out your favourite tune, (with no technical judgement of course ;-) can boost your cardiovascular system, increase oxygen intake, alertness and mental awareness. There are also studies that show singing boosts the immune system by raising levels of antibodies that benefit the immune function of mucous membranes.
Depending on the choice of music, singing can also drastically affect your heart rate. Whether its relaxing or upbeat, you’ve all felt the effects of different genres of music. Singing can reduce your heart rate, induce states of calm or even euphoria in some, which can lead to better sleep, focus, relaxation and more.
(Let’s not dig into stage fright or performance anxiety here, because this can also effect heart rate in different ways, but it is something to be aware of when singing in public.)
Research has also shown that the increased airflow in your lungs during singing also lessens the likelihood of bacteria flourishing in your upper respiratory tract.
The Vagus Nerve and how singing affects its “Tone”.
the vagus nerve is Connected to the vocal cords and the back of the throat, and is the longest cranial nerve in the body, connecting the brain to various organs. It also passes through the diaphragm, through the oesophageal hiatus.
A key part of the parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerve influences breathing, digestion and heart rate among other things. Managing breath properly, you can induce the rest and digest response and calm the fight or flight reaction.
The more you increase your vagal tone the more your physical and mental health improve and the faster you can relax after stress.
Ways to do this include but are not limited to:
Deep and slow breathing
Singing, Humming, Chanting, Gargling,
Meditation & Laughing
All of which generally involve manipulation of the breath.
Other ways include suggestions such as:
Probiotics and improving gut bacteria
Omega 3 fatty acids
Positive social situations
Because of these physical factors, singing has amazing benefits and is universally accessible.
I will look more at the psychological effects of singing in the next article.
Check out the podcast on this topic, that also covers various breathing exercises that can help you improve lung capacity, manage your breath or any anxiety you may have due to breathing related issues, and also balance your air pressure to get the tone power you want when singing.