At the end of my very first formal yoga class at a Bikram studio, the instructor came up to me since I was new and asked what yoga I had done before. I told her this was my very first class. This seemed to surprise her a bit because she said I had done very well if it was my first time. Before this, I had dabbled with yoga poses on my own and in dance classes and I suggested to her that it might have been the dance. She replied with an emphatic “NO”. She went on to explain that dancers did not necessarily make the best yogis since they seemed to hold tension and it was more to do with my breathing. When I mentioned that I was a singer her face lit up and she said, “Well that explains it!”
As singers we all know the importance of breathing. It’s the first thing that most of us are taught when we begin formal training. We learn to take deep low breaths and how to manage our breathing musculature for efficient sound production. If you haven’t mastered this yet, I hope your voice teacher is spending time helping to develop this very important part of your instrument. The specific mechanics of breathing are not what I want to discuss today. Rather I want to talk about how deep breathing will benefit not only your singing, but also athletic performance and your general well being.
Many singing teachers that I’ve had in the past and even some current discussion groups and blogs that I read caution against vigorous cardio activities for singers under the misconception that this encourages shallow breathing. Nothing can be further from the truth! Yes, inexperienced exercisers sometimes tend to breath in a shallow manner, but this is not correct and usually due to bad breathing habits at rest, as well. Elite athletes all breathe deeply – they have to. Oxygen = energy for aerobic activity. The very word “aerobic” means “with oxygen”. Athletes need to use their full lung capacity to get the greatest amount of oxygen possible that will be picked up in the blood and pumped through the heart to the muscles being used.
I remember my triathlon coach telling the rest of my team to inhale deeply on their bike ride and feel the expansion of their gut as the diaphragm descends and displaced the organs making room for the lungs to expand fully. He said if you watch the Tour de France racers, these guys who are so slim and fit, you would see they look absolutely pregnant when they inhale.
Exhalation is also important and that abdominal contraction that happens on exhalation can help with the power in your movements. Think of martial artists letting out a yell as they punch or kick and the weightlifter’s grunt.
So some quick tips on breathing as you exercise:
When doing aerobic exercise find a rhythm to your breathing. Swimming has it’s own unique rhythm and is great for controlling exhalation. For running or biking it depends on the effort. For a hard effort you can inhale for 2 steps/pedals, exhale for 2. For an easy effort try 3 and 3. There are other patterns, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
When doing resistance training, exhale on the effort/contraction of the muscle and inhale as the muscle lengthens.
Finally in stretching, relax with the exhalation and feel a deepening of the stretch, but be careful not to over stretch.
Read more about why cardiorespiratory training is important for singers here.
The benefits you will gain from deep breathing will not only help your singing and athletic performance, but will carry on into your life. Here is a list of benefits of deep breathing.
So as a singer, you already have an advantage to reap these benefits. It’s no wonder singers are known to have above average life expectancy!